INDIA SPECIAL/‘TERROR’ TOWN
cent. Minutes after his release, he was
picked up again. This time, the police said
he had played a crucial role in the Pune
blast and had on an earlier occasion supplied jihadi content to several youngsters,
thus inciting them to carry out this attack.
The people of Bhatkal ask how the police
could release and re-arrest a person.
The police have not been able to build a
concrete case in the Pune blast investigation. They are also probing the roles of
some Hindu groups, giving Saeda Bi some
There are other families here who face
The Maharashtra police’s Anti-Terrorism
Squad says Yaseen Bhatkal masterminded
the 2009 Pune blast. There are others, like
Arif, a doctor in Bhatkal, whose names crop
up every time there is a blast.
“According to the Intelligence Bureau, I
am absconding. But see I am very much
here and carrying on with my daily work,”
— One of Karnataka’s most communally charged towns, coastal Bhatkal has been in the news of late, thanks to
the likes of Riyaz and Iqbal.
The town of around 45,000 people wasn’t
always communally sensitive. In fact, it did
not even witness a single skirmish when
riots broke out across India after the Babri
Masjid was demolished in 1992.
The Hindus allege a covert program
started in 1993 by Pakistan’s Inter Services
Intelligence communalized the town. The
Muslims say that certain stage-managed
incidents by the Bajrang Dal sparked the
The 1996 murder of Bharatiya Janata
Party legislator, Dr U Chittaranjan, led to
communal violence that lasted for over six
months, claiming 17 lives and damaging
property worth over Rs 150 million ($3
A commission headed by Justice
Jagannatha Shetty blamed the Muslims for
the clashes. This created further problems.
The Muslims said internal political rivalry
was the cause for the murder and alleged
that the judge was biased. The report was
never tabled in the state assembly and the
Hindus alleged that the government was
appeasing the Muslims.
Bhatkal has two major communities, the
Namdharis (Hindu toddy-tappers) and the
Navayats, the local Muslims, which have
co-existed peacefully for a long time.
The Navayats own 90 percent of the land
and the Namdharis were its caretakers. The
residents of the town say the Navayats were
extremely fond of the Namdharis and even
provided them with interest-free loans.
Things began to change when the town
became a political hotbed with the BJP
deciding to enter Bhatkal. The party asked
Chittaranjan to relocate from Puttur to
Bhatkal in 1965 and set up the party
base. The Muslims allege that he
changed the town’s social fabric and
tried to convince the Namdharis to
join the Rashtriya Swayamsevak
Sangh, the BJP’s parent body, sow-
ing the seeds of communal hatred.
Dismissing this claim, members of
the RSS and Bajrang Dal in Bhatkal
— the outfits are very powerful in
the town today — say there may
have been communal harmony in
the past, but over the years, the ISI
had made inroads into Bhatkal and
was influencing Muslim minds.
A former top police officer in
Bhatkal claimed there was an ISI-
sponsored program in Bhatkal in
the early 1990s and things changed
since then. The police submitted a
report to the government, which
took no action, he added. The
Muslims say this was just an excuse
to break the communal harmony in
the town. They allege that the
Namdharis were brainwashed by
Chittaranjan, who won the 1995
election with a thumping majority. A
year later he was murdered and it is
still not known who killed him.
“We had resorted to fair politics,
but the other community, which
appeared to be dominant at all
times, could not bear this and hence
with the help of the ISI got him
murdered,” a BJP worker alleged.
— Even as the Muslims cry foul, the police and intelligence agencies maintainthat the ISI
indeed has a large presence in
Bhatkal. IB reports and the deposi-
tions of high-ranking police officers
before various commissions that
have probed Bhatkal violence sug-
gested that fugitive gangster Dawood
Ibrahim helped the ISI enter Bhatkal in
Agreeing with this view, local police offi-
cers said ISI elements first stoked commu-
nal tension and then roped in the victims
for terrorist activities.
The police said at least 15 people have
disappeared from Bhatkal in the last couple of years, and that they may have
crossed into Pakistan or Pakistan-occupied
The police are not concerned about the
numbers. But the likely shift in the mind-
set of the people is a concern, they say.
According to the police, the likes of Riyaz
have made a living out of communal tension. “He has acted as a double agent, passing on information to both Muslims and
Hindus, who are always trying to outdo
one another. Such petty persons have fallen into the hands of ISI elements, said an
The Muslims don’t buy this theory.
“This is a deliberate attempt to tarnish
Riyaz and Iqbal’s parents, Ismail and Suwaida Shahbandri
VICK Y NANJAPPA
the image of our community,” said Yahya
Damoodi, executive member of the Majlis-
e-Islah Wa Tanzeem, a Navayat social
organization. “The police and intelligence
agencies are targeting young educated
Muslim boys and accusing them of being
terrorists and ISI agents. They are being
denied passports and those who have set-
tled abroad are harassed by immigration
and customs officials when they visit India.
The name Bhatkal on the passport is a
ticket to extortion by officials.”
— When the BJP in Karnataka set out o seek votes prior to the last assembly election, it made a
promise. Almost all its leaders said the
Justice Jaganatha Shetty commission
report on the 1996 riots would be tabled in
Two years on, it has failed to do so, fur-
ther dividing the two communities.
The commission implicated the
Anjuman Hamie-e-Muslimeen Bhatkal, an
eminent institution of Bhatkal Muslims
that runs many educational institutions. A
Muslim social welfare organization of
Bhatkal, the Lion Club, has also been held
responsible for the riots.