Karnataka CM Bommai accused of treating 3 murders in tense Dakshina Kannada very differently

Masood B (19), Praveen Nettaru (32), and Mohammed Fazil (23) were murdered in less than two weeks in the Dakshina Kannada district.

BySaurav Kumar

Published Aug 05, 2022 | 4:47 PMUpdatedAug 05, 2022 | 4:47 PM

BJP workers burn tires in Dakshina Kannada's Sullai town to protest the murder of party's youth member, Praveen Nettaru.

Dakshin Kannada, a communally sensitive district of coastal Karnataka, witnessed some turbulent times over the last two weeks of July. 

The murder of three young people — two Muslim and one Hindu — has churned the communal pot.

The Hindu — 32-year-old Praveen Nettaru — was a member of the youth wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and his murder led to an uproar in the district, with BJP cadres taking on their own leaders. 

However, the response and approach to the murders of Nettaru, Masood B (19), and Mohammed Fazil (23) have been starkly different.

Right from Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai’s visit to the transfer of a specific investigation to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the BJP government’s approach to all three cases has raised questions of bias. 

Masood’s murder in Bellare

Masood B, a 19-year-old boy and a native of Kerala, allegedly had an altercation with a Hindu boy over the rearing of a calf. 

This turned into a fight, and Masood was attacked by a group of people on the night of 19 July in the Kelanje village that falls under the jurisdiction of the Bellare police station of Sullia taluk.

Masood’s death had led to protests by Muslim organisations demanding action in the case.

As per Balakrishna, head constable of the Bellare Police Station, the cops arrested eight people on 20 July. All the accused were identified as members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal.

Balakrishna M told South First, “Initially, all eight accused were arrested under the IPC Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 149 (unlawful assembly), 323 (punishment for causing hurt), 324 (punishment for causing hurt with weapon), and 502 (criminal intimidation).”

He added: “After the death of Masood on 21 July, Section 307 was changed to 302 (murder).”

He also confirmed that none of the accused have been granted bail. 

Masood is survived by his mother, an elder brother and two younger siblings: a sister and a brother. His father passed away a few years ago.

Masood’s aunt Rasheeda told South First, “Masood was the family’s second bread earner after his elder brother Mirshad. His death has pushed the family into inconsolable grief.” 

Praveen Nettaru murder

Barely five days after Masood’s death, BJP worker Praveen Nettaru was hacked to death in the town of Sullia. 

He owned a poultry shop in the town, and was an active member of BJP’s youth wing.

Being the sole bread earner of the family, he is survived by his mother, sister, and wife.

Anticipating outrage, the local police imposed prohibitory orders with immediate effect in three taluks of Dakshina Kannada.

Protests began outside the hospital where Nettaru’s mortal remains were kept, and only intensified the next day.

Praveen’s death led to an intense situation in Dakshina Kannada, sparking angry reactions from BJP supporters and workers across the state.

Protests by BJP workers seeking justice and action, sloganeering against the government and the party, boycott of BJP state leaders, the police’s lathi charge and mass resignation of functionaries reflected the sociopolitical crisis within the [arty.

Bommai had to cancel the third-anniversary celebration of the BJP government and also that of his one-year anniversary in office in order to pacify angry party workers across the state.

In the midst of it, and under the pressure to take firm action and produce results, Bommai also claimed he would use the “Yogi Model” to counter criminal elements, and announced the establishment of a new commando force to take on crimes committed on religious grounds. 

Two days later, the police arrested two people — Shafiq and Zakir — who allegedly had links with the Popular Front of India (PFI). 

Two more arrests were made in the case on 2 August. Saddam and Haris, both residents of Bellare, were arrested in connection with the murder.

Mohammed Fazil’s murder

After Praveen’s death, 23-year-old Mohammed Fazil was attacked by four unidentified assailants on the night of 28 July in Surathkal.

He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries. Horrific visuals of the assailants hacking Fazil were caught on CCTV cameras. 

The incident further deteriorated the situation in Dakshina Kannada. The police immediately extended prohibitory orders under Section 144.

