Anatomy of a Communal Riot in Kodagu
PUCL-Karnataka recently conducted a fact-finding inquiry to go into the
communal disturbances that took place in Kodagu from 9 Dec. 2001 to 17
Dec. 2001. The committee, which consisted of Prof. H. Govindayya, Dr.
V Lakshminarayana, Shri Ramdas Rao, and Shri Nitin, visited Madikeri,
and the towns and villages of Bettigeri, Palur, Kottamudi, Napoklu, Bagamandala,
and spoke to the residents. We also met representatives of the media,
the state administration, the police and Hindu religious organisations.
We are bringing out the this fact-finding report for the attention of
B. Historical Background:
Prior to joining Karnataka state, Kodagu had been a part of the Madras
Presidency under British rule. The British had extended their colonial
influence in Kodagu through commerce. The feudal social structures set
up by the British, especially the master-slave relationship between the
rulers and the ruled, continued even after independence. After the Amar
Sulya rebellion was put down in the 19th century, there was no significant
movement for independence in Kodagu nor any effective anti-caste, non-Brahmin
struggle. In other words, Kodagu is characterised by the absence of either
any liberal tradition, a strong democratic struggle or a stable public
More recently, in
reaction to the situation of internal colonialism, there have been voices
for a separate state for Kodagu. In addition, due to the price fluctuations
induced by liberalisation, the economic situation in Kodagu remains uncertain.
This background forms an important historical context for understanding
the communal events that took place in Kodagu in December 2001.
C. Brief Account
of the Disturbances in Kodagu from Dec. 9 to Dec. 17, 2001:
The genesis of the communal disturbances in Kodagu is said to be the vandalism
perpetrated on Harishchandra temple in the village of Palur. The temple
is a dilapidated structure on the banks of river Kaveri, surrounded by
fields, without access to a road, and gets partially flooded during rains.
It is one of the many dotting the countryside, lacking worshippers, neglected
and exposed to the elements. It is only during the festival of Bagamandala
that it draws worshippers, especially those who are unable to go to Talakaveri,
the source of the Kaveri river.
The exact date of attack on the temple and the extent of damage are not
yet fully determined, but available accounts suggest that sometime during
the period from 6 Dec. to 8 Dec. 2001, the temple was vandalised, with
many roof tiles being damaged and cow dung (or excreta) reportedly thrown
in the temple precincts. The temple lingam is intact, and so is the rest
of the temple.
As soon as the vandalism was discovered, there was an immediate outcry
by the Bhaktha Jana Sangha, a Hindu religious organisation, which called
for a meeting of Hindus at the temple on Dec. 10. This call was published
in the front pages of Shakti, the leading local newspaper. The meeting
was addressed by K.G. Bopayya, Vittala, Sunil Subramani, and other leaders
of BJP and Bajrang Dal. The police imposed section 144 in the area and
gradually in the whole district-but to no avail.
After the meeting, a crowd of 2500 people, armed with knives and other
weapons marched through Kottamudi, a predominantly Muslim village just
outside the temple, and stoned, looted, and burnt many houses and shops.
It is important to note that the police accompanied this rampaging mob
throughout and did not do anything to stop the looting and arson. Before
reaching Kottamudi, the crowd had attacked a Muslim plantation adjacent
to the temple, and looted 80 acres of standing crops (areca nut, coffee
and pepper) and set fire to the entire plantation. The crowd cut down
many trees, blocking the highway and denying access to police reinforcements-a
strategy that was to be followed systematically in the next few days throughout
Kodagu. The police burst tear gas outside the mosque in Kottamudi and
lathicharged an angry Muslim crowd which was throwing stones at the procession.
