Just got back after a frustrating weekend in Kerala - much of it was spent in a car, commuting between Thrissur and Kasarkode (Northern Kerala), in a futile attempt to reach the famous Mookambika temple. Of course, the Mangalore riots over the past weekend put an end to any such wishes one might have had.
The reason for the riots? Well, there are more than a couple of rumours floating around. One, of course, is the official line touted by much of the press - that it was due to cow-slaughter (guess Google-journalism can do only so much). A second story doing the rounds is that a group of right-wing Hindu activists stopped a vehicle carrying cows, and the arguments that followed acted as a trigger for the violence. The third report, more in line with what people at the Kasarkode-Mangalore border had to say, states that the right-wing Hindu activists never actually intercepted the vehicle carying the cattle; even before that, the vehicle seems to have been involved in an accident. Apparently the altercation between the driver and the family of the victim sparked off things. And of course, since the driver was Muslim while the accident-victim was Hindu, so militant elements from both religions had to intervene, and there had to be a Hindu bandh, then a Muslim bandh etc etc.
Its sad that an ordinary hit 'n run accident was allowed to escalate to a matter of such alarming proportions. Anyone who's ever driven a car in Kerala know that bus & truck drivers are the biggest menace on the roads - they drive like bloody maniacs. Thier reckless driving is the reason for many an accident, but the drivers are seldom penalized - their unions are far too strong for that. As a result, the only thing a heavy-vehicle driver is scared of in the event of an accident is a thrashing (and they receive that pretty often too). Drivers being made accountable for hit 'n' run accidents would go a long way in ensuring some better road-manners.
Then we have the small matter of cow-slaughter. I have never understood this business of the cow being holy - if its due to the association with Lord Krishna, then we have a whole host of other animals that could be holy too (mouse, tiger, swan etc). If there's any other concrete holy/scientific reason behind this, I'd love to hear of it! And let's not even begin talking about how much care we take about all the cows that we find on the streets, eating plastic bags and other such nutritious stuff. Keralites have been eating beef for ages; does that make all of us impure Hindus? It has also been well-documented (see here, for instance) that in the pre-Vedic ages, even Brahmins used to eat beef (and mind you, this was long before the Muslim invasion). Hence, any claim or propaganda to the effect that Hindus do not eat beef is wrong; there are plenty of Hindus who do. If anybody opposes cow-slaughter and beef-eating, bring in legislation to ban it - like you have laws against eating pork in Saudi Arabia, for instance. Otherwise, nobody's not gonna stop me (and many others like me) eating beef, no matter how many vehicles are stopped or how many stupid bandhs are called.
To blame our political parties - be they right, left, Hindu, Muslim or secular - is to belabor an oft-repeated point. Its useless, and a waste of my time as well as yours. Everytime an incident of this kind occurs, politicans are ever-ready to point fingers at one another, and to land at the riot-spot to have snaps taken. Its been no different this time either.
At the Kasarkode border, we were warned by the localites. When we attempted to go further, a bunch of Muslim lads even came screaming behind us in a jeep, warning us not to enter Mangalore at any cost. The policemen posted at various points along the road also issued strict warnings to this effect. Thanks to all of them, we did not enter Mangalore, and were the better off for it.
The only positive to come oput of the trip (apart from the couple of temples we visited) was that being in Kasakode for the better part of Saturday offered us an opportunity to visit the famous Bekal fort (the one in the Uyire/Tu Hi Re song from Mani Ratnam's 'Bombay'). Its a magnificent fort indeed; its not for nothing that Kasarkode is called the land of forts (there are a few other forts too, but we did not visit them). There's an adjoining beach nearby too, but the sea is ferocious, and there are warning signs all around (didn't see any lifeguards, though?!!). However, the road leading to the fort is terrible, and there's not a decent restaurnat anywhere near the place. Its sad to see such a beautiful tourist spot underdeveloped and deserted (though there did seem to be landscaping going on).