The suicide of a 20-year-old woman, Dhanyashree, in Chikmagalur due to alleged harassment by Hindutva activists raises disturbing questions about the political climate ahead of crucial assembly elections in Karnataka. According to a police complaint filed by Dhanyashree’s mother, a group of men claiming to be members of the Bajrang Dal, had threatened that “embarrassing pictures” of the girl would be posted on social media in retaliation for her saying that she liked Muslims in a WhatsApp group. In her suicide note, the girl said the harassment, including false claims made by activists that she was involved with a Muslim boy, had caused humiliation to her family. Police have arrested a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha, the youth wing of the BJP, in the case.
Dhanyashree’s suicide comes in the wake of a concerted attempt by Hindutva groups to polarise society in Karnataka ahead of polls. Communal incidents are on the rise in Uttara and Dakshina Kannada, districts with large non-Hindu populations. BJP leaders like Union Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, Anant Kumar Hegde, and MP, Shobha Karandlaje, have been found stoking the communal fires with loose talk. BJP’s chief minister nominee, B.S. Yeddyurappa, has tried to calm the fears, claiming that “by Hindutva we (the BJP) don’t mean just Hindus, we mean Muslims, Christians, Hindus, everybody”. But Yeddyurappa’s ongoing Nava Karnataka Nirmana Parivartana Yatra has hardly projected an inclusive vision for the BJP: Addressing the Yatra in Chitradurga on Wednesday, party chief Amit Shah accused the Siddaramaiah government of being anti-Hindu. Before Shah, UP Chief Minister Adityanath spoke at meetings in Karnataka where he highlighted the BJP’s Hindu credentials and the party’s success in giving a Hindu gloss to the polity, besides championing the cow. The BJP’s high-pitched campaign on its Hindu credentials appears to have forced the Congress on the defensive.
It is a low in politics when two major parties try to win a major state election by projecting their “Hindu-ness”. Such a debate is especially disturbing in Karnataka, which has long been the site of contests of progressive social visions and public policies. New social and economic faultlines have now appeared and the state’s modernity project may have to be re-imagined to address the problems of urbanisation and rural distress. Instead, the BJP and the Congress have embarked on a polarising debate around imagined insecurities.