Several prominent Kannada writers have been receiving threats via post since April last year. The letters are handwritten, and the writing seems similar, according to writers who spoke to this reporter.
The messages were directed at writers and intellectuals who have been speaking against religious radicalism and Hindutva. Most of these letters were posted from central Karnataka’s Chitradurga district, and a few from places like Shivamogga and Tumakuru to districts across the state where the writers live.
On August 22, a group of progressive writers and intellectuals met Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah to discuss threats they had been receiving for over 15 months. The delegation was led by writers K Marulasiddappa and Dr Vasundhara Bhupathi. Cumulatively, they have filed multiple complaints, with seven FIRs being lodged so far. But there has been no progress and the letters have continued.
After the meeting with Siddaramaiah, the first since the Congress came back to power in the state, the government handed over the investigation to Bengaluru Police’s Central Crime Branch.
While many of the writers are accustomed to getting threats – via phone calls, social media, and even via letters – this time, the writer, who signs off as ‘Sahishna Hindu’, which ironically means tolerant Hindu, seems more tenacious, persisting with it for months on end.
More alarmingly, in June this year, when Dr Vasundhara Bhupathi filed a complaint at the Basaveshnagar police station in Bengaluru, she received a letter of warning from the same person three days later, asking why she approached the police.
“I had not told anyone about this, it was not reported in the media too, but still this person got the information. This made my family worry even more because it could mean that either I was being tracked closely or even that someone close to the police had leaked the information,” she said.
Vasundhara is the president of the Karnataka Women Writers’ Association, and although her books have largely focussed on health, she has been an outspoken critic of communalism in Karnataka.
‘Prepare for death’
Though the letters have come sporadically, there was a pattern. The timing always coincided with any public statement made by the writers against communalism. For example, author Kum Veerabhadrappa, known by his pen name of Kum Vee, received his first letter after he spoke against the increasing divisions in society because of religious polarisation at an event in Bengaluru in the first week of April 2022.
After 61 liberal writers came together to write an open letter to then CM Basavaraj Bommai during the hijab row in March 2022, many of those who signed the letter, including Kum Vee, Banjagere Jayaprakash, Vasundhara and Lalitha Naik, got warning letters.
Over the next few months, when the same group spoke against the revision of textbooks, introduction of Bhagavad Gita in schools or against the boycott call given by Hindu groups against Muslim vendors at temple fairs, a bunch of them regularly started receiving these threat letters.
Looking at the handwriting, it appears that all the letters are written by the same person. While each letter addresses a different issue, there is a common thread that runs through them all.
Irrespective of who the letter is addressed to, it is usually a warning to all 61. The sender uses words such as desha drohi (traitor), anti-national, Hindu virodhi (anti-Hindu), and accuses the writers of siding with Muslims. Then, towards the end, there is usually a demand for a public apology and an ultimatum that if the writers do not change their ways, then they should “prepare for death in any form, which will come shortly”.
There have been over 17 letters so far, of which three were received after the Congress came back to power in Karnataka.
In July 2022, noted writer BL Venu received a threat letter after he, along with 60 others, issued a public statement against the textbook revisions made under the Bommai government. In June, it had come to light that the textbook committee headed by controversial right-wing orator Rohith Chakrathirtha had removed several lessons written by Dalit writers as well as by progressive, reformist writers speaking against communalism and caste hierarchy. And these were replaced with lessons in line with right-wing ideology, including essays by RSS ideologues VD Savarkar and KB Hedgewar. There was uproar in the state with not just the opposition but many educationalists, writers, and intellectuals protesting what they called an attempt to saffronise the education system.
Sahishna Hindu in his letter asked why Venu spoke against Savarkar and why he opposed the inclusion of lessons from the Ramayana. He called the previous president of the textbook revision committee, Baraguru Ramachandrappa, a traitor and asked why the intellectuals are against Hindu scriptures like the Bhagavad Gita. It said Venu along with the 60 others should be sent to the gallows or shot dead or at least get thrown out of the country. Towards the end of the two-page letter, Sahishna Hindu made two specific demands of Venu. One, to convince the other writers to change their ways or be ready to face his fate. Second, to issue a public apology for insulting Savarkar.
A few weeks later, Vasundhara, who was also a signatory to the statement, received a similar letter where Sahishna Hindu said that people like Kum Vee, Devanuru Mahadeva, GS Siddaramaiah, and another dozen intellectuals named have just one intention – to defame the country and religion they were born in. The letter ended with a warning that she should try to advise all of them to change their ways or be ready to be destroyed.
