Karnataka: How Two Friends Became the Target of Hindutva Polarisation on Eid

Shamsheena (22), a Muslim, and Kavya (21), a Hindu, became friends four years ago while working at a garment shop. They live in Karnataka’s Dakshina Kannada district in Golthadi and Ramnagar villages, around 20 km apart, respectively. They visit each others’ homes frequently and their families are also acquainted.

On July 12, the second day of Eid ul Adha, Shamsheena invited Kavya for a biryani feast. What followed has left both the women and their families shocked and revealed the efforts by Hindutva groups to actively discourage inter-community relations.

Usually, Kavya’s brother would drop her at Shamsheena’s home. But on that day, he had some other engagement and dropped Kavya mid-way to Shamsheena’s house, at Uppinangady town. Shamsheena came to pick her up from there. They got on a bus and travelled to Athoor town, where they got down to buy chicken. Then they hired an autorickshaw to go home.

On the way home, they noticed that another auto was following them. About five minutes away from their home, they got down from the auto – the diver said he had something else to attend to. The second auto – which had no passengers – continued to follow them. They also noticed that some men were following them on two-wheelers. When they stopped at a shop, they found a man gazing at them “oddly”.

After they reached Shamsheena’s home, more than 20-30 people associated with the Bajrang Dal gathered a few metres away.

At around 1 pm, three police officers (two males and one lady) arrived at the Shamsheena’s home. They asked for her brother Ziyad. They told the cops that he was not there.

The police officers told Shamsheena that they have information that her brother has “brought a Hindu girl” home. Kavya told The Wire that she was informed by the police later that someone had “informed” them that Shamsheena’s brother had brought her there.

“You are lying. Where is his auto? Ask him to come out,” the police asked. Ziyad works in Bengaluru and had not been home for months.

“We were puzzled by these questions from the police,” Shamsheena said. She explained to the police that her brother was in Bengaluru. She and Kavya had hired an auto and her brother was not the driver. He did not ride an auto.

She told them that Kavya was her friend and she had come to their home with her family’s permission and that she was a frequent visitor.

The cop, who was in civilian clothes, then asked, “Why was the window of the auto covered?” Shamsheena reasoned that since it was monsoon, the drapes are down in case it starts to rain. The cops also accused them of not paying the auto fare – which the two women denied.

Shamsheena had to call up her brother and put him on the loudspeaker. Ziyad confirmed to the police that he was not in town, let alone at home. A series of exchanges followed between the police for more than an hour. Shamsheena said the police also spoke to the Hindutva mob gathered outside the house.

The police demanded that Kavya should come with them. Kavya, Shamsheena and their families opposed this. Kavya’s brother was already on his way and will pick her up, they said.

But the police did not relent and pressured the family. “The police forced me to go with them, even as I told them I’ll go with my brother. But they didn’t listen to me,” Kavya said. She budged because she thought Shamsheena’s family would be in trouble if she stayed there any longer.

“We gave her a packed biryani while she was leaving with the police,” Shamsheena told The Wire.

According to Kavya, the police took her in a private car to Aditya Hotel in Uppinangady town. They had called her brother to pick her up from there. They collected her personal details including her name, age and phone number and even her brother’s phone number. Moreover, the lady constable took a photo of her in the car and later another photo with her brother at Uppinangady.

When Kavya asked the police why they took her along, they answered, “We feared that the Hindutva group would create trouble and in that case, we cannot give protection.”

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

Since then, Kavya claims that she gets calls from unknown numbers from different places. Some were from Mangaluru and some from other regions. She said she shared her number only with the police and doesn’t know how her number was leaked. She said that some members of the Bajrang Dal called her family on July 13 and threatened them. They would face the consequences for Kavya giving their names to the police. They also abused her for going to a the house of a Muslim for biryani.

Kavya denies the allegation that she gave names to the police. “I have informed the police about these developments, to which they said if I get any more calls, I should lodge a complaint,” she says. According to Kavya, the police also advised her that the next time she plans to go to Shamsheena’s home, she should take a family member along.

“My family knows Shamsheena’s family well. I have their support,” Kavya said. Her family told her she should not worry because she has done nothing wrong.

When The Wire asked Kavya how she felt about these events, she said she was “very upset” with the whole episode. “They are Hindus but I don’t know why they did this. If they had any issue, they could have asked me directly but they created such a scene. The police were asking for my friend’s brother, and it seems like they were looking for him. They behaved rudely with me while I was trying to convince them that I had come to see my friend,” she said.

Kavya said she will not let the extremists succeed in their ploy to polarise her relationship with her friend.

“I had been to their house last Eid also and that too in the evening. Neither Shamsheena nor I believe in caste or religious hatred. I will continue to go to her house. Her parents are warm and welcoming. My sister is pregnant and she asked Shamsheena for biryani and hence on this Eid, Shamsheena invited me for the feast.”

Shamsheena’s family lodged a police complaint against the Hindutva men who had gathered outside their home. They have named four persons. The family said that the police did not register a case and instead claimed they had visited their home based on misinformation.

When The Wire called sub-inspector Anjanappa Reddy, who is in charge of the Kadaba police station, he said, “I can not give you a statement over the phone on this matter.”

Shamsheena, asked about the plausible motivations of the Hindutva group, told The Wire, “It emerged to us that it was a planned attack on my brother. The Hindutva groups wanted to target him because he usually makes anti-BJP posts on social media.”

The Wire spoke to Shamsheena’s brother Ziyad. He said, “I fear for my life now. My sister has said that there is news spreading that the members of the Bajrang Dal are saying, ‘Let Ziyad come back to town, we will not spare him’.”

“I had recently posted articles questioning the anti-people policies of the BJP on Facebook and my WhatsApp status. Because of this a Hindutva group in my town is targeting me and even tried to file a complaint against me. When that did not work, they tried to implicate me using such false allegations,” Ziyad said.

He added that had he been in town when the police came, the story could have ended differently.

Hindutva groups are very active in coastal Karnataka and their members frown upon inter-community relationships of any nature. Though in the past, Kavya and Shamsheena’s friendship would have been considered normal, the communal polarisation has made sure that these relationships are not encouraged by large sections of society anymore.

Mohammed Irshad is an independent journalist. He tweets at @shaad_bajpe.

This article was first published on The Wire.