Follow us on

|

Disturbed city

Print edition : Jul 31, 2009 T+T-
A boy injured in the clashes in Mysore on July 2.-PTI

A boy injured in the clashes in Mysore on July 2.-PTI

What is it?

Look towards the steps, at the entrance of the mosque.

Something blackish, like a bundle, seems to be lying there.

It is the carcass of a pig, Bakshiji. Someone has left a dead pig there.

Bakshiji looked at Mehtas face, as though to say, See? Didnt I tell you something unusual has happened?

Everyone was looking hard in that direction. On the steps of the mosque, lay a black bag from which two legs were sticking out. The green door of the mosque was closed.

These lines are taken from the poignant novel Tamas by Bhisham Sahni, set in the tense pre-Partition days of 1947. A dead pig is found on the steps of a mosque in a little frontier town populated by Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The town erupts in a mad bout of rioting.

Mysore, July 2, 2009: The peace of the city is shattered when, in the early hours of the day, the carcass of a pig is found at an Arabic school, Haleema Sadiya Educational Institution and Masjid-e-Siddique Akbar Trust, located in the Gayatripuram area. Early photographs of the scene show a small black pig lying in a pool of blood, its severed head a foot away from its lifeless body, near the ablution area of the school.

The school is located in an area where both Hindus and Muslims live. A building being constructed to expand the school into a full-fledged mosque had met with objections from the trustees of the Huliyamma temple, situated a few hundred metres away.

There are varying accounts of what happened after the carcass was found, but there is agreement on one thing: that mobs clashed and, briefly, went on the rampage. Parts of Mysore burned in communal fury and three people died.

On July 3, the Mysore district president of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was attacked and seriously injured. His condition, which for several days remained critical, has since stabilised. Though personal enmity is said to be the reason for the attack, Mysore city was tense after the incident, fearing renewed violence. Ban orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code were imposed, but even two days later there was tension in the air.

The area around Tent Circle in Kyatamaranahalli, a roundabout between the Arabic school and the Huliyamma temple where several roads converge, was still but for families moving out with their paltry belongings on push carts. Policemen and residents who spoke to Frontline repeatedly referred to this place as the border separating the two communities.

To understand this sudden and brief bout of violence in the city of palaces with an eight-lakh population (2001 Census), one has to take a brief look at the history of communal relations in the city.

Mysore does not have a history of sustained communal violence and is not a sensitive town. Inter-community relations are fairly peaceful, with both Hindus and Muslims rooted and inter-linked in the economy of the region. There has also not been any sustained effort at spreading the Hindutva ideology in the region in the way it has been done in the coastal part of Karnataka over the past three decades.

The Muslims of Mysore, which was the capital of the princely state with the same name, have been well integrated into the local economy, and their socio-economic status is a reflection of the general Muslim situation in southern India. Muslims generally lag behind their non-Muslim counterparts in Human Development Index (HDI) indicators such as education, health and income, but there are some wealthy segments of the community as well. (Mysore district ranked 14 going by overall HDI, according to the 2001 Karnataka Human Development Report, among 26 districts. Karnataka now has 29 districts.)

The Muslims of Mysore city had a respectable position as residents of the capital of the princely state. Muslims in the old princely state of Mysore benefited from the policies of the Maharaja of Mysore, along with the other backward castes. They were concentrated in certain parts of the city also when Mysore was the capital of the princely state, but it does not reflect ghettoisation in any way as communities were settled along religious and caste lines then, explained Muzaffar Assadi, political scientist at the University of Mysore. In the modern city of Mysore, these settlement patterns continued, with extended urban areas where Muslims lived concentrated in a large swathe between the north and the east.

Several old residents of Mysore who spoke to Frontline on communal relations in the city remember two incidents. One is the communal violence in the wake of the rath yatra of BJP leader L.K. Advani, in 1990, a phenomenon that was pan-Indian. An earlier incident, which took place in 1986, was strictly not communal: it did not reflect any cumulative communal grievances, nor was it the result of any right-wing propaganda. However, it was Mysores worst incident with communal overtones in terms of the number of deaths four people died when local Muslims protested against the publication of a short story in Deccan Herald, a Bangalore-based newspaper. (The protests claimed 17 lives in Bangalore.)

