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Anti-minority, anti-Dalit atrocities: Karnataka govt turns 'enabler'; court, media 'complicit'

Counterview Desk 

In an open letter, more than 330 concerned citizens have expressed “serious concern” about “growing state led and state-sponsored targeted violence and discrimination against Muslim, Christian and Dalit communities in Karnataka.
Stating that it can have several long lasting and adverse consequences, particularly on the most marginalised and vulnerable, it regrets, “The judiciary, media, police and bureaucracy are complicit in this violence and discrimination”, insisting, “The Government of Karnataka is primary responsible to prevent and address these forms of untouchability, targeted harassment and discrimination against vulnerable communities in the state.”
Claiming that the government itself has become “an enabler of these social vices”, leading to a situation where “the country is hurtling towards disaster”, the letter laments, this is happening despite the fact that the state is obliged to “act against hate speeches and the vicious calls for violence as well as social and economic boycotts.”

Text:

We write this letter with tremendous concern about the growing state-led and state-sponsored targeted violence and discrimination against Muslim, Christian and Dalit communities in Karnataka that can have several long lasting and adverse consequences, particularly on the most marginalised and vulnerable. The judiciary, media, police and bureaucracy are complicit in this violence and discrimination.
Thousands of bright, young Muslim women have been subjected to daily harassment on the pretext of the hijab that has become a tool to deny education by not allowing them into educational institutions, refusing permission to attend exams and not even offering online classes. Indeed, other than Muslim students, Muslim teachers too have been sacked from their jobs in complete misapplication of the Karnataka High Court’s questionable judgment that awaits a Supreme Court imprimatur.
This concocted hijab issue has now spiralled from the colleges onto the street making any hijab- wearing Muslim woman vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, public humiliation and denial of access into public spaces.
Karnataka has also witnessed vicious public campaigns to boycott Muslim businesses, instigated by sitting ministers and led by Hindutva groups, with blanket impunity from the authorities. Muslim traders have had their stalls attacked at fairs and festivals. There is a call to boycott Muslim drivers and tour operators. There is also a call for what has been called “fruit jihad” -- boycotting Muslim fruit sellers as well as halal meat and seeking a ban on the Azaan. 
This, with regressive laws like cattle slaughter ban is pushing Muslim and Dalit communities into economic destitution. Targeting livelihood through the age-old casteist methods of social and economic boycott is in conflict with the Constitutional principles as embodied in Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution and is also violative of Articles 14 and 15 of the Indian Constitution for being arbitrary and discriminatory.
As part of the steep rise in attacks against Muslims, the Ram Navami festival offered another opportunity to launch militant marches by Hindutva groups in several areas, with swords and trishuls, blaring provocative music and slogans outside mosques and in Muslim dominated areas, during the holy month of Ramzan and at the time of breaking of the daily fast, often in the presence of the local police. 
This had an all-India character and Karnataka was one of the states chosen for this display of toxic machismo. It is not surprising that riots erupted in so many states -- as they were indeed meant to. In a completely illegal and unprecedented move, the Madhya Pradesh government has egregiously demolished the residences of the alleged rioters, predominantly Muslim households.
The Muslim community across the country has been targeted by the state machinery and there has been very little recourse to police support, honest media reporting or judicial oversight. This in effect, makes the community extremely vulnerable, visible in the everyday humiliation and efforts to subjugate the community. Even seemingly innocuous activities or cultural practices are being given dangerous tints that lead to ‘othering’. Othering a community has devastating consequences and is a concerning step towards genocide. We have terrible examples from history to prove this.
The community was not even spared during the Covid pandemic and the targeting that they were subjected to led them to real life consequences in terms of their mental health, livelihood, income, access to healthcare etc. A textbook that attributed the Covid pandemic to Muslim community had to be withdrawn following public outrage.
As part of the anti-minority agenda of the fascist Hindu agenda, even the Christian community in Karnataka has been targeted by the state machinery. The anti-conversion law that was planned and is being considered to be brought in as an ordinance attempts to criminalise people’s choice of religion which is protected under Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. 
The expected consequence of this is that Christians praying peacefully in their private spaces have been subjected to threats and physical violence. Pastors have been attacked and Christian prayer areas have been vandalised. This law, which has been brought in or amended to make it more rigorous in multiple states, also seeks to criminalise inter-faith marriages of choice by adult citizens, especially where the husband is Muslim. 
