Field Notes: The Cup Of Communalism In Mangaluru


“Can you come in 15 minutes? Fazil’s father has agreed to speak now,” said a voice over the phone.

I had waited for two days to interview the family of Mohammad Fazil, a 23-year-old who was murdered in July 2022 near Mangaluru as revenge for the killing of a Hindu man nearly 80 km away. It was almost 7.30 pm on the final day of my reporting. I’d prepared for the eventuality of writing the story without the key voice of a Muslim victim of Hindutva violence.

I’ve often found southern coastal Karnataka to be a scary bellwether of Hindutva politics in south India. The region is a gorgeous tapestry of rivers, verdant hills, coconut trees and areca plantations. It has high education levels and incomes, reflected through sprawling country houses and towering apartment complexes.

It is also home to a belligerent strain of Hindutva: the pervasive presence of saffron flags, numerous RSS affiliate fundamentalist organisations conducting frequent vigilante attacks, and a near-communal cleaving of Hindu and Muslim communities.

I’ve followed the violence here for over a decade and seen the politics and electorate delve further into the depths of Hindutva. The 2023 Karnataka elections took it up a notch. BJP’s rallies had DJ vans playing “Hindutva pop”—reminiscent of the rallies in India’s “cow belt”—while most supporters now carried the Bhagwa flag, the symbol of the RSS, rather than the BJP flag.

In the weeks prior, I’d met several BJP workers who admitted to a bloodlust after the murder of a Hindu BJP worker in 2022. “It was after the death of Fazil that we felt the Muslim community were taught a lesson,” said a worker in BJP’s information technology cell. 

Fazil, who dreamt of going to the Gulf and busied himself with blood donation camps, was hacked to death while waiting for a friend—another to-be-forgotten statistic in the bloody communal history here. 

Ummar Farooq, Fazil’s father, choked with sadness, grief, and anger, repeatedly talked about his Hindu neighbours who stood by his family throughout. And how, even in the heat of the funeral, he told the crowd that there should be no violence in Fazil’s name.

I’m a cynic but occasionally prone to dashes of optimism. I’d talked to four families—two Hindu and two Muslim—whose kin were killed in communal violence. All iterated that profit over communal politics should end. Perhaps, the cup had finally brimmed over.

This optimism lasted till May 13, when ballots were counted. 

Hindu fundamentalist Arun Puthila, who stood for elections as an independent, over-performed. His campaign pitch was that the BJP’s version of Hindutva was too soft. Puthila took the lead mid-way through counting but eventually lost by 4,000 votes to the Congress Party, which benefited from the division of votes. Importantly for his campaign team, Puthila secured nearly double the votes of the BJP, showing that the party had to pivot towards a hardline stance. 

While the BJP was routed in the rest of the state, it performed incredibly well in southern coastal Karnataka: securing more than half the votes polled in the region and winning 11 out of 13 constituencies here.  

The cup of communalism still had space.

You can read Mohit M Rao’s full story here.

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