The situation in December 1990 was different from that in 1986 because local factors were not responsible for the violence. Mysore was not too seriously affected by the violence even though 60 people died in the State then. After 1990, there have not been any reports of communal violence having taken place in the city until April 2009 when a feud over gambling between two groups flared up into a communal riot that claimed two lives. It provided an outlet for sentiments that had snowballed over local politics since the BJP came to power in May 2008.

When the BJP emerged as the single largest party in 2008, it successfully wooed independents and several legislators from other parties to get the requisite number of 116. (The BJP won 110 seats in the elections of April 2008.) The wooed legislators were accommodated in the Council of Ministers, in what came to be called Operation Lotus. The BJP was criticised severely by opposition leaders and civil society groups for the open use of money power to attract the legislators.

The BJP repeated this strategy, albeit on a smaller scale, in the Mysore City Corporation (MCC), where several corporators, including five Muslims, crossed over to it. According to local Muslim opinion, had the former MLA from Narasimharaja, Aziz Sait, been alive such a thing would not have happened. In the identity politics of the Congress era, Sait, who died in 2002, was a legendary leader of Muslims in Mysore. He represented the Narasimharaja seat in the Karnataka legislature for more than 25 years from 1967. The seat is now represented by his son Tanveer Sait of the Congress.

According to a senior official in the district administration who spoke on condition of anonymity, there is a serious tussle for the leadership of the Muslim community in Mysore between the old crop of leaders and a new entrant, the Popular Front of India (PFI), which has been active in the city since 2005. The PFI is a consolidated avatar of the erstwhile Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD), a cadre-based, overwhelmingly Muslim group that has its base in coastal Karnataka. The PFI has some strength in northern Kerala and in parts of Tamil Nadu as well and, according to informed sources, will be launching a political party later this year.

The PFIs conscious communal identity-based politics has evoked some empathy among the Muslims of Mysore, faced with a leadership vacuum. The older crop of Muslim leadership had a broad patronage system in place. The PFI brand of politics demands active participation and its growing presence over the past four years has changed the power relations in the city.

The vacuum in the Muslim leadership in Mysore with the passing away of Aziz Sait began to be experienced strongly with the coming to power of the BJP in the State. The increasing sense of insecurity among Muslims was heightened by the exclusionary politics of the BJP. For example, there is not a single Muslim BJP member in the Karnataka Assembly.

Speaking to Frontline, district officials in Mysore now, and in Mangalore earlier, said the BJPs coming to power had emboldened Hindu right-wing elements to assert their identity. The visit of Pramod Muttalik, the chief of the Sri Rama Sene, to Mysore in April galvanised the right-wing cadre.

Thus, in the present instance, the Arabic school is seen as a mere symbol that is being used to encourage and consolidate anti-Muslim opinion. Documents available with Frontline show that the trustees of the school had taken the permission of the MCC to proceed with the construction. District officials told Frontline that a junior official of the MCC had granted the permission without understanding the issues involved.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that the school had the requisite permission before it proceeded to construct a mosque. The result of the recent incident is that what was an Arabic school is now being referred to in some quarters as the disputed site, harking back to the rhetoric surrounding the Babri Masjid. (In Chickmagalur, Hindu right-wing elements had over two or three decades managed to convert the Bababudangiri shrine into a disputed site.)

Another element that needs to be mentioned is the allegation of anti-Muslim bias against the police during the violence of April 2009. Instances such as this have made Muslims sceptical of the state and its institutions.

In the circumstances, the PFIs Muslim-identity rhetoric finds sustenance among some sections of the Muslim population in Mysore, and its base is expanding. In the context of the communal violence, the police blamed the PFI and claimed to have arrested several of its members. Kaleem, president of its Mysore unit, in an interview to Frontline, said the police had foisted cases on PFI members. Ironically, Kaleem was arrested a few hours after the interview for suspected involvement in the communal violence.

Members of the PFI contended that they were being targeted by the state because of their growing influence in the Muslim community. The PFI had built a reasonable base in the region as the KFD and, according to Kaleem, it had 6,000 active members in Mysore and the surrounding districts of Chamrajnagar, Mandya and Hassan.

Home Minister V.S. Acharya, who visited the city, refused to order a judicial probe into the incidents as demanded by Siddaramaiah, the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly.

The effect of the communal violence is manifest in the gradual migration that is taking place as people move to safer localities across borders a migration of a few hundred metres physically but one that creates a deep void as far as community relations go, which will take years to repair. A resident of Mysore commented that peaceful communal relations, a heritage of the city along with its several palaces, was under threat.