Even as constitutional challenges to the law are pending before various High Courts, the law has given impetus to local goons to intimidate, attack and separate couples marrying outside their community and has also resulted in the filing of several false and fabricated cases by the police.
While communalism is escalating in the state, age old caste practices continue to be maintained and aggravated under the current regime. One the one hand, caste atrocities in the state are on the rise and on the other hand, basic entitlements such as the post-matric scholarship are being delayed.
Karnataka has also seen a sharp rise in the number of atrocities against the communities belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.  In December 2021, a group of Dalits were beaten up by caste Hindus for entering a temple in KR Pete. Chandru and his son Nitin were attacked for operating a sugar cane stall in February 2022. In March 2022, a Dalit woman, Daneshwari, was fatally burnt by her dominant caste boyfriend, while Sunil Kumar, a Dalit youth, was beaten up for the ‘crime’ of ‘staring’ at caste Hindus in April 2022 in the capital ‘smart-city’ Bengaluru. 
These are some of the incidents that have made their entry into the public domain, but most cases are largely unreported or pushed off the radar by a combination of threat, coercion and allurement. Between March 2020 and March 2021, there were 2327 cases registered, which is a spike of 54% over the previous year. In fact , Karnataka’s conviction rate is also very low. In 2017, it was reported that the conviction rate was 2.7 per cent, in 2020 it was reported that is a mere 0.4 per cent.
While the Prevention of Atrocities (Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes) Act 1989 was enacted to punish caste discrimination and atrocities against members of the Dalit and Adivasi communities, this is not available to most affected members of the Dalit community. At the very least, following complaints of a caste atrocity, FIRs would need to be filed and criminal proceedings initiated. Justice has to be ensured for targeted individuals.
The post-matric scholarship scheme for Dalit students, started in 1944-45 by the then British Government on the insistence of Dr BR Ambedkar and available to Dalit students pursuing post-matric courses and whose parents/guardians annual income does not exceed Rs. 2.5 lakhs, is a centrally sponsored scheme. The disbursement of scholarship amount has been plagued by serious delays in Karnataka causing extreme financial burden on the students and may even force them to drop out, thus undermining the primary purpose of the scheme.
The post-matric scholarship for Dalit students needs to be urgently streamlined and monitored to ensure that students do no fall through the social safety net. The state government has to take proactive measures to ensure that no student eligible for the scholarship is left out for bureaucratic reasons. This information should be put out in the public domain and be open to public scrutiny.
While all these incidents, events and behaviours can be seen as isolated events and ‘not really a major problem” the fact is that this culture of discrimination along with impunity offered to the offenders leads to exclusion, ghettoization, denial of essential services etc. Individuals, especially those who are more vulnerable and from oppressed communities face the brunt of this, leading to adverse effects on their mental health.
The Covid-19 pandemic and aggressive lockdown has already had a serious mental health impact which the state hasn't even considered documenting, leave alone addressing. This is over and above the other communicable, non-communicable and reproductive health issues that were not addressed during the pandemic. Instead the state is finding new and creative ways to further subjugate vulnerable communities. 
 The government of Karnataka is primary responsible to prevent and address these forms of untouchability, targeted harassment and discrimination against vulnerable communities in the state. If the government itself has become an enabler of these social vices, then the country is hurtling towards disaster. The police need to be pulled up for failing to file FIRs, offer protection to the victims and witnesses and instead becoming middle men of the right wing aggression. The media needs to be held accountable for making already vulnerable communities even more likely to face attacks on their livelihood, dignity, homes and lives.
The government of Karnataka is an elected representative of the state and needs to take cognisance of multiple needs of the people of the state. As a group of concerned individuals and progressive organisations, we demand that the social determinants of health such as employment, education, food, water, sanitation, nutrition be addressed on priority. 
The state has to act against hate speeches and the vicious calls for violence as well as social and economic boycotts. The courts in the state have to take suo moto cognisance of the misinformation and false stories against communities that aggravate their risk of being subjected to violence and discrimination. This includes social media and other media platforms.
We condemn this growing communal and caste violence in Karnataka and calls upon all concerned individuals and organisations with a conscience not to keep silent. There needs to be resolute condemnation by larger national and international groups from the mental health/public health and social justice movements. Communalism and casteism are as much a public health crisis as the Covid pandemic and can spread just as virulently. They need as serious an intervention as any other public health crisis.
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