Reporter: Ananth Shreyas
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam and Harpal Rawat
The Quint spoke to the families of victims in Dakshina Kannada district where three innocent youths were murdered within 10 days, leading to communal tension and heavy police deployment in Karnataka's coastal region.
The lives of three families in Dakshina Kannada have changed forever. In July, within a span of 10 days, three youths – Mohammed Masood, Praveen Nettaru, and Mohammed Fazil – were brutally murdered for reasons that are yet to be ascertained.
The police investigations are yet to prove linkages between the murders that took place in same district. While some think the killings were triggered by revenge, others feel these were committed to gain political dividends in a communally sensitive coastal region. However, despite the wounds of violence, families of the deceased have called for peace.
Did Fight Over Rearing a Calf Result in Masood's Death?
When 19-year-old Masood, second of Saramma's four children, stepped out to get milk on 18 July, little did he know that he would be attacked.
Masood had had an altercation with a Hindu youth in Bellare and a gang of eight people called him to settle the dispute.
On 19 July, the eight people attacked him and used a soda bottle to hit him on his head. Despite efforts to revive him, Masood succumbed to injuries two days later in a hospital in Mangaluru.
His family alleged that Masood was being followed and stared at for rearing a calf, which he dearly loved.
"He was rearing a calf that he had got. After his painting work, he used to take it for grazing and took good care of it. It was at this time that he was being stared at. He came back and told us about it. So, the family advised him not to take it and just tie the calf in our courtyard."Mohammed Mirshad, Masood's Elder Brother
Speaking to The Quint, Masood's uncle Shaukat Ali said, "We are daily wage labourers. We work and earn everyday. We have no other income. Such incidents should not happen. All the three families are economically weak. We wish to go meet Praveen's family, but, we have no courage to go out."
Masood wanted to build a house for his family and educate his younger siblings. In an effort to do so, the family said, he worked tirelessly as a painter and a daily wage labourer.
According his mother, Saramma, Masood was never connected to any political organisation or activist groups. "My son was very innocent and never entirely understood how the world functions. Today, he is killed for no reason. I don't want any money or anything. I just wanted some comforting words. I really had hoped somebody in the government would come and console us. We are still waiting. We never discriminate between religions. Our boy was the first one to get killed. But, they visited only the other house and not ours," added Saramma.
Praveen's Soul Can Never Be Murdered: Victim's Father
Just five kilometers away from Masood's house, is the native village of Praveen Nettaru, a BJP Yuva Morcha leader, who took up the responsibility of the family at a very young age.
Leaving education at an early age of 15, Praveen took to odd-jobs to help the family and get all his elder sisters married. According to his maternal uncle Sheenappa Poojari, Praveen worked as a driver for many years and it was only recently that he started a chicken centre in Bellare town.
Overwhelmed by the outpour of love towards Praveen, Sheenappa said, "Today, he has proven to be the child of the country. We are realising only after his death that he had always worked for the betterment of the society."
On 26 July, just days after Masood's death, tension gripped Bellare and the surrounding areas and businessmen shut shops much earlier than usual. It was around 8.30 pm that two people on a bike came near Akshaya Chicken Centre owned by Praveen and hacked him to death. The police have arrested four people in connection with the case and investigation is underway. Two of the accused have alleged links with Popular Front of India, an Islamic organisation.
Reminiscing the good days with his son, Praveen's father Shekhar Poojari recalled how Praveen took care of his family and got all his sisters married.
"He always got me something to eat. I still have the things that he got. Whenever he went to Bellare or Puttur, he got something. He used to check the containers in the kitchen to find out what we wanted."Shekhar Poojari, Praveen's Father
Praveen's cousin Padmanabha Bangera says he doesn't know why Praveen was attacked so brutally. He expresses confusion and shock over why the killers specifically targeted him.
However, he alleged that the 32-year-old could have been murdered over his social media posts and views on issues that concerned Hindutva.
In an interaction with The Quint, cousin and close confidant of Praveen, Padmanabha Bangera said, "Many a times I told him not to put such posts on social media. But he kept defending saying nothing would go wrong. He used to justify saying he was telling the truth. He used to say, "Everybody is putting it. What is wrong in me doing it?" There were also times when I made sure he deleted some posts. He also used to agree when he was wrong."
Seeking swift action from the government and making an appeal to the people to keep calm, Nootana, Praveen's wife said that she used to help her husband at the meat shop. But, on the day of the incident, she was at her sister-in-law's residence to attend a ceremony. Nootana and Praveen got married three years ago.
Parents of Fazil Say No to Compensation, Seek Government's Honest Probe
Two murders in eight days, but violence didn't stop in Dakshina Kannada. While the family members and BJP cadre were carrying out the funeral of Praveen, a group of six men were hatching a plan to eliminate 23-year-old Mohammed Fazil in Surathkal.
The Mangaluru City police have arrested six people who planned and executed the murder and another person who rented out a car for the assailants to follow Fazil. Mangaluru Police Commissioner N Shahi Kumar said that the conspiracy to carry out the murder started on 26 July, after the death of Praveen, when the accused made a hitlist.
"I want justice. I don't want any money. I want justice for my son. I am still waiting for it."Umar Farooq, Mohammed Fazil's Father
Though the family does not know why Fazil was murdered in public view, they are of the opinion that this was the result of communal violence.
Speaking to The Quint, Fazil's uncle Abdul Gaffar said, "He worked as a cleaner at HPCL Bullet tanker, despite have done an MBA and a course of fire and safety, due to unemployment issues."
The family members revealed that Fazil wanted to go to Saudi and earn more money to help his father. However, his dreams remain unfulfilled due to his untimely death.
"We used to sit in front of Fazil's house and talk. One day, he suggested that all of us get our passports done. He wished to go to Saudi and work and earn well. All five of us went together and got the passport done on the same day. If you want, you can check it. All our passports were issued on the same day," says Mohammed Ismail, Fazil's friend.
Fazil, known to be loquacious and well spoken boy in Mangalapete, had also earned a good name in society for the work he had done during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"He had organised a blood camp at the same spot where he was later killed. His blood will not go waste and will inspire hundreds to maintain peace and harmony in our district," added Tabook Daarimi, his teacher in Madarsa.
Grieving his nephew's murder, Fazil's uncle Abdul Gaffar also lamented, "Death caused due health issues is different. But, the pain caused by this murder will never go away. This was not an accident. He was targeted and killed. I trust the police, but I trust God more. I know he will give us justice."