Cauvery violence: Mayhem in Bengaluru, attacks on Kannadigas and Tamils

Cauvery violence: Mayhem in Bengaluru, attacks on Kannadigas and Tamils

What started as a hashtag war has spilled on to the streets of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, as mobs go wild in different parts of the two states

By T S Sudhir

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It is hashtag-to-hashtag confrontation taking place between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with the black sheep among the online community fuelling and providing oxygen in cylinders of mocking memes, ridiculing people on the other side of the Cauvery.

The anonymous troll of the virtual world has metamorphosed into the real world goon on the street. In the last 48-odd hours, they have come in all shapes and sizes and holding all sorts of banners and flags. Cauvery is their current flame and passion, that threatens to set peace in the two states on fire.

“Say Cauvery belongs to Tamil Nadu,” said four activists of Tamil Valvurimai Party in Rameshwaram to the Kannadiga driver of a vehicle with Karnataka registration plate. The vehicle was damaged and the driver slapped many times. He finally said what he was told to and the goon quartet exulted, having ‘secured’ Cauvery for Tamil Nadu.

Incidentally “Valvurimai” means “right to live”. Ironical, since neither side seems to believe in live and let live, as the Supreme Court advised. 

Some furious accounting was taking place between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, with each slap in the Rameshwaram incident, as if revenge for every slap that landed on 22-year-old Santhosh’s face in Bengaluru. The engineering student had posted photographs of Kannada stars and ridiculed them with comments in Tamil on Facebook. The posts went viral and a group of activists belonging to an organisation called Yuva Karnataka, which claims to have 4000 members in the state, saw Santhosh’s post and were infuriated by it. 

They tracked Santhosh down to his engineering college in the city and confronted him about his derogatory posts on Kannada actors Shivarajkumar, Vijay, Ragini Dwivedi and Darshan. The actors had taken part in the Cauvery protests and publicly supported the Karnataka cause on Twitter. 

“You may think we are at fault because in the video we are hitting him. No one thinks about what he did,” said Venkatesh, state president of Yuva Karnataka. “In fact, it is a big network of people who want to mock Kannadigas over Cauvery. We will find them and teach them a lesson.”

While the fringe group, riding on regional chauvinism and parochialism had no business assaulting Santhosh, the fact remains that Santhosh’s memes were in bad taste and uncalled for at a sensitive time like this. Which is why the group decided to make an example of him, shooting the assault and the apology on camera. There are several more memes floating on social media using Tamil film scenes, mostly with actors Rajinikanth and Ajith. Some of them in poor taste talking about how bandit Veerappan would have made Karnataka bend. 

With images of Bengaluru’s fast track kangaroo court of instant mob justice going viral, Tamil Nadu wanted to show its fangs of vigilantism as well. So in the cover of darkness on Sunday night, a bunch of goons threw petrol bombs at Woodlands restaurant, a very popular eating place in central Chennai, just because it is owned by a Kannadiga. They warned that if attacks on Tamilians in Karnataka continue, Kannadigas in Chennai will face the music. 

Or petrol bombs. 

In competitive hooliganism, a Tamilian store on Magadi road in Bengaluru was ransacked while a Karnataka Bank branch in Puducherry was forcibly shut down. Vehicles with Tamil Nadu registration numbers plying in Karnataka were targeted, prompting the police to advise motorists to be careful. Shops from Tamil Nadu, with distinct Tamil names, downed shutters. With protests breaking out, fear has gripped Bengaluru and other towns in Karnataka. 

Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah shot off a letter to his Tamil Nadu counterpart, blaming Tamil channels for blowing the assault on Santhosh out of proportion, resulting in attacks on Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu. High time Siddaramaiah realised that finger pointing won’t help. All he needs to do is to ask the police to come down hard on the fringe groups who are holding Karnataka to ransom.

These fringe groups that have hijacked the Kannada cause are nothing but a bunch of extortionists and hooligans. These activists, draped in yellow and red scarves, see in the Cauvery dispute an opportunity to loot and target individuals and establishments. 

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have a history of violence breaking out over Cauvery. The worst was in December 1991 when the order to release water led to anti-Tamil riots in Bengaluru and Mysuru. Over two lakh Tamils are believed to have moved out of Karnataka soon after. But it is also believed that the situation would not have been so bad had the then-Congress government not turned a blind eye to the mobocracy on the streets. 

Again in 2002, film theatres screening Rajinikanth’s Baba bore the brunt as familiar scenes of violence played out. Every time, there is a water deficit in the Cauvery and both states clash, blood spills on the streets of Bengaluru and south Karnataka districts. 

In some sense, this is similar to the lousy brand of identity politics that plays out in Mumbai. Cab drivers from Bihar, working in Mumbai have been the target of Shiv Sainiks and MNS activists many times in the past, with the outfits claiming to safeguard the interests of the Marathi manoos

Meanwhile saner elements are appealing for peace. Popular radio jockey and actor Balaji wants #KaveriforPeace to trend while social activist Chandramohan has put out a Facebook post, saying “I am a Tamilian, I don’t hate Kannadigas. Most Tamils feel the same”. Several Bengalureans are appalled at the manner in which the police has allowed lumpen elements to take over the city. 

The fallout of this attempt to defy the Supreme Court order only backfired on Karnataka with orders now issued to release 12,000 cusecs of water till September 20, as against September 15 earlier.

This is one war in which neither side has come out smelling of roses.