INVESTIGATIONS into the communal murders in the coastal Karnataka region of Dakshina Kannada and Mangaluru between July 20 and July 28 indicate a pattern similar to that seen in 20 murders in Karnataka over the last decade.
As many as nine murders, including the recent three, were tit-for-tat killings, while all involve local gangsters with affiliations to either right-wing Hindutva fringe groups, or the radical Islamist outfit Popular Front of India (PFI).
In the latest incidents, Masood B, 18, was killed in Bellare village of Dakshina Kannada on July 20, followed by the murder of BJP youth leader from the same village, Praveen Nettaru, 32, on July 26, and that of Mohammed Fazil, 23, at Surathkal in Mangaluru on July 28.
Officials said their probe had shown that the murder of Masood stemmed from a trivial dispute, with a local gang including activists of the Bajrang Dal attacking the 18-year-old.
In the Nettaru case, at least two of the six arrested have links to the PFI, and police are looking at whether its local office was used for planning the murder.
Fazil is believed to have been killed as a possible retaliation to Nettaru’s murder. Six people with prior criminal history have been arrested in the case so far. Police sources said the six have links to right-wing Hindutva groups, and the hand of a local gangster in organising the killing was being looked at.
The previous three attacks seen as tit-for-tat in Mangaluru and Dakshina Kannada happened after a murder in 2015.
First, a flower seller linked to the Bajrang Dal, Prashant Poojary, was killed in Moodabidri region by a gang comprising Muslims. This was followed by the killing of one of the accused, Mustafa Kovoor, in 2016, inside Mysuru Jail allegedly by gangster Kiran Shetty. Another accused, Imtiyaz, was later stabbed by a gang linked to local gangster Lokesh Kodikere in 2018.
Incidentally, the Mangaluru Police is investigating possible links of Kodikere to the recent Fazil murder case too, since two of the men arrested were previously associated with the gangster.
Two years after Poojary’s killing set off the murders, in June 2017, SDPI activist Ashraf Kalayi was killed by a group that allegedly included Bajrang Dal activists, in Bantwal region of Dakshina Kannada. A few days later, RSS worker Sharath Madivala was killed in the same region. Among the men arrested were PFI Karnataka office-bearers.
On January 3, 2018, Hindu right-wing activist Deepak Rao was killed in Mangaluru. The same day, a local Muslim businessman, Abdul Basheer, was killed by a gang as part of a plan allegedly hatched by gangsters with right-wing affiliations who were lodged in Mangaluru prison.
The involvement of criminals associated with right-wing groups on both sides in the communal murders in coastal Karnataka is a source of concern for the Karnataka Police. Some also receive patronage from Mangaluru gangsters based in foreign countries who project themselves as “Hindu dons”, such as Vicky Shetty, say police sources. The murder of gangster Madoor Yusuf, with suspected PFI links, in Mangaluru prison in 2015 was linked to alleged associates of Vicky Shetty.
Following the recent murders, the Karnataka Police is taking a re-look at policing measures in the region. ADGP Alok Kumar admitted they needed to do more. “Sometimes even after arrests in cases of major crime, the prosecution is not pursued properly, the accused obtain bail and the cases lead to acquittals as a consequence… We are trying to find accused involved in communal crimes in the past in the region, understand what these people are up to and what preventive action has been taken, whether the Goonda Act was invoked, and whether actions like externment were ordered,” Kumar said.
Kumar said they were also looking at the status of investigation in the cases. “We do not want a situation where those who are released return to crime.”
The ADGP said they hoped to break the cycle of violence. “If there is an accused who is absconding, we have to find them or declare them as proclaimed offenders, seize their properties and use laws to bring them to book… There also needs to be stronger intelligence on organisations in the region.”
Suspected communal murders in Karnataka
By accused linked to radical Muslim groups
1 Prashant Pujari, Moodbidri, 2015
2 Vishwanath Shetty, Shivamogga, 2015
3 M Raju, Mysuru, 2016
4 Rajesh Kotian, Bantwal, DK, 2016
5 Praveen Pujari, Kodagu, 2016
6 Rudresh, Bengaluru, 2016
7 Sharath Madivala, Bantwal, 2017
8 Deepak Rao, Mangaluru, 2018
9 Harsha, Shivamogga, 2022
10 Praveen Nettaru, Bellare, DK, 2022
By accused linked to Hindutva gangs
1. Yusuf Madoor, Mangaluru, prison murder, 2015
2 Mohammed Nasir, Mangaluru, 2015
3 Safwan Pillar Someshwar, Ullal, 2016
4 Mustafa Kovoor, Mysuru, 2016, prison murder
5 Abdul Jaleel Karopadi, Bantwal, 2017
6 Mohammed Haneef, Udupi, 2017
7 Ashraf Kalayi, Bantwal, DK, 2017
8 Abdul Basheer, Kovoor, 2018,
9 Masood B, Bellare, 2022
10 Md Fazil, Mangaluru, 2022