Mangaluru, a port city by the Arabian Sea in southern Karnataka, is home to about six lakh people. It has three malls, two parks and two beaches where the young and not-so-rich can hang out—but they can’t escape the gaze of vigilante groups that impose their moral code.

Suresh Bhat Bakrabail, 70, an activist with the Karnataka Forum for Communal Harmony, compiles a list of moral policing incidents reported in the local newspapers. Last year he says 139 incidents were reported from Mangaluru and neighbourhood. The majority, 129, were attributed to Hindu right-wing groups and six to the Muslim right-wing Popular Front of India. Everything is grist to their mill, a group of Hindu and Muslim girls and boys travelling for a sports event, a Muslim man dropping off his female Hindu employee at home, a Hindu girl and a Muslim boy’s friendship in college.

The Bajrang Dal, militant youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, is the strongest Hindu outfit. According to Sharan Pumpwell, its Mangaluru-based convener for Karnataka, the organisation has 80 units in the city,  about 3,000 active members and 10,000 supporters. The Sri Ram Sene, of Amnesia Pub 2009 notoriety and Hindu Jagarana Vedike, whose activists assaulted men and women celebrating a birthday at Morning Mist Homestay in 2012, are technically different, but “we’re all the same, we work together”.

The Dal motto is Seva (service), Suraksha (security), Sanskar (culture). It draws most of its cadres from the Billava and Mogaveera communities, traditionally farmers and fishermen respectively. There is no single point of entry. Some might have attended RSS shakhas as children and moved to the Dal as adults. Others might enter via the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad in college or through friends already part of Bajrang Dal.

The Dal provides a sense of purpose to these young, working class men who do not have much to occupy themselves with after work. While few understand the organisation’s larger ideology, they believe they are doing something to protect their country and religion. They give their best to the cause, even if it means breaking the law or a few bones.

Bajrangis, as they like to call themselves, regularly participate in activities such as blood donation and ensuring the delivery of government schemes. But their focus is the Sangh Parivar’s favourite bogey, “Love Jihad”, and cattle vigilantism. It helps that college students, who are often victims of “action” against “Love Jihad” or moral policing do not speak out or even file police complaints due to fear and parental pressure. But the cattle transporters and sellers for whom this is a livelihood hit back occasionally.

On October 9, 2015, flower seller Prashanth Poojary, 29, was hacked to death by six men as his father watched in front of their shop in Moodabidiri, 34 km from Mangalore. He was involved in raids against illegal cattle transport and even led an attack on alleged cattle smugglers about 45 days before his murder, his father said. Sharan Pumpwell held the Popular Front of India responsible for the murder.

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Ganesh Kullal, 19, caterer, joined because he wanted to help people. ‘I like being a part of Bajrang Dal as it gives me a sense of community. I can always do more when I’m part of a group than inspanidually. We clean roads, clear stones off the road, volunteer during festivals and events.’

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Arjun Poojary, 18, diploma student in mechanical engineering, founding member of Kunjathbail unit. He says there were many clashes between Hindus and Muslims over cows in this neighbourhood on Mangaluru’s outskirts. ‘Once a friend saw a Muslim throw a stone at a cow and confronted him, beating him up when he was rude. Later when three of us were having noodles at a Chinese food stall, 23 guys came and beat us up.’ Arjun doesn’t like people of the ‘other religion’, which is why he joined Bajrang Dal. ‘We opened a shakha here. There have been no issues after that.’

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Rakesh Gowda, 22, operates two sweet corn kiosks with two friends. One kiosk used to be at the City Centre Mall. ‘The culture in the malls is like foreign. The girls and boys are lacking in Hindu culture. The girls go to parks and beaches with Muslim boys.’  He complains that though there are a lot of Hindu boys in Mangalore, they don’t come and join the Bajrang Dal. ‘It is good if they join the organisation and work for Hindu Rashtra. They only hang out at malls and party.’

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Deepak Das, 26, sells and services computers and believes many Hindus are not aware the cow is sacred and eat its meat. ‘We make them understand through religious and scientific reasoning why the cow is our god… To prevent cattle slaughter, we talk to people who are unable to take care of their cows and ask them to move them to the local goshala.’ He claims RSS and Bajrang Dal are not anti-Muslim. ‘We are only against those who are against Hinduism. We put up the most banners condoling the death of [president] Abdul Kalam.
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Preethesh Kumar, 24, accountant. ‘Christians don’t do Love Jihad. They help poor Hindus financially and socially, give them the Bible and convert them.’ To counter these conversions Bajrang Dal holds satsangs and makes people aware of why they shouldn’t convert, organises ghar wapsi and arranges for educational and medical help. There is a conversion centre called New Life, we attacked
(in 2008) all their centres at the same time and broke the statues. The case is going on but conversions have come down, they fear us a bit now but Muslim conversions have gone up.’

