Three youths were killed in police firing in east Bengaluru Tuesday night after a mob attacked a police station and targeted a Congress MLA’s house over perceived official inaction in arresting a relative of the legislator for a social media post with alleged derogatory references to Islam.’
Police said 145 people, including the MLA’s relative, have been arrested and the situation is under control. Karnataka Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa said the government will conduct a probe by a magistrate into the incident.
“There are reports that the violence is a fallout of rivalry among local political groups but we will not comment till an investigation is done,” Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai said.
Police said they are probing the role of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), a political outfit that is attempting to gain ground in Muslim-dominated areas of Karnataka, in the violence. Late Wednesday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning the “offensive post” and demanding action.
The three killed in firing were local residents and have been identified as Wajid Khan (19), Syed Yasin Pasha (21) and Syed Sheikh (24). “All three deaths were a result of firearm wounds,” said a forensic doctor at the Bowring and Lady Curzon Hospital where the post mortem was conducted.
Khan tested Covid-positive at the time of post mortem and a special procedure was adopted to dispose of the body, officials said.
While the victims’ families said firing was not warranted outside the Devara Jeevana Halli (D J Halli) station, officials and witnesses said police showed a lot of early restraint that led to the situation spiralling out of control.
“The police tried a mild lathicharge and firing of tear gas shells but the violence was uncontrollable after a point. Only the firing brought it under control,” said Mastan Ahmed, a local social worker who liaised with police for the victims’ funerals.
Khan, an air-conditioning mechanic, had a bullet entry wound on his back with an exit wound on his thigh; Pasha, who worked in his brother’s mutton shop, had a bullet wound in the hip region; and, Sheikh, an autorickshaw driver, was shot in the chest region.
“Yasin was returning from our shop when the firing occurred. He died of excessive bleeding,” said Pasha’s brother Shoaib Pasha. “Wajid was a child. He could have been arrested. Why did they have to shoot him?” said Khan’s brother Shahid Khan. “He was my provider since the death of his father,” said Sheikh’s mother.
The situation at the police station escalated from a protest, over the post allegedly by P Naveen, a nephew of Congress MLA Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy, to violence when the mob set fire to vehicles parked in the basement and on the streets outside in a span of four hours. A separate group started throwing stones at Murthy’s home in the adjoining Kaval Byrasandra area.
The rapid escalation, after the post appeared around 6 pm, has created suspicion of a planned attack involving local political interests, senior police officers indicated.
According to officers in D J Halli, a delegation from the SDPI visited the station Tuesday evening to lodge a complaint over the post. Police reportedly delayed filing the FIR even as a crowd started gathering outside. Meanwhile, rumours spread that police were holding the suspect in the station.
“They began demanding that the suspect be handed over. Soon, the situation went out of hand. We have video footage to link SDPI activists to the violence,” an officer said.
An SDPI activist, Jaffar Ahmed, who was brought to the station Wednesday, told police that he was part of the delegation led by a local leader Muzammil Pasha but denied it had any role in the violence. Pasha was among those arrested.
“We have registered a case based on the complaint against Naveen and he was arrested. We are investigating the role of SDPI,” D J Halli Inspector Keshava Murthy said.
However, another officer said the Inspector did not enjoy the confidence of local residents and this led to the targeted attack in which about 50 personnel suffered minor injuries.
“When complaints were filed at 7 pm at the station, the Inspector and ACP asked us to wait. Even by 11.30 pm, police had not arrested the culprit. This led to worsening of the situation,” claimed SDPI’s Karnataka general secretary Abdul Hannan.
Congress leader D K Shivakumar claimed that the MLA’s nephew was associated with the BJP, and that he had supported the ruling party on social media in the past.
Murthy, who belongs to the SC community, is a two-term MLA from the Pulkeshinagar, which has a large Muslim population. He was part of a group of eight JD(S) MLAs that joined the Congress in 2018.
Murthy told reporters that his house was attacked by “over 3,000 people armed with sharp weapons, sticks, rods and petrol bombs”, and “all the valuables” inside had been looted. The MLA claimed that he has had no ties with his nephew in the past 10 years.
“In the 2018 assembly elections, Murthy won by over 80,000 votes, which was the highest margin in Bengaluru. He could not have won by such a margin without the support of Muslims. This incident may be part of efforts to discredit Murthy and help another politician who has lost ground in the area,” said Shafi Ahmed, a local social worker.
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