Later the mosque was destroyed. Hindu Jagran Vedike declared bandh and
raastaa roko in the entire district. Over the next week, this pattern
was repeated as roads were blocked, houses and mosques were ransacked
and burnt and businesses destroyed. The areas affected included Bettigeri,
Napoklu, Kargonda, Hoddur, Kakkabbi, Neliji, Bavalli, Virajpet, Somwarpet
and so on. All the houses and shops attacked in these disturbances belonged
to the Muslim community. In addition, several mosques and madrassas were
burnt in Gonikappa, Balamuri, Balele, Hudikeli, Shanivarasanthe, and Gudugalele,
and worshippers coming out after offering namaaz were attacked. Masjids
in Tiththimarthi and Devapura were raided and prayers stopped. Telephone
booths, small retail establishments (TV and vegetable shops and hotels)
belonging to Muslims were targeted, looted and burnt. According to official
figures, destruction and loss of property has been estimated at Rs. 26.5
lakh in Madikeri taluk, Rs.15.4 lakh in Virajpet taluk, and Rs. 2.29 lakh
in Somwarpet taluk. Some Muslim youths reportedly damaged cars in a number
of places, which were followed by reprisals. In Madikeri, people living
near a mosque injured several policemen in an attack. The police entered
the mosque and lathicharged the gathering.
The police have arrested many people, belonging to both the communities,
and investigations are underway. But the police have not yet arrested
leaders like Jagdeesh Karanth and Sunil Sundermani who gave the call for
the protest rally. Bopayya, the local BJP legislator was briefly arrested
and released without being produced in court. According to the police,
14 people have been injured. Property worth Rs. 50 lakh is officially
declared to have been destroyed, though considering the extensive damage
of houses, mosques, and businesses throughout the district, the actual
figure is likely to be much higher. All of this property belonged to Muslims.
The state administration has promised compensation worth Rs. 7 lakh for
62 houses, Rs. 23 lakh for 76 shops, Rs. 75000 for 2 plantations, and
Rs. 7.4 lakh for 17 mosques; a sum of Rs. 14 lakh has been specially sanctioned
by the administration for restoring the Palur temple.
In the meanwhile,
Home Minister Kharge has stated that Bajrang Dal was involved in the attack
on the Palur temple, a claim that is supported by the evidence collected
by the state administration and the police. (However, for reasons of his
own, Kharge has chosen to retract this statement.) But the police have
yet to take any action in this regard. In the meanwhile, a sense of fear
and helplessness continues to grip the Muslims in this area.
D. Versions of
Different People in Kodagu:
The PUCL team interviewed many people in Kodagu to gauge their reactions
to the week-long disturbances, including the administration, the police,
the media and the general public. The following section presents a summary
of these reactions.
Residents of Kottamudi village: Kottamudi village (Uddur panchayat), which
is situated just outside the Palur temple, has a population of approx.
3000, overwhelmingly Muslim. The village bore the brunt of the attack
on 9.12.01. During our visit to the village, we talked to Karim, ex-member
panchayat, who said that poojaa was performed in the temple only on one
day in the years, during Bagamandala festival. On 8.12.01, the temple
pujaari Arun Kumar, who lived in the village and had cordial relations
with everybody, phoned Karim at night and told him that some roof tiles
in the temple had been destroyed. When Karim went to the temple the next
day, an angry crowd had gathered with the pujaari vainly trying to pacify
the crowd; a police force had also gathered. Karim noticed that only a
few tiles had been broken but later in the day many more tiles were found
to be broken. The pujaari filed a complaint which did not mention any
names; the complaint was torn up by the crowd which wrote up a fresh complaint
implicating 4 boys of the village, Abdul Rahman, Moinuddin, Hamsa, and
Aris, who were completely innocent. They have been remanded and are still
in police custody, though the police had assured the villagers that they
would be released the next day.
The Bhaktha Jana Sangha,
which was formed on the occasion, issued a call for a rally for the next
day. The Bhaktha Jana Sangha included Sadhu Poonacha, KG Bopayya, Vittala
and Sunil Subramani, known supporters of Bajrang Dal; Subramani is reported
to have asked people to bring in knives and other weapons to the next
day's meeting. At the end of the meeting on 10.12.01, a crowd of about
2500 led by the leaders mentioned above took out a procession which instead
of taking the usual northern route out of the temple took the western
route with police permission into the village of Kottamudi--with predictable
and disastrous results. On the way, they looted the adjacent coffee plantation
which was owned by a Muslim and destroyed the standing crop. In Kottamudi,
they ransacked many shops in the village and burnt them. The attackers
came from neighboring and distant places, with the neighboring villagers
guiding the arsonists. Section 144 was imposed in the area, but this had
no effect on the crowd. The police followed the procession, not stopping
or arresting any of the attackers. The crowd put up road blocks on the
main road leading to and out of the village in order to prevent police
reinforcements and to have a free hand in the looting and burning.