The most shocking part was the fact that the chilling attack took place on the day Bommai, along with Karnataka ADGP (Law and Order) Alok Kumar, was in the district visiting Nettaru’s family.  

On 2 August, the Mangaluru Police announced the arrest of six people — Suhas Shetty, Mohan, Giridhar, Abhishek, Deekshit, and Srinivas — in connection with Fazil’s murder.

The gang had rented a car belonging to one Ajith Castra.

“On 26 July night, Suhas Shetty called up Abhishek and said ‘We have to finish someone off before the afternoon of 27.” The duo met the next day at a hotel to hatch a plan where the other accused joined them,” Mangaluru Commissioner of Police N Shashikumar told reporters on 2 August.

Suhas’ phone call about wanting to “kill someone” came after Praveen’s murder.

While the police refrained from disclosing the motive from the murder, Bajrang Dal leaders told South First that the accused participated in VHP meetings at some point in time.

Even before the police could apprehend the accused, theories of a Shia-Sunni conflict leading to Fazil’s death or the love angle as the motive had started floating on social and mainstream media. All such claims were rejected by the police.

The victim’s uncle Kadar M told South First, “We do not want to give any statement as our statements have been twisted and unnecessary gossip was made of it.”

Allegations of bias

After the three deaths, Bommai paid a visit only to the family of the deceased BJP worker. He also handed over a cheque of ₹25 lakh from the state government’s relief fund to the kin of Nettaru. The actions led to an uproar. 

Muslim organisations and social activists condemned the chief minister’s actions when two young Muslim men had lost their lives in the same district.

Interestingly, the compensation had come from the state treasury and not the BJP’s party fund.

In reply to allegations of partisanship, Bommai on 1 August said he would visit the families of Masood and Fazil in Bellare and Surathkal.

However, the statement came only after journalists and civil society alike pointed out Bommai’s selective sympathy for Praveen while holding a position whose oath is to serve the people with no bias or favouritism.

The chief minister is yet to visit the families of Fazil and Masood. 

The Dakshina Kannada Zila Muslim Sangathana Okkuta, a Muslim organisation from the district, condemned this selective sympathy. 

Ashraf, a member of the organisation, told South First, “The chief minister of the state is the chief minister for all. Paying attention to one murder victim — a Hindu — and leaving aside the rest two — Muslims — was discriminatory behaviour.”

A new sign of exclusion

Ashraf also pointed out that there has been no instance where murder victims of different faiths were treated differently by the state’s chief minister.

In February this year, the Bommai-led BJP government handed over ₹25 lakh compensation to the family of Harsha, a member of the Bajrang Dal who was hacked to death in Shivamogga.

No such assistance was extended to the families of Masood or Fazil, leading to allegations of bias. 

Ashraf told South First, “People across faiths condemned this move of the chief minister. Now, announcing a meeting with the Muslim victims’ families makes no sense. The message of exclusion was loud and clear.”

While a host of BJP leaders — including Union minister Shobha Karandlaje and Pralhad Joshi as well as Bommai himself — have batted for Nettaru’s case to be handed over to the National Investigation Agency (NIA), no such request has been made in the cases of Masood or Fazil’s murder.

The Harsha murder case has already been handed over to the NIA, raising questions of bias on that front.

Police intervention

In all three cases, the Dakshin Kannada Police were quick to make arrests while maintaining peace in a sensitive region.

To ease the tense atmosphere, the Dakshina Kannada district administration called for a peace committee meeting on 30 July in Mangaluru.

It was attended by the ADGP (Law & Order), IGP Mangaluru, Commissioner Mangaluru, SP Dakshina Kannada district, and representatives of religious and political parties. 

But the meeting was boycotted by the Dakshina Kannada Zila Muslim Sangathana Okkuta, which gave the alleged partisan behaviour of Bommai as the reason for its non-participation.

Ashraf explained, “The meeting called by the deputy commissioner was boycotted because it was after the direction of the chief minister.”

Meanwhile, a Muslim panel decided to provide compensation of ₹30 lakh each to the families of Masood and Fazil.