Elections, Communal Lynching & Hindutva Impunity
by Maitreyi Krishnan

The lynching of Idrees Pasha on 31st March in Ramanagara district (of Karnataka), at the hands of religious extremist Puneet Kerehalli and his associates from Rashtra Rakshana Pade points to the manner in which law and order in Karnataka has been held ransom by Hindutva Extremists in the name of cow protection.  

Idrees Pasha, along with two others Syed Zaheer and Irfan, were in a vehicle transporting cattle when they were intercepted by Puneet Kerehalli and his associates in front of Sathanur police station. These extremists made unfounded allegations of illegal transport of cattle for slaughter, hurled abuses and remarked that they should "go to Pakistan". According to reports, Idrees Pasha ran a distance away before a police constable intervened and took the remaining two persons to the police station. It was the next morning that the body of Idrees Pasha, bearing numerous injuries, was found close to the Sathanur police station. Pasha’s body had burn marks on it, raising suspicions of a stun gun being used.

Almost five days after the incident, and after putting out a video on Facebook, highlighting the impunity he enjoyed, Kerehalli was arrested in Rajasthan. Subsequently, it has emerged that Kerehalli had a few days before assaulted and tortured a 30-year-old man named Aleemulla Baig with a stun gun, while he was transporting cattle on Hosur Road.

After this lynching, there have been several reports that Puneeth Kerehalli is close to various religious extremist organisations and his photographs with several BJP leaders including Karnataka state ministers, South Bengaluru MP Tejaswi Surya, BJP national secretary CT Ravi have surfaced online. In the past, Kerehalli has launched campaigns against halal slaughter in Karnataka and also for banning Muslim traders from Hindu temple fairs. He is reported to have several cases pending against him. On one hand the police turned a blind eye to his ever-growing crimes, and on the other hand he was supported and even encouraged by those in power.

The brutal lynching of Idrees Pasha is a failure of the State to take action against organisations engaging in mob violence and hate crimes by taking law into their own hands. In Tehseen Poonawalla vs Union of India and Ors. [AIR 2018 SC 3354], the Supreme Court has come down heavily on extra judicial elements and non-State actors taking the place of law or the law enforcing agency and has categorically held “Hate crimes as a product of intolerance, ideological dominance and prejudice ought not to be tolerated; lest it results in a reign of terror. Extra judicial elements and non-State actors cannot be allowed to take the place of law or the law enforcing agency. A fabricated identity with bigoted approach sans acceptance of plurality and diversity results in provocative sentiments and display of reactionary retributive attitude transforming itself into dehumanisation of human beings. Such an atmosphere is one in which rational debate, logical discussion and sound administration of law eludes thereby manifesting clear danger to various freedoms including freedom of speech and expression.”

The Court, thereafter, goes on to issue directions in regard to such acts of “vigilantism”, including steps to be taken by the State that is preventive, remedial and punitive, and to hold accountable officials who fail to take necessary action. Yet, these directions are followed only in their breach.

This gruesome murder comes at a time when Karnataka is scheduled to go into elections. Violence by religious extremist groups has only been on the rise in the state. It becomes all the more necessary to recognize the deep-rooted efforts of the RSS and its affiliate organizations in the creation of a fractured and divisive society and a condition of social apartheid, and to come together to fight this fascist onslaught.

Elections, Communal Lynching