Members of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) barged into an auditorium in Soraba taluk's Anavatti village in Karnataka's Shivamogga district and stopped artists performing a play midway, alleging that they were promoting Islamic traditions inside a hall belonging to the Veerashaiva community.
The incident occurred on Sunday, 3 July, with several right-wing vigilantes threatening the troupe's head, raising slogans against the play, and also forcing actors to leave the venue without completing the act.
Rangabelaku Theatre Group Remains Defiant
Rangabelaku, a Shivamogga-based theatre group, was performing a Kannada adaptation of Joseph Stein's Fiddler on the Roof, called Jotegiruvanu Chandra, authored by well-known Kannada lyricist and author Jayant Kaikini, in a marriage hall belonging to the Veerashaivas.
The play tells a tale of a Muslim family, wherein the patriarch of the house attempts to maintain his religious and cultural traditions while external influences take over his family's lives.
Speaking to The Quint about the interruption, head of Rangabelaku, Kotrappa Hiremagadi said, "It was a very intense scene where the lead character and his eldest daughter are in tears over an argument. It was at this exact moment that the Hindutva activists barged in and threatened to throw out each and every actor who was on stage, if the play was not stopped."
"Our troupe has been staging plays for the last 15 years and we chose this play to spread communal harmony in society. We have never been stopped like this. Three people abruptly got onto the stage, while another was pressurising me to stop the play. They also raised pro-Hindutva and nationalistic slogans on the stage."Kotrappa Hiremagadi, Head of Rangabelaku
The theatre group, which was invited by the Kannada Sahitya Parishat, Karnataka Janapada Parishat, and Kannada Samskruthika Vedike to perform the play, has not registered a police complaint but has said that it wishes to perform the play again under police protection.
Meanwhile, VHP's Shridhar Achar and Bajrang Dal's Manjappa alleged that the play was anti-Hindu and argued that the it was unnecessary to stage the play.
The Hindutva groups also took offence to the portrayal of an interfaith couple in the play and complained about all the lead characters in the plot being Muslims.
'Secularism Under Threat in Karnataka'
The Soraba Police reached the venue where the play was being staged only after the Hindutva activists had successfully stopped the play.
"We have not received any complaint till now. But, the play was stopped despite the organisers having the permission. We are looking into the matter. If the troupe wishes to stage the play again and wants our security, we will be obliged to provide," said an officer from the Soraba police station.
The play written by Jayant Kaikini had been earlier chosen as a text for students at Ninasam Theatre School in Heggodu, and has also been staged to celebrate 50 years of the Indian independence.
Several authors condemned the stopping of the play and said that secularism was under threat in Karnataka.
Speaking to The Quint, Kannada author Prof SG Siddaramiah said, "I condemn the vigilantism and this communal 'policegiri' of the Bajrang Dal. With each day, our state is on a verge of communal breakdown. That being said, it is imperative for the author, Jayant Kaikini, himself to come out in defence of the threatre troupe."
The Quint did try to reach Jayant Kaikini, the writer of the play which is embroiled in a controversy, but did not get a response.
Earlier in March 2022, Bajrang Dal and VHP workers also called for a boycott of vendors belonging to the Muslim community during the famous biennial fair of Marikamba temple in Shivamogga.