A calendar of murders: How the hijab ban unfolded in Karnataka and key happenings

In December last year, six Muslim college girls in Udupi were stopped at the gate of the Government PU College for Girls.

Published: 09th October 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th October 2022 04:09 PM   |  A+A-

In December last year, six Muslim college girls in Udupi were stopped at the gate of the Government PU College for Girls. They were not allowed to attend classes because they were wearing hijabs. Local BJP MLA, Raghupathi Bhat, who heads the college’s development committee, told the girls to follow the dress code. The girls refused and dropped classes instead of their hijabs. They also filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court and approached the National Human Rights Commission. The case, which reached the Supreme Court, did not get them relief.

A week before the ban, the Karnataka government had told the apex court that the petitioners were influenced by the PFI. “This is not a spontaneous act of a few individual children they want to wear the hijab. They were part of a planned conspiracy. These children are acting as advised by PFI. In 2022, a movement started on social media by PFI (was) designed to create agitation based on religious feelings of the people,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the Bench.

The controversy had snowballed across the globe. Minority rights in India were questioned. The hijab ban and subsequent agitations caught the attention of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor as chief of al-Qaeda; in April, he came out in support of the poster girl for the hijab row. He was recently killed by an American drone in Afghanistan. But the hijab row hasn’t died out yet.

On July 26 this year, Praveen Nettaru, a BJP Yuva Morcha leader in Karnataka, was hacked to death in Bellare in coastal Karnataka. The culprits are allegedly PFI members. Ten of them were arrested, and the state police handed the case to NIA. The Central agency’s investigation revealed that the accused persons, who are “active members of PFI, had planned and committed Nettaru’s murder as part of a larger conspiracy to strike terror among the members of a section of society.”

On August 11, 2020, a violent mob of thousands of arsonists attacked KG Halli and DJ Halli police stations. It vandalised public and private property. It torched the house of Congress MLA from Pulkeshinagar, Akhand Srinivas Murthy. His nephew, Naveen, had posted inflammatory content on social media. Scores of people, including 50 cops, were injured in the violence. Three people died in police firing. The case initially investigated and charge-sheeted by the City Crime Branch of Bengaluru Police, was handed over to the NIA, which filed a 7,000-page charge sheet against 247 people in February 2021, under sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA). Out of the charge-sheeted persons, 47 were from the PFI and its political wing SDPI. On July 7, 2017, RSS activist Sharath Madiwala was hacked to death in Mangaluru. The police arrested 17 men. The main accused Mohammed Sharief is a PFI member.

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In October 2016, RSS member R Rudresh was hacked to death on Kamaraj Road in the Central Business District of Bengaluru. He was returning from ‘Patha Sanchalan’, an RSS function. He was killed by a blow from a machete on the right side of his neck. It was a signature killing, nicknamed the ‘PFI cut’. The case was initially investigated by the city police who arrested five men: Irfan Pasha, Waseem Ahmed alias Wasim, Mohammad Sadiq alias Mohammad Mazar alias Mazar, Mohammed Mujeeb Ulla alias Mujeeb alias Maula, and Bengaluru district president Asim Sheriff, under Sections 302 (murder) r/w 34 (common intention), 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC and Sections 16 1(a), 18, 20 of the UAPA. The case was handed over to NIA. Its chargesheet stated that the accused were members of the PFI and SDPI, and had targeted Rudresh “to strike terror among a section of people. The killing was a clear act of terrorism with the intention of instilling fear in the minds of people and was a step towards establishing the Islamic Caliphate in India by eliminating the kafirs,” the NIA chargesheet stated. In August 2016, RSS activist and auto-rickshaw driver Praveen Pujari was murdered in Kodagu district. Arrested were again PFI members—its district secretary TA Haris, PFI workers M H Tufail, Nayaz, Mohammed Mustafa, Mujeeb Rehman and Irfan Ahmed among others.

In Karnataka, the PFI was red-flagged during the 2009 communal riots in an otherwise peaceful and communally harmonious Mysuru city. Several were injured and two died. The initial murmurs for ban on PFI had come around 2011, when six cadres of the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD)/PFI were arrested and made the accused in the double murder of two students. “Over the last 15-16 years, we have seen the involvement of PFI cadres and followers in many murder cases. In some cases their involvement is obvious,” said the incumbent DG and IGP, Karnataka, Praveen Sood. He believes that acquittal of the accused in some cases does not necessarily rule out their involvement. “Acquittal happens because of a variety of reasons such as witnesses becoming compromised or turning hostile. The involvement of the PFI cadres is a fact,” he added. Sood explains that the demand for the ban on PFI has been there for quite some time, even during the previous (non-BJP) governments. Currently almost all of PFI’s top leaders in Karnataka are in police custody.

On  The  Record
“The PFI, which is working through its leaders, members and associates, has gone far ahead in creating atrocities among the community.”
The NIA’s remand report in possession of this newspaper notes: “The seized documents contain highly incriminating materials related to the targeting of prominent leaders of a particular community. The ‘hit list’ seized clearly shows that the PFI, which is working through its leaders, members, and associates has gone far ahead in creating atrocities among the community. More investigation is required in this aspect not only to obtain more evidence but also to prevent ‘blood bath’ in society.” It reveals that the PFI members and affiliates in Kerala “have conspired to indulge in unlawful activities by creating enmity between members of different religions and groups, with the intention to disrupt the public tranquillity”. They also aimed to cause disaffection against India, propagating an alternative justice delivery system justifying the use of criminal force, causing alarm and fear among the general public.

The organisation also encourages vulnerable youths to join terrorist outfits, including Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Islamic State (IS), and al-Qaida, and also “conspired to establish Islamic rule in India by committing a terrorist act as a part of violent jihad. PFI also spreads disaffection against India by wrongful interpretation of government policies to a particular section of people to create hatred against the state and its machinery.” The NIA has seized important documents, digital devices and articles as evidence, which could unravel a larger conspiracy and identify and secure other suspects involved in the case. The accused were actively involved in organised crimes and unlawful activities to “terrorise other religious sections of society”. They used various social media platforms for their secret communications for committing  the offence.

Said Savad, first accused in the hand-chopping case while dismembering the right hand of Professor T J Joseph. NIA quoted the assertion of the accused in the supplementary chargesheet filed before the court. The Malayalam professor had set a question in an internal examination paper that asked students to punctuate a dialogue between a person and god, which many Muslims regarded as blasphemy. According to NIA, the attack failed five times. A six-member gang intercepted the professor’s car, smashed its window pane and forcefully pulled him out. They attacked him with a cleaver, knives and a small axe. They hurled country-made bombs to stop family members from rescuing Joseph. “Shanawas frightened and kept away the people present in the place. K M Muhammed Shobin and Sajil stood on both sides of the road waving their weapons to prevent people. Savad cut on the left wrist using the axe,” the report said. Jamal told Savad, “You are  chopping off the wrong hand; chop off the right hand instead.” Shobin pressed down Joseph’s right hand on the road, which Savad cut off. Savad further said, “You have ridiculed the Islam religion using this hand, you don’t write with this hand again,” noted the NIA report. - Ram Das


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