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A 26-year-old Bajrang Dal member named Harsha was stabbed to death by unknown assailants late on Sunday, 20 February, at Bharathi Colony in Karnataka's Shivamogga, leading to heightened tensions and beefed-up security in the region.
According to reports, a gang of men arrived at the spot in a car and stabbed Harsha. Following the attack, he was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was declared dead.
Though Harsha had been a part of the protest demanding a ban on hijabs held on 7 February outside a college in Shivamogga, the reason behind the killing has not yet been ascertained.
Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra said that an inquiry into the murder was underway and that three people had been taken into custody so far.
"We've not yet received any final report related to arrests. We've taken some people into custody. Inquiry going on. Very soon we'll get info related to the murder, that can be said only after investigation," he was quoted as saying by ANI. He said that five people appeared to be involved in the crime.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Minister and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader KS Eshwarappa has stated that 'Muslim goons' were behind the attack.
'No Links to Hijab Row Yet,' Says Home Minister
Home Minister Jnanendra visited Meggan Hospital in Shivamogga earlier on Monday to console Harsha's family and assure justice and immediate action.
Jnanendra was quoted as saying, "A group of four to five youth murdered him. I don't know of any organisation being behind this murder. Law and order situation under control in Shivamogga. As a precautionary measure, schools and colleges in city limits have been closed for two days."
Jnanendra said that he did not think the murder had any links to the hijab row and added that the truth would come out only after the culprits were caught.
He added, "At present, everything is under control in Shivamogga. 200 more police personnel sent from Bengaluru. 1,200 already stationed. RAF (Rapid Action Force) also present there. We've instructed SPs of other districts as well to closely monitor the situation."
SP Shivamogga Laxmi Prasad BM said that the district magistrate has been requested to impose a night curfew, ANI reported.
Meanwhile, BJP MP Renukacharya has announced a Rs 2 lakh compensation for the kin of the deceased.
Violence Erupts, Section 144 Imposed, Schools Shut
Deputy Commissioner of Shivamogga district, Dr Selvamani R, told news agency ANI that even though the overall situation was peaceful, local police and Rapid Action Force (RAF) were deployed to maintain law and order.
"Section 144 has been declared in the area. Further probe into the incident is underway," he said.
After the news of his death, members of pro-Hindutva groups gathered outside the hospital and burned down vehicles in the Seegehatti area of the town, resulting in a police lathicharge.
Following the post-mortem examination, a funeral procession was carried out by hundreds of Bajrang Dal members while Harsha's body was being taken back to his residence.
As the procession was underway, attacks and stone-pelting incidents were reported on several business establishments believed to be owned by a certain section.
Meanwhile, Bengaluru Police Commissioner Kamal Pant issued prohibitory orders against gatherings/protests outside Bengaluru’s educational institutions for a period of two weeks starting Monday, stating that no gatherings would be allowed within 200 metres of educational institutions.
CM Bommai Assures Justice, Siddaramaiah Targets Govt
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said that a few leads had been gathered in the incident during the investigation which began last night.
Congress leader Siddaramaiah also condemned the incident and said, "It took place in the district from where the home minister and CM come from. The culprit should be hanged. I demand the state home minister's resignation."
State Minister Blames 'Muslims Goons'
Commenting on the murder, Rural Development Minister and BJP leader KS Eshwarappa said, "I'm very disturbed by the murder of a Bajrang Dal activist. He was killed by 'Musalmaan goondas' (Muslim goons). I'm going to Shivamogga now to analyse the situation. We'll not allow 'goondaism'."
Further, BJP National Secretary CT Ravi has called the murder a conspiracy.
"I think it's a conspiracy, he has been murdered under a conspiracy. A serious inquiry should be done. The government will take up the issue seriously. If needed, the case should be handed over to NIA," he stated, ANI reported.
The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Monday also condemned the killing of the Bajrang Dal activist, saying, "Harsha’s murder is highly condemnable. This is result of the poison that the Islamic fundamentalist leaders spread in Muslim society in the name of CAA, hijab and namaz in open space."
Meanwhile, Harsha's cousin told ANI, "My brother was an active member of the Sangathan. He only used to think about Hindus and that is what killed him."
The Karnataka High Court last week had issued an interim order banning any religious attire, including hijab, to schools and colleges in the state until the matter was resolved in court.
The decision has sparked tensions across the state, including Belagavi, Yadgir, Bellary, Chitradurgam, and Shivamogga districts, where hijab-wearing Muslim women have demanded entry into the classrooms saying that the order was an attack on their religious freedom.
(With inputs from ANI.)