An incident where idols were vandalised over an altercation between a few Hindu youth and idol sculptors at a temple in Karnataka's Hassan district in late May, was misreported by several national and local Kannada TV channels as a hate crime.
In the days that followed, right-wing groups such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal took to the streets to protest against Muslims.
On May 30, 2022, four miscreants barged inside the Malekallu Tirupati temple premises where idols of Hindu deities were being made for a temple museum. It was afternoon and the sculptors had left for lunch. The miscreants vandalised the idols and escaped.
Hindutva groups have been stoking communal tensions in the state, particularly in coastal Karnataka since the past year with a ban on the hijab in classrooms and subsequent protests, a row over barring non-Hindu vendors from temple premises and allegations of forceful conversions by Christians, making headlines.
The news about Hindu idols being broken in Arsikere spread like wildfire in the town. Amogg News Hassan - a local news portal ran a report titled, "Anti-Hindu elements wreak havoc at Arsikere, Idols inside temples disfigured."
Right-wing website OpIndia picked up the news and furthered the same narrative.
The Hindu, however, reported details that were available at that time without any exaggeration.
A local YouTube channel went a step further and alleged, "...in Arsikere there are anti-Hindu people like that of Ghazni Muhammad, who commit heinous acts," referring to Mahmmud of Ghazni, a medieval times ruler who is said to have invaded parts of present-day India and Pakistan.
Times Now, also sensationalised the incident juxtaposing it with the targeted killings of Pandits in Kashmir. The channel even tried to draw parallels with violence that had rocked parts of the country during Ram Navmi processions in April this year.
On May 31, TV9 Kannada ran a byte of Kali Swamy, a Hindutva figure known for spewing hate against Muslims.
"There is a Kalyani (holy pond) out there, so why is the committee allowing non-Hindus to enter the premises? You must have such strength to stop them. I have taken complete details of the incident" Kali Swamy said.
"Four Mohammadi guys had come to take bath, and many hindu youths had stopped them," he falsely alleged. "In retaliation within three hours of it the disfiguring of idols happened and not in the night."
"One person has urinated inside the holy pond, also Paan Parag has been spat and also threatened asking 'kya re tu, kya karta hai re tu,' you know who will say like that, soon culprits should be arrested or else we will have to intensify our agitation," Swamy said.
Swamy threatened to launch a massive protest at Arsikere proposing to invite Pramod Mutalik, another polarising figure, and said several Hindutva groups within the state would participate.
Mutalik is considered as Naringhanad Saraswati of Karnataka.
Meanwhile, IndiaToday ran the same story with the title 'Attack on Astha' (faith)'. The story included a reaction from a member of the Hindu Janjagrthi Samiti, who claimed, "there is conspiracy behind this and anti-Hindu forces seem to have done it."
The very next day, local units of the VHP and Bajrang Dal gave a call for a massive protest to be held in Hassan town on June 2.
The poster for the protest read, 'Massive protest condemning the destruction of idols by Jihadist mindset fanatics in the premises of Malekallu Tirupati temple. Come to protect the faith.'
The members of right wing groups Hindu Jagran Vidike and Bajrang Dal held protest demonstrations in Arsikere shouting slogans and waving saffron flags. Lawyers associated with Hindutva groups also participated in the protest, holding a bike rally. It led to a road blockade. The VHP and Bajrang Dal submitted a memorandum to the Deputy Tahsildar.
On June 4, Hindutva groups gave a call for a bandh (strike) in Arsikere. The local Hindu community responded positively with many shops remaining shut. Hindutva groups also threatened to carry out a hunger strike in front of the Deputy Superintendent's office if the culprits were not caught within two days.
This was followed by swift action. Hassan Police nabbed three accused on June 5. One person was still missing at the time.
The Superintendent of Police (SP) Hassan held a press meet on June 6.
Abhishek Naik, 20 and three minors were accused of vandalising idols.
The SP, Srinivas Gowda said that four people, including 3 minors, took part in the vandalism. The accused would often go there to bathe and on several occasions they had heated arguments with the sculptors, who objected to them being there but on May 30 the same argument turned into vandalism, he said.
He clarified that non-Hindus were not involved in the incident.
Only The Hindu and two local portals published a follow-up carrying the police's version including a clarification about no role of Muslims in the incident. Local outlet Amoggh News Hassan, which communalised the incident, only said that the accused have been arrested but did not reveal the name or religion of the accused.
TimesNow and other portals did not report on the police's press conference. Right wing media, VHP, Bajrang Dal and their leaders have not said anything on the incident following the police's press conference.
When BOOM called the Superintendent of Police, he declined to comment saying "we have said everything in the press conference."
"We nabbed four people, one of whom is 20-year-old Abishek and three are minors. None of them are Muslim. The adult man has been sent to judicial custody while the three minors are in juvenile home," D Ashok, Deputy Superintendent of Police told BOOM over the phone.
"They have been booked under Section IPC 448 (Punishment for house-trespass) 427 (Mischief causing damage) and Subsequent Section 2 (Karnataka prevention of damage to public property act)."
The authors are independent journalists. They tweet at @shaad_Bajpe and @ZafarAafaq
Updated On: 2022-06-30T08:06:53+05:30