The expected has happened. A Tamil youth, 22-year-old Santhosh was assaulted in Bengaluru by a bunch of macho Kannadigas, who punished him for posting mocking comments against Kannada film stars on Facebook. Ever since Karnataka and Tamil Nadu got into battle mode over Cauvery river water sharing this week, the 35 lakh Tamilians in Bengaluru have been on tenterhooks. The Bengaluru Tamil Sangam even petitioned Karnataka Home minister G Parameshwara seeking safety as if an overstretched city police can keep every Tamilian in India's IT city safe.
Santhosh let loose his creativity or the lack of it on his Facebook page, posting photographs of Kannada stars and ridiculing them with comments in Tamil. The posts went viral and a group of activists belonging to an organisation called Yuva Karnataka, with 4000 members throughout the state - 2000 of them in Bengaluru - saw the post and were infuriated by it.
They tracked Santhosh down to his engineering college in Banashankari area 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,'' says Venkatesh, state president of Yuva Karnataka. "People like Santhosh create the divide. We want such acts to stop. Who is he to write like this? 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.''
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Santhosh apologised under duress, as is clearly seen in the video, and then reportedly escaped, according to Yuva Karnataka activists. No police case has been filed either against Santhosh or the assaulters yet.
Not that Santhosh was not at fault. His memes were in bad taste and absolutely uncalled for at a time when, at least during the Karnataka bandh on Friday, the mood was distinctly anti-Tamil Nadu. The group decided to make an example of Santhosh, shooting the assault and the apology on camera. There are many more memes floating on social media using Tamil film scenes, some of them in poor taste talking about how bandit Veerappan would have made Karnataka bend.
It was essentially putting into practise what Vatal Nagaraj, leader of the Kannada Okkoota said in the context of Biocon chief Kiran Mazumdar Shah's sarcastic tweet where she suggested renaming of Bengaluru as `Bandhaluru'. Nagaraj is one of those who had called for the Karnataka bandh.
"Avarige tale sari illa (she is out of her mind),'' said Nagaraj about Shaw on a Kannada TV channel and made it clear that irrespective of where they hailed from, people who live in Karnataka "must support the Karnataka cause on Cauvery''. Others can pack their bags and leave, he warned.
The open threat and the presence of several Kannada fringe groups, out to assault in the name of Kannadiga pride, is making the Tamilian in Bengaluru tense. One of them, Smitha Sarma Ranganathan, brand communication expert, says, "I grew up in Bengaluru, so have my children. They in fact, speak Kannada better than Tamil. This is not the Bengaluru I know, where Tamil Nadu registration vehicles are not daring to ply. Local Kannada channels are broadcasting such caustic content that I wonder what is the messaging that is going out,'' says Smitha.
During the day of the bandh, all Tamil TV channels were off air and Tamil films have been removed from theatres in Bengaluru since the Supreme court ordered release of 15000 cusecs of water everyday to Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu too is worried at regional chauvinism and parochialism tearing the Bengaluru-Chennai fabric apart, when all the Cauvery crisis needs is for the two chief ministers to speak to each other. As opposed to Karnataka groups' #NammaKaveri hashtag that emphasised ownership of the river, popular Tamil actor and radio jockey Balaji has floated #KaveriforPeace.
"Let us not create hate tags against the entire state and its people. It is not going to help our farmers, rather it might worsen the situation of Tamils in Karnataka,'' says Balaji. "The only thing we can do is to remain sensible and refrain from posting things that spread hatred and violence.''
Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have seen Cauvery dispute leading to violence. In December 1991, the order to release water led to anti-Tamil riots in Bengaluru and Mysuru. Over 2 lakh Tamils are believed to have moved out of Karnataka soon after. In retaliation, properties of Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu were targeted.
This is not the first time jingoistic elements have been let loose. 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.
During the Telangana agitation between 2009 and 2014, Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K Chandrasekhar Rao's "Andhra waale bhaago'' slogan created much discomfiture among the people originally from coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema who had made capital Hyderabad their home. Film shootings were stopped because the actors were from Andhra and people from non-Telangana regions were forced to raise `Jai Telangana' slogans.
It is now for the firm hand of the Karnataka state law machinery to ensure the so-called "outsider'' feels safe. Regional chauvinism and parochialism cannot hold a state to ransom.
Yuva Karnataka activists slapped Santhosh but the slap is essentially on the inclusive ethos of the beautiful city of Bengaluru.
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