Bengaluru, June 21: The visuals of young women being dragged and beaten in a pub in coastal Karnataka’s Mangaluru, in 2012, had shaken the nation. People from across the country outraged against the man and the organisation behind this violent act of moral policing. But for Pramod Muthalik, the chief of Sri Ram Sene, that attack was their moment of fame.
And Muthalik made the best of it. In a statement to the media he said: “These girls come from all over India, drink, smoke, and walk around in the night spoiling the traditional girls of Mangalore. Why should girls go to pubs? Are they going to serve their future husbands alcohol? Should they not be learning to make chapattis? Bars and pubs should be for men only. We wanted to ensure that all women in Mangalore are home by 7 pm.”
In the years that followed, the Sri Ram Sene proclaimed itself to be the moral police of the state, by threatening to attack couples on Valentine’s Day and attacking inter-religious couples.
But when all eyes were on the moral policing, this right-wing organisation, which was born out of a rebellion against Sangh Parivar for being ‘too soft on Hindutva agenda’, was involved in several cases of saffron terror.
According to investigators of these cases, despite the organisation distancing itself from the culprits, evidence point to Sene’s fingerprints on at least three terror-related cases, apart from several cases of extortion, political murders and creation of communal disharmony.
Latest among them being the murder of activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh.
On Monday, when asked about a possible ban on this organisation, Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy said the government will look into the matter.
Here is a look at the Sri Ram Sene’s history and links to terror.
From a Sangh Parivar Man to an Outcast
The rise of the Sri Ram Sene in Karnataka is linked to the political career of its leader, Pramod Muthalik. Muthalik started his career as a grassroot level worker of the RSS. While imprisoned in the Belgaum prison in 1975, during the emergency, he came in touch with senior leadership of the organisation and became a staunch supporter of the RSS ideology.
In the year that followed, after working for the RSS for more than two decades, he was moved to Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which was gaining popularity in coastal and northern Karnataka. Within a year, Muthalik was also given the responsibility of heading the Bajarang Dal, the new, flamboyant Hindutva outfit in four southern states.
His rise within the Sangh Parivar and the active role he played in 2004 Assembly election victory, according to Muthalik, made many within the Sangh Parivar uncomfortable. Following a ‘smear campaign’ by his colleagues, tensions brew between Muthalik and the senior leadership. Eventually in 2005, he left the Sangh Parivar for their “lack of commitment towards Hindutva ideology”.
Failed Shiv Sena Stint and Forming Sri Ram Sene
One of the first options in front of Muthalik, during his scout for a new political uniform, was Bal Thackeray’s Shiv Sena. With Thackeray’s blessings, he started the Karnataka unit of the Shiv Sena and chose Belgaum as his base of operation, because of the high Marathi population that supported the Shiv Sena ideology.
But that decision was one of his biggest mistakes. Since the delimitation of the state, Belgaum has been a witness to a long standing linguistic conflict between the Marathi-speaking and Kannada-speaking populations. Even within the Karnataka unit of Shiv Sena, these linguistic differences cropped up, eventually forcing Muthalik to leave Shiv Sena and start the Rashtriya Hindu Sena which subsequently became Sri Rama Sene.
First Association With ’Terror’: Hubli Court Bombing
One of the first recorded incidents where a member of the Sri Ram Sene was allegedly directly involved in an act of terror was on 10 May 2008. Nagaraj Jambangi, a Sri Ram Sene activist and a close associate of Pramod Muthalik, was arrested for bombing a court Hubli district.
According to the police, ‘the tiger gang’ led by Jambangi planned to kill four alleged SIMI activists, who were scheduled to be brought to the Hubli court for a hearing. As the court was on holiday, the gang allegedly sneaked into the court room and placed an explosive device under the witness box in court.
A senior IPS officer, who supervised the case in 2008, said as per the plan the bomb was to explode when someone entered the witness box. Although the suspected SIMI workers were to arrive on 12 May, the bomb accidentally exploded on 10 May.
The officer also added that on 26 September 2008 Jambangi had also placed a bomb under a bridge at Venkatpur near Dharwad, but it failed.
Following the blast, Muthalik had claimed Jambangi was no longer associated with his party. Months later, while under judicial custody, Jambangi was murdered during a prison riot. Years later, all thefive accused men in the case were acquitted for want of evidence.
When Sene Figured in Malegaon Blast Chargesheet
The Sri Ram Sene finds a mention in the chargesheet submitted by the Maharashtra Police on the 2006 Malegaon blast case. A transcript of a telephone intercept shows Lt Colonel Shrikant Purohit, a prime accused in the blast case, praising Muthalik for his work and dedication.
This revelation had led to Maharashtra Police interrogating Muthalik for his involvement in the blast. No evidence was found during this investigation.
However, months following the blast, Muthalik was heard giving a speech announcing that the Malegaon blast was just a curtain-raiser. In a speech made at Udupi on 17 January 2009, Muthalik was heard justifying the Malegaon blast by saying that the time has come for Hindus to don a “militant avatar”.
According to reports, similar rallies supporting Malegaon blast were organised across the state by Sri Ram Sene. A case was registered by the police; however, it was closed subsequently.
When Sene Raised Pak Flag to Start Communal Riots
On 1 January 2012, the small city of Sindagi was shaken when a Pakistan flag was found hoisted in front of the Tehsildar’s office. Soon protests began in the town and a bandh was called by Sri Ram Sene. Sene alleged that the flag was hoisted by the Muslim community in the town.
Before the protests led to communal violence, police clamped prohibitory orders in the town and once the situation was under control, a probe was ordered into the incident. Following the probe, six men were arrested and all of them were members of the Sri Ram Sene. Police claimed that it was a deliberate plan by the Sene members to create communal tensions between the communities in the town.
When questioned about the incident, Pramod Muthalik said that all the men arrested were part of the Sangh Parivar also and not just Sri Ram Sene. However, he later admitted that he had provided lawyers for the arrested men and supported them because they were ‘patriots’.
For Sene, Killer of Gauri Lankesh is a Patriot
Sri Ram Sene chief Pramod Muthalik (left), and the man alleged to have shot journalist Gauri Lankesh, Parashuram Waghmare (right).
Among the six men arrested for raising the Pakistan flag in Sindagi was 20-year-old Parashuram Waghmare. Six years later, on 11 June 2018, he was arrested by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) probing Gauri Lankesh’s murder. The SIT claims they have enough evidence to prove that Waghmare was the man who gunned down activist-journalist Gauri Lankesh on 5 September.
Waghmare, who runs a cyber café, was recruited by Amol Kale, the alleged handler of the Gauri Lankesh conspiracy, after learning about his arrest in 2012.
Once again, Muthalik denied any connection between Waghmare and Sri Ram Sene. However, on 17 June, Sri Ram Sene held a public meeting in Bengaluru to garner support for the arrested man and to claim ‘innocent Hindus’ were being targeted. During this meeting, he made controversial statement, ‘Why should PM react to a dog dying in Karnataka’ , while talking about Gauri Lankesh’s death.
Sri Ram Sene also started an online fundraiser for the family of Waghmare. A post on Sri Rame Sene’s Facebook page read: “Can you share a portion of your earnings, a morsel of your food with patriots? Parashuram Waghmare’s family is in a financial crunch please helping them by donating money (sic).”
Courtesy: The Quint.