In-depth: Bajrang Dal Men Torched Two Muslim Women’s Canteen Accusing Them of Selling Beef
“Some of the boys who vandalised my shop grew up before my eyes,” said seventy-year-old Khamrunissa.
A make-shift canteen run by Khamrunissa (70) and Shamim (50) at Sakleshpur in Hasan district of Karnataka was vandalised and then set on fire by miscreants, allegedly belonging to the Bajrang Dal, who accused the women of selling beef at their canteen.
For forty years, Khamrunissa has been running the canteen at the weekly market where she sells idly and paratha with chicken and mutton curry. She has been accompanied in the business by her sister-in-law, Shamim, for several years now.
The incident took place on Thursday, January 31 at the APMC market ground during the weekly town market at 15:30 hrs.
The Bajrang Dal unit in Sakleshpur later on their Facebook page shared photos of the make-shift canteen being vandalised and claimed responsibility for the attack saying, “Good beginning for Sakleshpur Chalo. Destroyed the illegal selling of beef at the town market,” and “While creating awareness at the APMC market, with the support of public, a shop selling beef illegally was attacked and damaged.”
As a run-up to the Sakleskpur Chalo event to be held on February 14, with cow protection as its central issue, the organisers—Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)—took out a precursor rally on January 31 through the streets of Sakleshpur. It also passed from near the APMC market area.
Recollecting the attack before the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team, Khamrunissa said, “We were selling mutton when eight Bajrang Dal goons came to our shop around 3:30 that noon and accused us of selling beef. There was no space given to us to explain that it wasn’t beef but chicken and mutton. They were very aggressive and they smashed all the vessels in the shop. They kicked the stove on which we were boiling the curry and threw the hot curry on my body. They threatened me with fatal consequences if I were to sell meat again in my shop. They burst the stove to set the shop, which we build every week with a tarpaulin sheet, on fire.”
She added that nobody in the whole market came to their help as everyone was scared at the sudden outbreak of violence. She also said that she overheard the Bajrang Dal goons calling the police, asking them to come to the market, “By the time the police came to the spot, the shop was reduced to ashes.” The police, she recalls, asked the goons why they were called after they (the Bajrang Dal) had already damaged everything.
Khamrunissa further said, “My husband passed away very early. For 40 years now, I have been running this make shift shop during the weekly market and running my family.” She explained that for over 40 years, the customers who come to her shop have been from all religions and this sort of attack had never happened. “There was harmony in our town between religions for long. But in recent times, the inter-religious harmony has been disturbed,” she said, adding, “Some of the boys who vandalised my shop grew up before my eyes and some years ago lived close to our home.”
The burning down of her shop has left Khamrunissa with a loss of nearly Rs.50,000/- when her granddaughter’s wedding is just a month away. She said she would not stop setting up her shop at the weekly market fearing the Bajrang Dal. But she seemed worried about the fear that the attack has caused in the minds of the people, which might reduce the number of customers to her shop.
The police did not register Khamrunissa’s complaint the same evening and an FIR was filed (under the IPC sections 143, 147, 148, 149, 323, 354, 427, 436 and 504) only on the next day. The police confirmed that the meat being sold at Khamrunissa’s shop was not beef.
Naveen Sadaa, a reporter from a local daily named Haasana Vaani, was not allowed by the police to take photos of the vandalised and burnt-down shop. This, he says, hints at the close nexus between the police system and the Bajrang Dal in Sakleshpur. Another reporter, on condition of anonymity, told the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team that Raghu Sakleshpur, under whose leadership Sakleshpur Chalo is being organised on February 14, is a rowdy history-sheeter who has several criminal cases registered against him.
“How is such a man given police permission to hold such an event on the 14th and what is the guarantee that no violence will erupt on that day in the town?” asked the journalist. The fear of the journalist wishing to remain anonymous stems from a press note issued by Dharmesh, the Bajrang Dal President of Sakleshpur Taluk. In the note, Dharmesh accuses a journalist named Mehboob of stirring communal tension in the town by highlighting the issue of the attack on Khamrunissa’s shop.
Speaking to the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team, ex-President of the VHP’s Sakleshpur unit Jai Maaruthi Devraj said that although Raghu Sakleshpur’s team claims to be Bajrang Dal-VHP and are using the names of Bajrang Dal and VHP in organising Sakleshpur Chalo, he does not belong to either of the outfits. Raghu, he claimed, had started his own organisation named Ramadhoota Sanghatane. He added that the higher-ups in the VHP and Bajrang Dal are unaware of Raghu’s workings and they have not been taken into confidence in organising Sakleshpur Chalo.
“It has become difficult for us to oppose this since we are in solidarity with the issue but at the same time, we cannot support it also since the name of our organisation is being misused,” said Mr. Devraj.
The Bajrang Dal unit in Sakleshpur, on their Facebook page, have quoted Raghu having said in a speech at Belthangady, “Our next aim is to hoist the Bhagwa flag on Mosques.”
When reached out to, Sakleshpur MLA Mr. HK Kumarswamy said, “This is nothing new and is just an extension of what you see in Mangalore and Udupi. These are done by immature people lacking wisdom,” adding that the police was looking into the matter and would be quick to act. Later that night, the Karwan-e-Mohabbat team learnt that five people from the Bajrang Dal were arrested.
The arrested are Karthik (24), Deepu (21), Prathap (29) and Raghu (20) and a fifth whose name wasn’t revealed to protect his identity as he is a minor. The Bajrang Dal, on their Facebook page, expressed anger over the arrests and called for a protest on the following day (February 6) at 11:00 in the morning.
The author, Samvartha, was supported by the Karwan-e-Mohabbat media fellowship for this article.