How Mangaluru’s Well-Oiled Moral Policing System Works

A competitive culture of conservatism between religious communities has created an ecosystem of fear.

4 min read
 A competitive culture of conservatism between the religious communities has created an ecosystem of fear, enforced by a well-oiled moral policing system.

After spending the afternoon at the Someshwara beach in Mangaluru, a 20-year-old B.Pharma student boarded a bus along with a female classmate. When the bus reached the Ullal bus stop, barely five kilometres away, five men boarded the vehicle.

Upon seeing the students, these men started questioning the duo about their religion and then dragged them out of the bus. After being showered with verbal abuses, the Muslim girl was asked to leave. The Hindu boy was held back and assaulted by the men until the police showed up.

This incident was one of 225 cases of moral policing reported by both Hindu and Muslim vigilante groups in Karnataka in the last seven years.

A competitive culture of conservatism between the religious communities has created an ecosystem of fear, enforced by a well-oiled moral policing system. The backbone of the system is an informant network – including political party workers, drivers, and merchants – who are on a constant lookout for inter-religious couples.

Keeping Count

Suresh Bhat Bakrabail of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum is among the activists keeping a record of the instances of moral policing and communal violence in coastal Karnataka. As cases of moral policing kept on increasing in the coastal city, the forum began compiling details from the media and police reports since 2009.

As per the forum’s records, at least two cases of moral policing are reported in the region every month. “These are cases that have been reported. According to our estimate, there could be 20 percent more cases that have not been reported,” said Bakrabail.

Details of moral policing and communal violence in Coastal Karnataka

Moral policing by Hindu vigilantes1730222439351317
Moral policing by Muslim vigilantes21317141155
Moral policing by Unidentified vigilantes00950240
Allegations of religious conversion1015199853
Cattle vigilantism4813822221222
Hate speech131028718
Other communal incidents (incl Desecration & Attacks)39307446811436470
Total Incidents7387132111173228104125

(Source: Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum)

Institutionalised Intolerance

Bakrabail and his associates have studied cases of moral policing in detail, and they believe there is a clear pattern. In each case, the victims are confronted by a group of people and never an individual. The ‘daali’ – or raids – are well coordinated and often filmed.

Bajrang Dal activists protesting.
Bajrang Dal activists protesting.
(Photo: PTI)
In most of the cases, informants inform the fringe groups if they spot any couples in public places. Volunteers are then mobilised from the nearest point of the location. These men take photographs and force them to call their parents. All this is done with a sense of authority.
Suresh Bhat Bakrabail of the Karnataka Communal Harmony Forum

The Information Network

The network of informants that provides information about couples is wide spread and well organised. The right-wing groups have a strong following among the auto-rickshaw drivers and employees of private bus operators in the city, said Vidya Dinker, a prominent social activist in Mangaluru.

As employees of security agencies across the city are members of right-wing parties, most of the prominent commercial establishments are covered by these informants. The network is further strengthened by local merchants and anyone who has a conservative idea of morality.

Mobile numbers of local right-wing leaders are easily available in the city. Organisations like the Hindu Jagaran Vedike have unofficial offices across the city, where volunteers are available at any point of time. “That apart, these right-wing organisations deploy their members at a handful of popular hangouts in the city,” said Dinker.

The Economics of Moral Policing

At the heart of Mangaluru’s moral policing is economics.

One of the most successful security agencies in Mangaluru is run by a leader of the Bajarang Dal, Sharan Pampwell. Eshwari Manpower Solutions, Pampwell’s firm, provides security to local businesses and major malls in the city.

Interestingly, the demand for security agencies like that of Pampwell stems from the insecurity created by right-wing organisations – like the one headed by Pampwell.

When asked about the same, Pampwell said his business and political affiliations and are separate. He said businesses approach his firm because of the lower rates he provides.

The Bajrang Dal leader aggressively rebutted allegations that conducting business with his firm is an indirect protection from right-wing groups.

A senior police officer, however, pointed out that there have been no attacks on pubs or malls where security is provided by Pampwell’s firm.

Even Police Moonlight as Moral Police

In the last week of December 2017, an aspiring actor called out police officials for harassing her friend, a Muslim, and her at the Subramanya police station in the district. In a video published last week, the actor had alleged that her friend and her were attacked by the police because they belong to different communities.

Dakshina Kannada Superintendent of Police, who conducted an inquiry, said the constables acted in an “inappropriate manner” with the woman, and promised to take disciplinary action against the constable, head constable and the in-charge at the station at the time of the incident.

Activist Vidya Dinker pointed out that there were several cases where the police were accused of telling couples from different communities not to be seen in public together. “There is a sense of flawed morality and communalism within the police department itself. In many cases, even though the victims wanted to file complaints, police have turned them away,” she said.

The Wind of Change

Even though there has been an increase in moral policing in coastal Karnataka, not all are blinded by conservative ideas, say activists. However, the silence of these liberals has helped moral policing thrive.

But things are changing.

Two days after two teenage girls were attacked by a vigilante mob on the outskirts of Mangaluru, the mother of one of the girls took a stand against the saffron group. Remaining steadfast against the attack on her minor daughter, she said that she will stand by the police complaint she had filed.

Speaking to The News Minute, the mother said that her daughter had taken prior consent from her before going to the picnic, along with her classmates, to Manasa Water Park. "She had informed us that she was going for a picnic with her friends. She was not alone with the boy, there was another girl in the group. In any case, it is immaterial for others to interfere in our personal lives," she said.

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