Moral police on the overdrive

Moral police on  the overdrive

When a bus carrying employees (majority of Hindus) of a cloth store on a tour to Mysore, organised by their Muslim employer, was attacked by a group of youth belonging to Bajrang Dal near Pumpwell in Mangalore on June 4, 2005, it was a shock for peace loving Mangaloreans.

But, when the infamous pub attack on January 24, 2009, became ‘world famous,’ it was a blot on Mangalore. However, the July 28, 2012 homestay attack on a partying group of youth, proved that “all is not well in Mangalore”. The once culturally and educationally evolved coastal city is being systematically turned into a hub of “moral policing” by fringe fascist groups. Ironically, the homestay attack occurred less than 20 days after the sensational Guwahati molestation of a young woman coming out of a pub, by a gang in full public view and the media in tow. Though there is no clear-cut answer to why these attacks are taking place, especially in and around Mangalore, the bitter truth is that none of the accused have been convicted till date in any of these incidents.

Victims’ speak

Narrating the entire incident (attack on homestay), Gurudutt Kamath, a disc jockey by hobby, who was one of the victims said that a gang of around 30-40 men barged into the party place around 6.30 pm on Saturday (July 28) and assaulted the youth for no specific reason. “We had booked the homestay to celebrate the birthday of two of my friends. We landed there at 2.30 in the afternoon, cut the cakes, drank  beer, had food and were chatting till evening. As the five girls who attended the party had to reach home early, we had decided to break-up by 7 pm. When we were planning to leave, a group of men gained entry into the house and began attacking us brutally. Even before we could realise what was going on, we were thrashed by those men,” he said. Alleging that the attackers had manhandled and torn the clothes of the girls and boys, molested them and used abusive language, he said their pleas that it was a birthday party and nothing immoral was involved fell on deaf ears and the attackers turned more violent.

One of the victims suffered perforated eardrum and may take more than three months to recover,  according to doctors treating her.

Mangalore Police Commissioner Seemanth Kumar Singh said 22 out of the 25 accused (excluding two mediapersons against whom FIR has been filed), including the prime accused Subash Padil of Hindu Jagarana Vedike, have been arrested.

Reliable sources in the police department say that police teams are collecting as much evidence as possible before filing the chargesheet so that the real culprits do not go scotfree due to lack of evidence (which has been the case in earlier incidents). In fact, police are contemplating invoking the Goonda Act, which is non-bailable for a minimum period of one year.

It is also learnt that the police have questioned the mediapersons who covered the attack - a reporter belonging to a private TV channel, two cameramen of two separate channels and a photographer from an eveninger.

Interestingly, in most of the cases, the “moral police” inform a few mediapersons in advance so that the assault is covered live on television channels. The “moral police” not only claim responsibility, but also justify the act. In the July 28 incident too, soon after the attack, Hindu Jagarana Vedike President Subash Padil admitted to assaulting the youth, though he later claimed that he did not visit the spot with the intention of attacking the youth.

It may be recalled that Sri Ram Sene leaders gave an interview to a local channel justifying their act in the infamous pub attack (Jan 24, 2009), while former Bajrang Dal convenor Mahendra Kumar had admitted conducting a series of attacks on churches (Sept 14/15, 2008).

Tragic twist in tale

A surprising twist in the homestay case is the role played by the State Women’s Commission Chairperson C Manjula, who stirred a hornet’s nest when she sought action against the victims instead of attackers.  being beaten black and blue).

Irked by the alleged ‘loose statements’ and remarks made by Manjula against ‘Morning Mist’ (the attacked homestay), its proprietor Loretta R V Rebello told Deccan Herald she was contemplating filing a defamation suit as the women’s commission chairperson had not only violated her constitutional rights but also tarnished her image by issuing statements implying that immoral and illegal activities were taking place on her property.
“I belong to a traditional Catholic family and have been the president of the prestigious Ladies Club which fights for just causes, besides running a shop,”she said and added that the mental agony and trauma she has been suffering is unfathomable.

The National Women’s Commission is yet to visit Mangalore. When it does, will it safeguard the victims’ interests? Will Mangalore ever be able to regain its lost glory? What is the damage that the incident has caused to Mangalore - an educational hub with more than half a dozen prestigious medical colleges, over a dozen engineering colleges, the cradle of five major banks, trade and industry. What might be the impact on the minds of parents who want to send their sons and daughters to study in Mangalore?

Perhaps, the answers to these questions will never be found unless the state government takes  drastic steps to safeguard young people’s rights in a place famed as  “Rome of the East.” Are the back to back Mangalore and Guwahati incidents symptomatic of what Union Minister Renuka Choudhury said three years ago - the Talibanisation of India? Maybe, if the so-called moral police or the vigilantes are allowed to rule the roost.

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