Muhammad (whom we interviewed next) told us that many years ago, a drum
(chandi) was broken in the temple, and a case was filed, but when a Hindu
was implicated, the case was withdrawn. In another incident, the collection
box (hundi) of the temple was stolen.
Balamuri identified Pramod Muthalik and Jagdeesh Karanth as the chief
instigators of the attack, for violence erupts wherever they go. Their
target is often Muslim property. Karanth had threatened on an earlier
occasion that mosques would be bombed, a threat that was made good during
Muhammad Aji told us that it was inconceivable that Muslims of Kottamudi
could be involved in the destruction of the temple. If they wanted to
do so, they could have easily accomplished it during the monsoon season
when the temple gets partially flooded and submerged. In fact, the Muslims
have nothing but awe and respect for Harishchandra for Palur that they
always protected, and they used to assist the Hindus during the Bagamandala
festival by lending vessels, supplying food grains etc.The
temple attack is in fact the handiwork of people who want to grab Aji's
land which is adjacent to the temple.
In Kottamudi, we tried to meet Anil Kumar, the pujaari of the temple who
on discovering that the temple had been damaged tried to minimise the
impact of this incident; he called up not the police but Karim, the ex-member
of the panchayat and Devi Prasad, pujari of another temple, who in turn
called Kariyappa, member of the Palur trust; by a strange coincidence,
both of these pujaris, we were told, had been called away by the police
on the same day we wanted to meet them.
2. Bettigeri village
In Bettigeri village (population 800), on 10/12/01, 3 Muslim houses were
attacked and burnt. Omar Haj's shop was attacked and completely looted.
According to Haji, the attack, which started at 2 p.m. and went on for
several hours, was led by outsiders with indirect support of some local
people. He estimated the loss of property at Rs.8 lakh.
Next to the burnt house, on the walls of Hotel Swastik were 2 posters,
one announcing a meeting of "Hindu Brathruthva Sammelan" on
18.11/2001 and another meeting (called "Hindu Samajothsava")
at Virajpet conducted by Hindu Jagrana Vedike on 6.12.01, drawing attention
to the fact that it was "Ayodhya Day." The list of speakers
included Jagdeesh Karanth, B.A. Kariyappa, Vidya Prasanna Thirtha Swamy
of Subramany Math, Dakshina Kannada district.
In the town of Napoklu, we met Maj. Gen. Kariyappa, one of the members
of the Bhaktha Jana Sangha formed after the attack. According to Kariyappa,
the lingam was displaced, and the temple wall was smeared with faeces,
and the stepping stones broken. However, all this was hearsay since he
himself was unable to visit the temple due to his physical condition.
He informed the police and the newspaper Shakti. It was only after the
newspapers that people got really agitated, for, as he put it, "no
Hindu can tolerate hearing about a desecration of this magnitude and his
blood will naturally start boiling." Interestingly, while he informed
Shakti about the attack on the temple, he did not ask the editor to announce
the next day's crucial meeting of the Bhaktha Jana Sangha leading to the
But the editor went
ahead and announced it prominently in the edition of 9.12.01, which drew
thousands of Hindu bhakthas to the temple on 10th. In the meeting of Bhaktha
Jana Sangha, it was resolved that a) the government should give compensation
for the damaged temple, b) the guilty should be externed and banished,
and c) encroachers of the surrounding land (169 acres) should be evicted.
echoed his sentiments, and admitted that they would not have been so agitated
about the desecration of a temple that most of them had never visited
if they had not heard such gory accounts of the incident in the Shakthi
4. The Version of the state administration and the police
a. At Napoklu police station, we met D. Kumar, the station-in-charge,
who said that investigations are not yet fully under way because the police
is still trying to establish peace. In Napoklu, the police had managed
to chase away miscreants who did not damage any property within the town.
