POLITICS
11/05/2018 11:59 AM IST | Updated 11/05/2018 4:15 PM IST

Karnataka: Why Sisters Of Slain BJP Worker Won't Ever Vote For The Party Again

A death of one's own.

Betwa Sharma/HuffPost India
Harsha Baliga and Anuradha Baliga at their home in Mangalore in May, 2018.

Mangalore, KARNATAKA — In the days leading up to the Assembly election, posters barring Congress party leaders from entering "Hindu" houses have been making news in the deeply communalised belt of Karnataka.

There is, however, one house in Mangalore that has gone against the grain by plastering a large poster that bars Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders from entry, and its owners are not Muslim.

They are, in fact, Goud Saraswat Brahmins (GSB), who, like most of the community, have always voted for the BJP.

For the Baliga family, it has taken the grisly murder of a loved one to question their lifelong beliefs and prejudices. Breaking with the traditional voting pattern of the GSBs, they have decided to never vote for the BJP again.

Instead, the family is supporting a Left party candidate who had reached out to them in their darkest hour. It doesn't matter to them that his chances of winning are slight.

In a recent conversation, Anuradha Baliga, the younger sister of the slain BJP worker, Vinayak Baliga, said, "My brother worked all his life for the BJP but not a single party leader came to even offer their condolences. At first, we were not ready to fight for justice, but our courage built up when others joined our cause. It was the Dalits and people from the Left."

"Now, we want to help them back," she said.

My brother worked all his life for the BJP but not a single party leader came to even offer their condolences.

Earlier this week, his four sisters watched as passersby took photos of the poster hanging on the gate of their house.

It reads: "This is the house of those who support Vinayak Baliga who was cruelly butchered on the 21st of March, 2016. There is no entry for those who have murdered him and those who are supporting his murderers. None of them should come here and ask for votes."

At the time of his death, Baliga, who was also a prominent Right to Information (RTI) activist, had been investigating the accounts and pushing for greater transparency in the administration of the Sri Venkataramana Temple, run by his own community in Mangalore. The 51-year-old had challenged the authority of the seer of the Kashi Math, who is followed by the GSBs.

Baliga's family believes that his death is connected with his activism on these two fronts.

Two years on and seven arrests later, the prime accused is out on bail and the case has still not gone to trial.

Anuradha Baliga, 48, who is fighting to get justice for her brother, said, "The main accused is still seen with a man who is a BJP candidate in this election. How do you think that makes us feel?" she asked.

Baliga was talking about prime accused Naresh Shenoy, who enjoyed a brief spell in the national spotlight after he launched the NaMo brigade, a support group for Narendra Modi formed ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

Shenoy was arrested after a three-month manhunt by the police and released on bail just a few months later.

Last month, the Home Ministry of the BJP government at the Centre forwarded to the Congress government in Karnataka Anuradha's request for setting up a special team to investigate Shenoy as well as Vedvyas Kamath, a BJP official in Mangalore, who went into hiding after Baliga's murder.

The BJP has fielded Kamath as its candidate for Mangalore South in the Assembly election. BJP President Amit Shah campaigned for Kamath earlier this week. Shenoy was spotted at the road show in Mangalore and outside the Mangalore City Corporation building where Kamath had filed his nomination papers in April.

Declaring that no one in her family is going to vote for the BJP on May 12, Anuradha said, "If they are supporting criminals, and people who support criminals, then what Ram Rajya will they create for the common man?"

"In Ram Rajya, at the very least, people should feel safe when they walk on the road," she said.

Anuradha, who was the first to see her brother after he was attacked by sword-wielding assailants outside his home, recalled that he was slumped against a wall and soaking in his own blood.

"He received 16 blows from the sword. His helmet split in two at the very first blow," she said.

The BJP is fielding the highest number of candidates (83) with criminal records in Karnataka followed by the Congress (59).

If they are supporting criminals, and people who support criminals, then what Ram Rajya will they create for the common man.

Betwa Sharma/HuffPost India
The Vinayak Baliga poster at the Baliga home in Mangalore in May, 2018.

Question for Amit Shah

After being schooled in the shakhas of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Baliga had spent his adult life serving the BJP. He was, however, no ordinary booth worker.

Baliga had garnered quite a reputation for filing scores of RTI applications and using the courts to combat wrongdoing irrespective of caste and religious considerations. "He wanted things to run as per the law of the land. He could not tolerate injustice," said Anuradha. "He wanted the truth to come out."

Anuradha recalled her brother telling his family about how the RTI process worked.

"He used to tell us that if you pay just Rs.10 or 20, submit an application, they have to give you a reply within 30 days," she said. "He really believed in his party. He really believed in the system."

This week, Anuradha took her fight to the BJP president Amit Shah, who visited Mangalore and campaigned for Kamath.

In an open letter to Shah, she asked, "As the president of the BJP what steps will you take to help us?"

Anuradha has pointed out that a central tenet of the BJP's election campaign had been the murder of its workers in coastal Karnataka, but no one from the party has talked about her brother.

In fact, the BJP, in its list of 23 Hindu workers, allegedly slain by Muslim extremists, has incorrectly included at least three names. Still, its leaders continue to cite 23 deaths in campaign speeches. There has, however, been no mention of Baliga.

As the president of the BJP what steps will you take to help us?

At a women's gathering in Karnataka recently, Meenakshi Lekhi and Nalin Kumar Kateel, BJP's parliamentarians from New Delhi and Dakshina Kannada respectively, snubbed 46-year-old Harsha Baliga, when she raised questions about her brother's murder.

"Meenakshi Lekhi just said that she didn't know about the matter and asked me to give it in writing," said Harsha, a government school teacher. "Nalin Kumar Kateel just walked off the stage."

"I'm pretty sure that if I gave something in writing, they would just throw it in the dustbin," she said.

The angriest that Anuradha felt was when her mother passed away 10 months after her brother was killed.

"I remember my brother would come back from court and tell us what the judge had said, how he had argued, and my mother would ask him if he was safe," she said. "He would always say, 'Don't worry.'"

"My mother cried every day after he died and then eventually she died from the grief," she said.

I'm pretty sure that if I gave something in writing, they would just throw it in the dustbin.

Betwa Sharma/HuffPost India
Vinayak Baliga's sisters at their home in Mangalore in May, 2018.

A New World

Baliga's murder transformed the lives of his two youngest sisters, Anuradha and Harsha, in more ways than one.

Soon after their brother's murder and their mother's death, their father, once a beedi merchant, became bedridden. With the two elder sisters married and busy with their own families, it fell to the younger members to support the family.

But for Anuradha, a technical engineer, and Harsha, a government school teacher, their new role as the breadwinners is not the biggest change in their lives.

Harsha, for instance, had never imagined that she would accompany Muneer Katipalla, a Muslim man fielded by the Communist Part of India (Marxist), to file his nomination papers.

"Things have changed for us. Earlier, when people used to take out rallies, we never bothered to know anything. Now, we have become aware of the problems of other people and we try to support their struggles," said Harsha.

Anuradha added that the days when they hardly ever stepped out of the male-dominated household were a thing of the past. "We used to be very scared to go out," she said. "Now, we have become more daring, we have gained confidence to face the world."

Laughing, she said, "We can even go out at 2 in the morning."

While Harsha is handling matters related to Baliga's murder case, Anuradha is continuing with her brother's litigation for transparency in the administration and accounting of the Sri Venkataramana Temple.

"Who will give us justice if we don't fight for it? What will be the point of all the work that my brother did if we don't speak up? We cannot let the work he did go to waste," she said.

We have become aware of the problems of other people and we try to support their struggles.

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