Backward classes are main victims of communal flare-up in coastal Karnataka
Karnataka’s coastal Dakshina Kannada district is in the news for the wrong reasons again. The state’s hotbed of communal tensions over the last couple of decades is on the boil, with three back-to-back murders. The fringe groups of both Hindu and Muslim communities have lit up fires of rage every now and then, for nothing more than their own selfish political interests.
This was evident in the recent murder of BJP youth leader Praveen Nettaru in Bellare town. As also in the killing of Masood earlier from the same town in the coastal district. Masood’s murder, following a road rage incident, set off communal tensions which soon led to the killing of Praveen.
Young BJP activists feel their leadership in the state has failed them miserably. It was reflected in their unbridled anger at the sight of leaders like BJP state chief Nalin Kumar Kateel and minister Sunil Kumar. The anger led to mass resignations of party’s office bearers all over the state, fearing threat to their lives in the face of what they perceive to be inept leadership. Family members of the victim also echoed this sentiment.
Rage shakes state govt
The unexpected rage shook the government and the BJP forcing them to desperately pacify the youngsters. It has so far been in vain, though, since the mood of the BJP workers, mainly from the backward classes, has remained grim. The worry in the party top brass now is whether this anger will harm the party’s prospects in the coming elections.
What’s adding to their anxiety is the fact that the victims of such incidents are mainly from backward classes. A majority of Hindu activists are from the Billawa community (it has more population than any other community in the district). Interestingly, foot soldiers of the RSS-backed Bajrang Dal and other Hindutva groups are mostly boys from the backward-class community.
While BJP leaders did not think it important to visit families of the murdered Muslim youth, the Congress’ top leaders haven’t even cared to visit the town.
The public in general and the backward class in particular in Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts are realising that they are being used as tools in the bloody political games, where their youths are falling prey and losing lives. They are debating why a section of youth from both communities are tilting towards radicalisation.
Coastal Karnataka, particularly Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts, are known for their banking enterprises, education, entrepreneurship and rich culture and heritage. The districts are also popular for effectively implementing land reforms in the 1970s initiated by the then Chief Minister Devaraj Urs. Though there were a few hurdles in implementing the reforms, several landowners respected the government’s decision that enabled hundreds of poor and downtrodden families to own land.
The then Revenue Minister Subbaiah Shetty set an example by giving up land to his tenants. This empowered many “Chomas”.
The reference to Choma comes from a famous novel, Chomana Dudi, written by Jnanapeeth winner Dr K Shivaram Karanth. Choma, the novel’s protagonist, is an untouchable bonded labourer. Due to his social status, he is not allowed to till his own land, something that he desires the most. Though he manages to bring home a pair of stray bullocks, he doesn’t get a piece of land to till it. He dies without realizing his desire.
The novel was adopted as a feature film in 1975 and bagged national awards. In the same year, the Land Reforms Act was brought in and made many a Choma realize the dream of Karanth’s novel. The undivided Dakshina Kannada district came of age when the Chomas of the coastal district became landlords.
It resulted in backward class children getting education and wealth. They entered almost every field that until then was the domain of the upper castes.
At the same time, women built modern Dakshina Kannada by rolling beedis. Whatever be the negativity associated with using tobacco, income from beedi-rolling enabled young boys and girls access education. They could open bank accounts, own passbooks, earn bonuses — and even scholarships — which was more than sufficient to send their children to professional courses.
Moreover, the nationalisation of the banking sector and small loan schemes enabled the backward and downtrodden communities to get loans for self-employment. This gave remarkable financial empowerment to those families.
At the same time, many boys from the communities went to Mumbai, Bangalore and the Gulf region and pumped back their earnings, improving their families’ economic condition. All this helped the undivided Dakshina Kannada district (now Udupi and Dakshina Kannada) become an economically well-to-do district of Karnataka.
Ayodhya adds to Hindu-Muslim divide
Even as this happened, socio-economic imbalance developed between the majority Hindu community and the minorities. Then came the Ayodhya issue.
What was once a Congress bastion, turned into a BJP fortress since then. The waves created in the 1990s by Lal Krishna Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and at present by Narendra Modi, have become a deluge now.
The Muslim youth front SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India) is allegedly playing a major role in fomenting tensions — including the recent incidents – if one goes by the words of the district in-charge minister as well as some officials.
So, whether the common man wants it or not, the flames of communal violence may well keep on burning in the foreseeable future. Only a tsunami of sanity can douse these fires to restore and rebuild the district’s vibrant social fabric.