Communal turbulence, hijab row and hate killings rocked Karnataka in 2022

While polarization gave more real estate to communal politics, it helped neither the people affected by it nor the police, which have a limited role of firefighting the blaze.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

There’s an eerie echo, uneasy calm in the wrapping up of the year, which began with communal turbulence in coastal Karnataka with the hijab row and ended with a botched terror attack, again in the coastal region. If the pressure cooker IED blast in an autorickshaw had gone as per the blueprint of the accused, Mohd Shariq, maggots would have crawled out of the cadaver of communal harmony.

The year 2022 saw Karnataka at the centre stage of many controversies, communal flare-ups, crime and law and order situations, which if left unattended, would have led to serious repercussions. While polarization gave more real estate to communal politics, it helped neither the people affected by it nor the police, which have a limited role in firefighting the blaze.

Right from the hijab row that resulted in communal tensions and murders in the coastal belt, to the police sub-inspector (PSI) recruitment scam that left the government red-faced and the unprecedented arrest of an ADGP rank officer, murder and dismemberment of women by a Mandya couple, and ban on the Popular Front of India (PFI), it has been a riveting year.

The hijab row began on December 28 last year, after the Government PU College in Udupi refused entry to six girls wearing hijab. On January 1, the girls attended a press conference called by the Campus Front of India (CFI) – the student wing of the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI) -- in the coastal town, in protest against the college authorities. In April, al-Qaeda leader late Ayman al-Zawahiri waded in and purportedly hailed the hijab row’s poster girl in Mandya.

On September 28, largely spurred by petitions from the Karnataka, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh governments, the Centre banned the PFI and associated outfits under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967, for five years for alleged terrorist activities and links with banned terror organisations.

The final push for the PFI ban was the murder of BJP Yuva Morcha leader Praveen Nettaru on July 26. He was killed outside his office at Bellare, in Sullia taluk. The government handed over the case to the NIA after police arrested 12 key suspects. On July 28, Fazil, a daily wage worker at Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL), was hacked to death in alleged retaliation to Nettaru’s murder. Police arrested seven people in connection with Fazil’s murder.

In August, the Central Crime Branch (CCB) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) arrested Akhtar Hussain – an allegedly radicalised youth from Assam – in South Bengaluru and his associate Adil, alias Zuba, from Salem in Tamil Nadu.

Five days before the ban notification, on September 23, NIA launched ‘Operation Octopus’, its biggest cross-country operation against the PFI, and Karnataka police registered a case against 15 top PFI leaders in KG Halli police station in Bengaluru East. Police arrested suspects from across the state.

In September, Shivamogga police arrested two youths for burning the National flag. Their mentor, Shariq, went absconding only to surface two months later with the cooker IED in Mangaluru. A ghastly crime was unearthed in Mandya district after police recovered the body parts of two women from two canals. An investigation based on missing complaints led to the arrest of Siddalingappa and his partner Chandrakala, who reportedly admitted to the three murders and dismemberment of two women for easy disposal and destruction of evidence.

The case became a precursor to the infamous human sacrifice case in Kerala, the Shraddha Walkar murder in Gurugram, and other similar heinous cases of murder and dismemberment in the country. Besides blood and gore, the underground market for contraband drugs picked up a tremendous pace, with the lifting of pandemic restrictions. There were multiple cases of smuggled contraband drugs seized by police and other law enforcement agencies from courier companies, that were ordered and paid for on the darknet through cryptocurrency.

Last month, after the Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of a serial killer and rapist Umesh Reddy to 30-year life imprisonment, another killer convicted for burying his wife alive in the backyard of her house – Murli Manohar Misra alias Shraddhanand – appealed for release. He was the first convict to have been awarded a life sentence without remission in 2008, by the apex court.

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