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Prajwal K Nagesh, 16, is a class ten student. He has been part of the Bajrang Dal for seven months. ‘I like Hindutva and want to save my religion, which is why I have joined the Bajrang Dal.’ He attends weekly meetings and says he learns good things about his religion. Son of a bus driver, he hopes to become a mechanical engineer.

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Nishanth Shetty, 28, a hotel management graduate, trained on a ship in Dubai and is looking for a job in Mangaluru. ‘College students here get sucked into drugs and alcohol. We talk to them during meetings and tell them to not consume alcohol or drugs and to engage themselves more in spirituality. We are Hindus and our New Year is Ugadi. We tell people beforehand not to celebrate in public spaces. They don’t always listen but what can we do about it?’

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Sushant Suvarna, 28, is a contract worker. To prevent Love Jihad, Bajrang Dal relies on a network of eyes and ears searching for instances of Muslims going out with Hindu girls. ‘When they go with Muslim boys to a mall, our guys working in the mall alert us. In colleges ABVP members pass on information. When they go to a movie hall, auto drivers and bus conductors alert us. They call or WhatsApp us and we take action. They may not even be members of the Dal, merely supporters.’

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Mahesh Kotian, 23, factory supervisor. He joined the Dal six months ago. ‘About 5-6 months ago we got information about a tempo carrying 10 animals in Bajpe. I informed our leader and messaged our
karyakartas. Five of us asked the driver where he was bringing them from. He didn’t answer and tried speeding away. We chased him on our bikes. We gave him 2-3 slaps and he agreed that he was smuggling them. We handed him to the police. The cows were moved to a goshala. When we beat up Muslims (for illegal cow trade) the police file cases against us but when we don’t, they support us. They tell us we are doing good work and ask us to inform them so that they can also come along.’

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Vikesh Kumar, 27, sales manager in an automotive company. ‘We work for Bajrang Dal just as Hanuman works for Lord Ram. New Year’s is not Indian culture. This time I went with a group of 20 to the police and complained about girls dancing with boys under the influence of marijuana at the Gold Finch pub. People were drunk and kissing in public. They go to rooms and sleep with boys. There were also Muslims there, so I thought the situation isn’t right. Police came with us, warned them and closed it down by 11 p.m. We didn’t beat up anyone; we used to earlier but not so much now.’

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Nilesh Hindupura, 23, full time Bajrang Dal Vistarak, sleeping in a room adjoining his office. From Kasaragod in Kerala, he chose Mangaluru because Muslims are in a majority there [Kasaragod] so it’s ‘a gone case’. ‘I don’t want that to happen here, but this place will be like Kasaragod in five years. They start attacking Hindus once they are a majority. Their numbers shouldn’t rise. Love Kesari (Hindu men marrying Muslim women) hasn’t begun yet, but we need to start it soon. Hindus respect everything—land, river, etc., as mother. If Muslim girls go with them, wherever they go they will be respected. I am not speaking on behalf of the Dal, but personally I think it should be done.’ 

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Chetan Pumpwell, 32, auto spare parts salesman when not busy as Bajrang Dal samyojak. ‘This was a Hindus Rashtra earlier and it should be the same again. Our aim is to build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, to ensure that other religions don’t trouble Hindus and stop conversions and Love Jihad. Once we stop all these we won’t have any work to do at Bajrang Dal, it will be a Hindu Rashtra. Those who say the Dal takes the law into its own hands have no idea how much work it does.
Whenever there is a squabble and people are beaten up, the blame falls on Bajrang Dal. People always talk against us, nobody says anything about the good work that we do.’

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Sharan Raj, 29, auto driver. He says Muslims are involved in ‘Land Jihad’, threatening Hindu landowners to sell, sometimes offering more than market rates. ‘They build flats sold only to Muslims, ensuring that their numbers rise in the locality which helps them during elections. We request landowners to not sell to Muslims but to Hindus who will offer the same rates. We explain about Hindu Rashtra—we are a majority and Hindu Rashtra can be achieved only if we continue to be a majority.’