But in Vrajpet, a lot of destruction of property had taken place. He confirmed
that a few vehicles were damaged by Muslim youths in Kakkebbe; in revenge,
many Muslim houses were burnt and destroyed.
b. At Madikeri, we met the District Commissioner G.V.Ramachandra who attributed
the communal riots to the overreaction of Hindus to the vandalism of Palur
temple; after all it had been in disuse for a long time, with hardly any
worshippers. He suggested that there was definitely a conspiracy to communalise
a minor incident, and connected it to the furore over Blossom School in
which the Bajrang Dal had raided the school and assaulted 2 girls for
refusing to sing the national anthem.
c. At Madikeri, we
also met Umesh Kumar, SP of Madikeri district, who stated that 135 people
had been arrested so far (35 Muslims and 100 Hindus), FIRs have filed
against 126. The police haven't yet been able to determine the exact date
of the attack on Palur temple. He confirmed that the temple was dilapilated
and not in use for a long time. He defended the conduct of the police
saying that if they had not observed restraint, there would have been
not only more losses but even killings. He felt that losses and casualties
have been minimised considering the scale of communal violence and the
obstacles and difficulties the police faced in reaching help to the victims.
He supported Home Minister Kharge's statement that Bajrang Dal was behind
the incident. He stated that Bopayya and his supporters are definitely
under investigation, and they are likely to be arrested soon. He dismissed
the theory that Muslims from Kerala were behind the attack on the temple.
D. Our Findings
A close study of the communal incidents in Kodagu as well as of the reactions
of different people reveals that the vandalism of the Palur temple on
Dec. 10 was not an isolated incident but part of an ongoing communal conspiracy
that had been set in motion by the Sangh Parivar earlier and will generate
more communal tensions and violence in the months to come. The following
developments are especially significant in this context:
1. Establishment of units of Bajrang Dal in many major towns and villages
in Kodagu in recent months. This was followed by the formation of 2 Hindu
fundamentalist organisations, "Hindu Brathruthva (Brotherhood) Sammelan"
"Hindu Samajotsava" that held meetings for one month before
Dec. 10 to commemorate "Ayodhya Day." Along with "Hindu
Jagrana Vedike", and "Bhaktha Jana Sangha", they are part
of a chain of communal outfits that the Bajrang Dal and the Sangha Parivar
have established in order to orchestrate a frenzy of pro-Hindutva sentiment
that could easily turn a minor incident into a full-scale communal flare
2. One of Bajrang Dal's first activities was the assault on 2 students
at Blossom School in Nov. 2001 on the ground that they had refused to
sing the national anthem in school. The 2 students, who were Jehovah's
Witnesses, stated that singing the national anthem went against the tenets
of their religious faith. It is to be noted that the Supreme Court has
upheld a citizen's right not to join the singing of the national anthem.
In assaulting the 2 girls, the Bajrng Dal's intent was to create a communal
spectacle of branding members of a religious minority as unpatriotic.
3. The temple at Palur itself has been chosen in the past for a number
of stage-managed incidents of vandalism and theft. Once, the collection
box was stolen, but when a Hindu was implicated, the case was withdrawn.
Again, when the bell of the temple was stolen, the case was similarly
suppressed. The design behind these incidents was undoubtedly to give
it a communal colour and to put Muslims in the area on the defensive.
4. There has been a long-standing attempt to grab property of Muslims
in the area around the temple through fictitious land disputes. Years
ago, a pujari of the temple had obtained possession of this land from
the Land Tribunal whose Hindu members significantly upheld the pujari's
claim but it was opposed by a Muslim member. Later, the pujari sold it
to a Muslim. There was no compulsion or illegal occupation involved in
this transaction. The land adjacent to the temple indubitably belongs
to the Muslims, not withstanding the baseless claims put forward by some
5. The regional language press played a crucial role in generating communal
tension and hatred. When we talked to the editor of the leading newspaper
Shakti, he insisted that his newspaper had been impartial in its coverage
of events. However, a perusal of its issues during the critical period
of 11-14 Dec. 2001 reveals the following:
a. the widespread destruction of Muslim property is presented not as an
outbreak of communal violence but as the spontaneous upsurge of people's
indignation at the desecration of the temple.
b. Shakti kept harping on the enormity of the desecration of the temple
but not of the desecration of mosques which only receives passing mention
through ministerial statements.
c. Similarly while the arrest of the Muslim youths in connection with
the attack on the Palur temple is highlighted, there is no mention of
those who destroyed Muslim property.