Writer Banjagere Jayaprakash received a letter in June this year in which Sahishna Hindu expressed anguish at the outcome of the Karnataka elections. Calling the Congress rule divisive, the letter said that it is perilous to Hindus and a time for celebration for Muslims, Christians, and liberals like Jayaprakash who have been filling people’s minds with wrong notions. The letter ended with a threat to Jayaprakash that the “light of life will be snuffed” soon.
In another letter, Jayaprakash is asked why the intellectuals and left-wing writers did not protest against the violence that took place in DJ Halli in Bengaluru where a mob of hundreds, while protesting against a derogatory post on Prophet Muhammed by former MLA R Akhanda Srinivas Murthy’s nephew, damaged the legislator’s residence and set his under-construction house in the adjoining site on fire. The mob further indulged in stone pelting, and burnt vehicles as well as the DJ Halli police station building. Three people were killed and over 50 were injured.
The letter demanded that the writers call the perpetrators of the violence terrorists or be prepared to lose their lives.
The meeting with Siddaramaiah
The meeting with 15 writers was initiated by the Chief Minister after a delegation met Home Minister G Parameshwara recently seeking protection. The writers present at the meeting said that the CM sought their suggestions on how they can be given security. While a few already have armed police protection for years, a few others expressed their discomfort at being given such protection.
Dinesh Amin Mattu said he prefers having CCTV cameras installed around his residence to screen any suspicious activity. Jayaprakash said that if individual FIRs filed at separate police stations are investigated as isolated cases by local officers, not much progress can be achieved. He suggested that all FIRs be clubbed together and the case be looked at holistically.
The delegation informed the CM that the previous investigations had yielded no results and the letters have continued unabated. Siddaramaiah suggested that a senior IPS officer who was involved in the Gauri Lankesh murder probe can be entrusted with heading a special team.
BJP govt did not take complaints seriously, allege writers
Under the Bommai government, despite many complaints, there was allegedly no serious attempt to nab the person writing the threat letters. Several complaints were filed in different districts – Bengaluru city, Ramanagara, Chitradurga, and Ballari – and the Superintendent of Police for Ramanagar was appointed as the Investigating Officer (IO). But there was allegedly little or no communication on the probe to the complainants.
Jayaprakash claimed that when he asked for updates, the IO turned him away, saying nothing can be disclosed while the case was under investigation.
In a few other instances, despite complaints being filed, the police offered protection but did not lodge FIRs, the writers alleged.
The authors being targeted
A look at the authors who are being targeted gives an idea about why they have earned the ire of the anonymous writer, a self-professed crusader of Hindutva. All of them are outspoken critics of the right-wing ideology and their body of work underscores their commitment to liberal and progressive ideas.
Kum Vee, whose work totals over 50 books, has often tackled issues such as caste atrocities. He is a Sahitya Akademi Award winner and a well-known public speaker. He is one of the proponents of the separate religion status for Lingayatism, the faith he belongs to, and has often spoken about the oppression of minorities by Hindutva supporters.
Marulasiddappa is a writer and playwright who is a former chairman of the Karnataka Nataka Academy. In many public speeches, he has called for annihilation of the caste system, which he says is responsible for the downfall of Hinduism.
Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy is a writer from the Dalita-Bandaya stream of literature and has been a vocal critic of Brahminism and the caste hierarchy.
Devanuru Mahadeva is one of Karnataka’s leading writers who has been routinely castigated by Hindutva and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh supporters. He recently published a book titled RSS: Aala Mathu Agala, in which he made a case that the RSS has been eroding constitutional values while supporting the caste system. The book was a bestseller and has been translated into multiple Indian languages.
Banjagere Jayaprakash is a writer who has also penned screenplays for several Kannada movies. He is a vociferous critic of communalism, Hindutva, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Sripad Bhat and Niranjan Aradhya are educationalists who were at the forefront of the protests against textbook revisions by the Bommai government. Not just organising protests but both also led delegations to have the changes scrapped.
BT Lalitha Naik is a writer, activist, and former minister who has even attracted a police complaint for speaking up against superstitious beliefs.
KS Vimala is a social justice activist and a social worker who works against gender violence.
Dr Vasundhara Bhupathi, an Ayurvedic doctor by profession, is also a writer who has published several books on health. While her writing is not focussed on social issues, she has been actively involved in calling for dropping of communal policies.
Dinesh Amin Mattu is a former journalist who was an editor with Kannada newspaper Prajavani and served as media advisor to CM Siddaramaiah between 2013-18. He has been vocal against communal politics and has been receiving death threats for many years.
This report was as part of The News Minute-Newslaundry alliance. Read about our partnership and become a TNM Member .
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