A series of eve-teasing instances faced by a Muslim college student, allegedly at the hands of a Bajrang Dal worker, led to her brother assaulting the harasser in Karnataka.
However, things took a turn when the assault was given a communal colour in Sagara in the Shivamogga district of the state.
The change in the narrative was allegedly fuelled by a local BJP MLA, since it involved a Hindu and a Muslim.
It led to Hindutva outfits calling for a shutdown (bandh) in Sagara on 10 January, adding possible fuel to the fire in an already communally charged Shivamogga.
And it all started when CCTV footage of an assault went viral earlier this week.
A young man is seen in the video wielding a weapon and attempting to attack another man on a scooter, who narrowly escaped and rode away.
The man gave chase on his own two-wheeler, with the weapon on the footrest.
Based on the CCTV footage, Shivamogga’s Sagara police registered a case of an attempt to murder and identified the aggressor as a local resident named Sameer.
“Sameer was arrested along with associates Imian and Mansoor, and the police are investigating the exact roles of his associates in the attempted crime,” said Shivamogga Superintendent of Police (SP) GK Mithun Kumar.
The intended victim was identified as Sunil, an active member of the Hindutva outfit Bajrang Dal.
The Sagara police registered a case in this regard and seized the weapon from Sameer.
The cops arrested the three accused on Tuesday and produced them before a magistrate, who remanded them to judicial custody.
The issue was quickly given a communal twist, with leaders of Hindutva outfits and the BJP deeming it a “jihadi attack on Hindutva workers”.
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Sister’s harassment propelled Sameer?
The actual story was revealed to be quite different, with a personal motive coming to the fore.
According to Kumar, the attempted attack by Sameer stemmed from a series of eve-teasing instances involving Sameer’s sister — a college student — and Sunil.
Preliminary investigation revealed that Sunil had been eve-teasing and harassing the girl on her way to college and back for four-five months.
Sameer warned Sunil at least a couple of times to stay away from his sister.
“However, Sunil continued to harass Sameer’s sister. On one instance, he even called up Sameer and asked him to give his sister’s number so that he could speak to her directly about her hijab,” Kumar told reporters.
“We verified the call records and whatever Sameer told us in his statement appeared to be true and consistent. However, he cannot take the law into his hands. Instead, he could have approached the police and filed a complaint,” the SP said.
The SP also explained that, on Monday, Sameer was riding a scooter near a lodge on Sagar Main Road when Sunil approached him on his scooter and harassed him, picking a quarrel with him.
The duo had a brief scuffle, whose aftermath was caught in the CCTV footage described above.
Asked if Sameer carried the machete to attack Sunil, the SP said Sameer’s friends Imian and Mansoor — who own goats and take them for grazing — carry a machete to cut tall grass.
Around 50-100 Bajrang Dal activists participated in a flash protest and started marching into the fish market in Sagara on Tuesday.
They tried to force the fish sellers to shut their shops, which led to a brief clash that started with a war of words.
While the activists shouted slogans of “Jai Sri Ram”, the fish market sellers sloganeered “Allahu Akbar”.
The superintendent of police rushed to the spot with reinforcement and brought the situation under control.
Meanwhile, Sameer’s sister and parents spoke to reporters in Shivamogga.
They said he was innocent and he had just gone to warn Sunil not to trouble her anymore, and that was being presented as a communal issue.
“He (Sunil) used to trouble me, teasing me, while I went to college and returned home. This started gradually after the hijab-ban controversy began,” Sameer’s sister told reporters.
“I never answered back, and just ignored him. When I told my family about this, Sameer went a couple of times to him and warned him, but that man continued to tease me,” she added.
She alleged that Sunil passed comments on her hijab, asking her to remove it and convert to Hinduism.
When reporters asked why she did not file a complaint, she replied: “Neither I nor anyone from my family has stepped into a police station, and we do not want to.
She added: “Sameer had just gone to warn Sunil to stay away from me, and did not have any other intention. I have not seen my brother with any weapon — not even a kitchen knife. I want my brother to be released from jail.”