Once upon a time, before its steep descent, Karnataka was hailed by its famous poet Kuvempu as “Sarva janangada shantiya thota” (A garden of peace). In most of YouTube’s illustrated versions of what became the “state song”, the symbolic stanza of Kuvempu’s poem was overwhelmed with unmistakably Hindu imagery – of temples, Bharatanatyam dancers and Kannada Mathe, a clone of its national mother. Was Kuvempu naive or was he mistaken in subconsciously assuming that the Hindu umbrella was just a benign cover?
Not a day has passed for two years without the desire to reduce the Muslim to “bare life” being announced. Having succeeded in reducing the Muslim presence in the Legislative Assembly to seven deputies (or 3%, the same proportion as the proportion of women in the House), attacks were made on religious life and livelihoods. In his most recent call to “end the monopoly of Muslim fruit sellers” in Karnataka, Chandru Moger of the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti finds a new solution to the unemployment crisis. From the exclusion of Muslim merchants to the jatres of the temples, a micro-economic aggression has been amplified by invoking the specter of a “spitting jihad” – and the boycott is now well underway.
In any encounter, a Hindu can do no harm, and Muslims must always prove their innocence. Interior Minister Araga Jnanendra’s public withdrawal of his accusation that a road rage death was caused by the victim’s refusal to speak Urdu has succeeded, despite strong denials from the police – a CID investigation was announced by the Chief Minister. Muskan’s fiery response to his college tormentors over the hijab issue is now linked to an international conspiracy. Instead of investigating the murder of Harsha, a Bajrang Dal worker in Shivamogga, which even the minister in charge of the district had initially said was due to personal enmities between those with whom he shared prison time, the young man was transformed into a Hindutva “martyr”. Obviously, that was not enough. The 10 Muslims charged with his murder had to be persecuted under the UAPA as anti-national conspirators, making bail impossible.
Will Karnataka possibly become the first state in India where the hydra-headed “outfits” – as they are euphemistically called – rule the state? It would be a serious mistake to consider these actions as the prelude to elections. These organizations now exercise direct, visible and undeniable power over elected officials, while being assured of the absence of accountability. There is nothing obscure or indirect about their campaigns. All the issues that have emerged in recent times – ranging from the issue of hijab in classrooms, namaz in public places, azaan to the banning of Muslim merchants from jatres – have been vigorously pursued to make the invisible Muslims, a goal that the political establishment, media and police seem increasingly eager to meet.
Indeed, it is nothing less than a “smooth” project of establishment of the Hindu Rashtra by the Bajrang Dal, Sri Rama Sene, VHP and their parent group. What started with the passage of sweeping laws – relating to the slaughter of cows in 2020, the regularization of unauthorized religious (read Hindu) structures on public property, or the proposed changes to “conversion” laws in 2021 – has now turned into everyday state-approved laws. attacks on the faith, beliefs, lives and livelihoods of Muslims. Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s response to every communal provocation (starting with his ‘action/reaction’ statement against Mangalore’s Christians) is to reaffirm his obedience to the men who rule the streets. He even took the unprecedented step of awarding state compensation of Rs 25 lakh to Harsha’s family. He has, despite warnings from former Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and MP SR Vishwanath, declared his commitment to the neo-nation.
When staff at two police stations – Kaup in Dakshin Kannada and Vijayapura in Bijapur – displayed saffron garments on Vijayadashami Day in 2021, they went unpunished, in ironic contrast to the insistence on uniforms in police halls. classroom. There are now reports of police refusing to press charges against Chandru Moger, citing possible disruption of community harmony, though they are acting with severe impatience against those protesting these alarming and unchecked community actions. They too have publicly declared their allegiance to the neo-nation.
The media crowned their continued service to the Hindu cause when they confronted Muslim students and teachers wearing the hijab at educational institutions in front of the cameras, following the High Court’s interim order in February 2022. As the police, part of the media systematically targets those who protest against the deterioration of public peace and harmony. The judiciary remained a timid presence, shielding lawmakers and the administration from “disruptive” protests.
How did Karnataka succumb so quickly to this corrosive masculinity? In a state that had no history of “cow protection” or high-decibel campaigns against “woman abduction” comparable to the Indo-Gangetic Belt of the 1920s, what led Ram Sene’s Raichur unit to announce their “Love Kesari”? The RSS has worked hard over the past 100 years to achieve its goal of polarizing people on the west coast of Karnataka, which is home to economically prosperous Muslims and Christians. But what about the rest of Karnataka, where a mixture of fear and enthusiastic majority participation seems to have had the same effect? What explains the new and impassioned righteousness in the language and gestures of the men, and some women, who participated in the harassment of Christian prayer groups last year, or voluntarily wore orange shawls in February of this year ?
Hindu Rashtra has become the only visionary future for legions of young people. The vertigo of psychic emancipation from the staging of this muscular and militant masculinity compensates for the impotence born of a gnawing realization that education alone is no longer the guarantee of social mobility or even of a job. It stems from the failure to admit that Kannada’s rich heritage is now but depleted cultural capital, given the popular demand for English, the growing acceptance of Hindi and the growing support of state in Sanskrit. The “held” performative violence is reinforced by the utter disarray among those social groups, and within those social movements – the Dalit Sangarsh Samiti, the farmers’ and women’s movement – which had made Karnataka the site of new measures of justice. social and development in the recent past. The brief flicker of a pushback by Dalit men wearing blue shawls in Chitradurga at the height of the hijab protests has simply disappeared. Karnataka’s network of socially progressive Lingayat mathas, who functioned as alternative governments in their respective regions, either preferred to retain their autonomy and tacit support for Hindutva or openly supported the ‘outfits’. The political opposition in the state has also been silenced.
Thus, the April 16 symbolic stop by the Karaga procession at the Tawakkul Mastan Dargah, during Bengaluru’s most important civic event which celebrates over two centuries of shared religiosities, will, like Kuvempu’s song-poem , nothing more than a haunting memory of better times. But even those memories are under threat today, as the men who make ‘Nava’ Karnataka promise to clean up its complex past by putting ‘moral’ science in its place.
This column first appeared in the April 13, 2022 print edition as “Once Upon a Time in Karnataka”. The writer taught history at JNU