AFTER A brief lull in 2011 and the early part of 2012, incidents of moral policing and violence are back in the coastal town of Mangalore, Karnataka. Situated between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats, the town with a population of just under 5 lakh, has been a hotbed of aggressive Hindutva nationalism ever since the 2009 pub attack case, when members of the Shri Ram Sene vandalised a local pub and beat up the customers there in the name of moral policing.
Four years later, not much has changed. It has been three months since local journalist Naveen Soorinje was wrongfully jailed on charges of conspiracy, unlawful assembly, rioting with deadly weapons, criminal trespass, causing grievous hurt and assault on a woman with intent to outrage her modesty.
Soorinje’s crime? On 28 July 2012, he had captured on video camera a similar attack, this time on youngsters having a party in a private homestay. The whole nation was stunned with pictures of goons belonging to the Hindu Jagarana Vedike (HJV) — an outfit affiliated to the Sangh Parivar — roughing up young boys and girls, some even molesting the girls.
Whereas the Karnataka High Court cleared Soorinje of all the charges, it denied him bail simply for not having informed the police. On 31 January, following a campaign to free Soorinje, the Karnataka Cabinet cleared a note for dropping all charges against the 24-year-old scribe. As this article goes to print, it would have been a month since the note reached Chief Minister Jagadish Shettar for final approval.
Such attacks on the media are not a new phenomenon in Mangalore. On 5 February, the Karavali Ale newspaper had carried a story citing police reports that Keshav, an HJV activist, was the main drug peddler in the Surathkal area. Keshav is a known associate of Satyajit Surathkal, a big name in the HJV, and was arrested by the police with 650 gm of marijuana in his possession.
In response, HJV activists attacked the newspaper’s office, ransacking it and causing injuries to the staff. Two senior staff members had to be hospitalised. A week later, another staff member was waylaid in the dark and attacked with iron rods, sticks and other weapons.
This was not the first time Karavali Ale had been attacked. The paper used to come under regular attack from the Sangh Parivar when Soorinje was a reporter there. “The fear of another possible attack has reduced my staff strength from 20 to four,” says BV Seetharam, editor and proprietor of Karavali Ale.
Sudipto Mondal of The Hindu remembers the time when he came very close to being assaulted by the Sangh Parivar. “Subhash Padil, one of the perpetrators of the July homestay attack, was also part of the infamous pub attack in January 2009. He had once threatened to stab me with a trident,” recalls Mondal.