Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Riot inquiry report divided Bhatkal's Vicky Nanjappa travels to Bhatkal on Karnataka's west coast to investigate how a quaint town turned into a hotspot and finds it divided over a riot inquiry report.

The very mention of the Justice Jagannatha Shetty Commission report can tauten the air in Karnataka's Bhatkal town.

Bhatkal, which did not react even after the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, is today a metaphor for communal tension.

It all began after 16 people were killed in riots in late 1993 for reasons under probe. Sources say the riots were not linked to the masjid's demolition.

However, it was not the riots but the probe into it has widened the rift between Hindus and Muslims in Bhatkal -- a town with a population of about 45,000.

The commission, which was set up to inquire into the reasons behind the riots, allegedly implicated local Muslim bodies, and this has enraged the community.

While Hindus in the town have been pressing the state government to table the report in the assembly, Muslims do not want it done as they feel the conclusions will only escalate the tension and label them as culprits.

Muslims in Bhatkal, who constitute about 60 percent of the town's population, said the commission has only made matters worse for them.

According to the report, the Ajuman Hamie-e-Muslimeen Bhatkal, an eminent Muslim institution that runs many educational institutions including an engineering college, was allegedly responsible for the riots. Another Muslim social welfare organisation in Bhatkal, 'Lion Club', has been also reportedly been held responsible.

Adding to the tension, the riots were followed by the murder of the local legislator Dr U Chittaranjan in 1996 while the commission was still at work. Chittaranjan had made statements before the panel testifying that Hindu groups were not involved in the riots.

The commission has exonerated the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Hindu Jaagran Vedike, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. It also quoted BJP leaders Ananth Kumar and the late Dr Chittaranjan as saying that no Muslim had filed any complaint against these organisations and their members over the riots.

The main suspect in the Chittaranjan murder case is absconding, and the reports in the case have been inconclusive.

Senior Muslim leaders from Bhatkal feel the report was a strategy to declare Bhatkal a riot zone.

"If this report is tabled, there will be a threat to the lives and property of every Muslim (in the town). Their educational institutions will be targeted and they won't be allowed to form any youth organisation," an elderly Muslim said on condition of anonymity.

"The report is not an ordinary one and unless it is dismissed officially, the danger will loom large over our heads. The Congress was in power when the report was first released. But since it did not think the report was right, it never tabled it. The BJP, on the other hand, continues to use it as a tool against us," he adds.

Others from the community went on to add that the report has targeted educational institutions.

"We cannot accept that our children could be involved in this incident and unless the report is dismissed there is no chance of peace," says a Muslim resident from Bhatkal.

Political parties are playing it safe with regard to the report.

The BJP had "promised to table" the report once it came to power in the state, but it is yet to gather courage to do so. BJP leaders believe the report could restore peace in Bhatkal.

However, senior BJP members preferred to be evasive about tabling the report. They said they would study the report very carefully before tabling it, as they did not want further communal problems in the state.

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