By Chris Emmanuel D'Souza
Mangaluru, Nov 15: Over the last few days, Karnataka has been rampaged with a flood of rage and savagery over a trivial issue of the government's honouring of the epic and controversial emperor Tipu Sultan. Although, the decision of the state government to hold an honouring ceremony for a king who ruled two hundred years back in history is at best questionable; the reaction to the event all over the state is disturbing and contemptible.
The protests actually triggered in the country’s most volatile, sensitive and polarized regions, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi. Here, outfits belonging to the Sangh Parivar and the BJP condemned the chief minister's decision to respect Tipu Sultan, whom they referred to as a religious bigot, and also warned the government of serious consequences. In addition, a few Mangalurean Catholic groups and institutions also expressed their displeasure at the state government’s decision. The Catholic community of Mangaluru had been at the receiving end of Tipu Sultan's worst kind of savagery; the community was captured, enslaved, imprisoned, tortured and killed systematically during the second Anglo Mysore War (1780-1784). Three of the historical churches namely the Milagres Church, the Rosario Church and the Kirem Chruch at Kinnigoli were decimated and raised to the ground. Tipu had alleged the Catholic community of spying and guiding the British. As a matter of fact, the British officers favoured the Catholics economically and politically and in return Catholics of the region supplied vegetables, rice, fruits etc to British soldiers.
A large number Catholic women were used as Tipu's sex slaves and were also distributed as wives to Muslim officers. The brutality of Tipu Sultan against the Mangalurean Catholic community very nearly resembles the modern day ISIS treatment of religious minorities. In addition, Tipu also attacked and brought down many Hindu temples during his reign. Most of the modern day Indian historians omitted this part of Tipu's inhumanity, and patronized him as a freedom fighter, who bravely stood against the onslaught of the 18th century British Empire. But thanks to the internet, where one can find an alternative history, mostly from the accounts of British officers of the time like James Scurry.
Seemingly, it is clear that the Congress-led state government did play the tried and tested policy of religious appeasement to strengthen the vote bank. But, then the opposition party and the Hindutva brigade stormed out their anger, by vandalizing, looting, plundering public property and by making preposterous communal statements on public platform, thereby deliberately creating religious tensions. The tension then spiraled across malnad region with a spark.
During the Tipu Jayanti ceremony, Jnanpith Award winning playwright and filmmaker Girish Karnad stated that the newly built Kempegowda Airport at Devanahalli should have been named after Tipu. The 24/7 noise polluting Kannada news channels flashed this part of the speech several times and accused Girish Karnad of making irresponsible statements and offending the Vokkaliga community’s godlike figure Kemepegowda. This further escalated tensions and demonstrators burned Karnad's effigies and demanded immediate apology from him. An unknown individual had also tweeted a death threat to Karnad, forcing the state to provide police protection to the writer at his residence. Karnad humbly apologized to the public and cleared the confusion saying that he had no intention of hurting anybody’s sentiments or any designs to smear Kempegowda; but had only suggested Tipu's name, since the emperor was born at Devanahalli. Even then, the opposition mainly the BJP and the Hindu right-wing outfits continued to hurl abuses and make below the belt comments against a literary figure whose biography is decorated with momentous contribution to Kannada language and culture over the years.
Perhaps, it is a tragedy that such treatment has been meted out to literary Icons like Karnad, in a state that has been the recipient of eight Jnanpith awards and has the reputation of being labeled as the cradle of progressive literature and reformist thought. The Tipu episode was a litmus test for Karnataka’s intellect, communal harmony and political stability. The drastic rise of religious intolerance and mob violence in the country rightly accused by many writers and intellectuals gets vindicated by the current pressure cooker situation in Karnataka.
The violence has now expectedly floated to Dakshina Kannada and Udupi, the regions that have made national and international headlines for the same reason. At a time, where responsible citizens need to take steps to restore sanity, some of the politicians have persisted making dangerous sectarian comments. They have decided to apply salt to the wound, by mongering hate and thus making the society bleed. They float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, roaming in bullet proof cars and are guarded by nation’s highest level security, and yet people get swayed. Before the conversion of Mangaluru as a Smart City, it seems likely that rain of fire has already struck the city.
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