d. there is extensive coverage of statements by VHP and Bajrang Dal demanding
strict action against those found to be guilty of desecrating the temple,
and denouncing statements of those (e.g. Home Minister Kharge) who suggested
the complicity of Hindu organisations.
e. On 9 Dec. 2001, Shakti carried a prominent box item on the top right
hand corner announcing that all Hindus should rally for a meeting the
next day to protest the desecration of the temple. This announcement brought
thousands of Hindus to the temple on Dec. 10 with predictable and disastrous
Such a slanted coverage had the effect of inciting communal passions,
and provoking collective violence; as one of the Bhaktha Jana Sangha followers
admitted, the Hindus wouldn't have been aroused to such a high pitch of
hysteria and hatred but for the inflammatory accounts in the newspapers
of the attack on the Palur temple that would be enough to "make any
Hindu's blood boil."
1. The police and the district administration have failed in their measures
to prevent and control the communal incident on Dec. 10 and its aftermath.
Throughout the months of Nov. and Dec. 2001, leaders of Bajrang Dal such
as Jagdish Karanth had been making incendiary statements that completely
vitiated the atmosphere. For instance, on Dec. 6 at Virajpet, when Muslims
protested at the bursting of fire crackers near a mosque, Pramod Muthalik
had threatened to bomb mosques. Jagdish Karanth had also branded those
who refuse to sing the national anthem as unpatriotic and this was followed
up by an attack on 2 school girls. If the district administration had
taken preventive action to check such provocative behaviour, much of the
ensuing communal violence could have been avoided.
2. In fact, throughout the communal flare-up, the police refrained from
enforcing the law. During the protest march on Dec. 10, the police imposed
Section 144 to prevent public disorder and yet gave permission to let
such an agitated mob pass through the predominantly Muslim area of Kotamudi
instead of the northern route bypassing the village altogether, thereby
causing widespread destruction and violence. While on the one hand, the
police remained silent spectators to the rampage by a Hindu mob in Kottamudi,
they burst teargas in the direction of the mosque and fired in the air
to restrain Muslims there. The police have been afraid to take action
against the culprits behind the violence including leaders of the Sangh
Parivar. The routine explanation is that investigations are going on,
intelligence is being collected etc.
3. Home Minister
Kharge has held Bajrang Dal as being responsible for the communal disturbances
on the basis of the evidence collected by the police, but to this day
no one has been arrested and produced before the court. If the district
police had detained leaders such as Jagdish Karanth, BJP leaders such
as Somayya, Devayya and Sunil Subramani, much of the ensuing communal
violence could have been avoided. There has been a complete breakdown
of the police intelligence machinery.
4. It would not be an exaggeration to say that from Dec. 9 to Dec. 17,
the state machinery was not functioning and there was no rule of law,
and the communal leaders had complete freedom to accomplish whatever they
1. We could not find any evidence linking the attack on Palur temple with
the Muslim community or, for that matter, any motivation for such for
such an attack. On the other hand, there is strong circumstantial evidence,
as the govt. has indicated, linking Bajrang Dal to the attack on the Palur
2. The Bajrang has firmly established itself in Kodagu over the last few
months and its provocative actions have created a feeling of insecurity
and dread among the minorities.
3. Even though communalism is the chief source of recent violence in the
district, the State by its inability to restrain it bears equal responsibility
for the violence.
4. Many local newspapers, especially Shakti, have been the mouthpiece
of the Sangh Parivar.
5. Communalism has been able to rear its head in Kodagu due to the weaknesses
of the secular and progressive forces there.
1. The chief instigators of communal riots in Kodgu, Jagdish Karanth,
Pramod Muthalik, Bopayya, Devayya, Somesh and Sunil Subramani must be
immediately arrested and externed. Otherwise, there is every danger of
2. Activities of extremist communal outfits must be constantly monitored.
3. The state govt. must order a judicial inquiry in order to obtain a
complete picture of the communal riots and identify and punish the guilty.
4. The PUCL appeals to the people of Kodagu to work to root out communal
prejudices in their midst and to understand and beware of the sinister
designs of Hindu communalists.
Secular and democratic forces must unite in order to face the onslaught
of communalism in the state.