Three people were killed in police firing and nearly 80 injured in mob violence late Tuesday in east Bengaluru in an eruption over a two-week old Facebook post that allegedly hurt the religious sentiments of a community.
Two police stations at DJ Halli and KG Halli were razed to the ground as the frenzied mob set fire to anything that came their way. By morning, the police stations and the area around looked like a war zone with burnt police vans, buses, cars and nearly 200 charred two-wheelers.
It all started when local Congress MLA R Akhanda Srinivas Murthy’s nephew Navin posted a Facebook opinion on a rape that was loaded with comments against a religious community. At around 8:30 pm, 17-20 members of the SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India) and the Muslim community gathered outside the MLA’s house and started shouting slogans.
Within minutes, around 200 rioters -- armed with stones, sticks and petrol and kerosene cans -- started attacking the legislator’s residence and also set his under-construction house in the adjoining site on fire.
The police were caught unawares and were heavily outnumbered as, within minutes, around 4000 people gathered, armed with stones and petrol cans. An eyewitness told TV channels that the mob size was about 50,000 to 60,000. They were highly charged up and pelted stones at police personnel and damaged property at a police station.
Questions on how the police were caught unaware even as hundreds of rioters were mobilised to protest against a two-week old defamatory post remains unanswered.
The rioters first set fire to a police van and later went inside the KG Halli police station and set fire to the seized cars and two-wheelers.
The police tried to pacify the mob, but in what looked like a well-planned attack, the rioters torched more vehicles; they also set the police stations on fire. They then turned their ire on the policemen and attacked them, injuring nearly 60 of them.
Some of the police personnel present outside the KG Halli police station were chased by the armed mob and they took shelter nearby, even as they waited for reinforcements to arrive. Media persons covering the event were also not spared by the mob.
As the mob went out of control, the police fired teargas, but when that did not work, the cops opened fire, killing three people -- identified as Javeed Khan (19), Yasin Pasha (22) and Sheikh Sadiq (24) -- all of whom were residents of DJ Halli.
CCTV footage showed that the mobs were led by SDPI activists and the attack was not a spontaneous one, but well planned. There were many who were from outside the area and what is surprising is that in a short span of time they were well-armed, despite the Covid lockdown in many areas.
According to the police, over 250 vehicles were destroyed, two police buildings were damaged and MLA Srinivas Murthy's home was charred beyond recognition.
The police arrested three SDPI leaders and detained over 150 of the rioters. The MLA’s nephew was also taken into custody as curfew was clamped in the area and section 144 imposed across Bengaluru.
The BJP-led BS Yediyurappa government has decided to follow the Uttar Pradesh model of making the rioters pay for the damage. Those who vandalised public property will pay for it, said Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai. The process of recovering losses would begin immediately, he said.
Bommai also issued a warning against disrupting law and order in the state. "I want to warn people that they cannot take law into their hands; some people think they are the law. We will expose the conspiracy in the course of the investigation," he said.
Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa condemned the violence and tweeted that he has already ordered action against those taking the law into their hands. Yediyurappa said those who had attacked the police, the media and the public will not be spared and strict action will be taken. He also appealed for calm.
"This hasn't happened in 25 years till now. I have called a meeting to see if a special team needs to be formed to probe the case," he said.
Meanwhile, as the parts of the city were burning, the BJP and the Congress were involved in a war of words blaming each other for the incident.
As night descended, there was uneasy calm in the area.