1986 police firing that left nine dead still haunts contentious district

A bloody chapter of the still continuing border row between Maharashtra and Karnataka still haunts the latter’s Belagavi district. Following incidents of violence, Karnataka Police shot dead nine persons in the district in 1986.

Protesters had ripped up railway tracks, attempts were made to poison drinking water units, and post offices were attacked in Belagavi against the backdrop of language row, say elders. A mob even tried to torch a cop of the District Armed Reserve (DAR), they said.

The Maharashtra Ekikarana Samiti (MES) claims that three persons on satyagraha died in prison. The bigwigs of Maharashtra politics took part in the agitation for Belagavi and were jailed in Karnataka.

Present Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal were jailed by the Karnataka government. Shinde had taken part in the agitation as an ordinary worker then.

Maloji Shantaram Astekar, the MES General Secretary and former Mayor of Belagavi, says he was in Dhund jail in Dharwad with Bhujbal for about 15 to 20 days.

In 1986, the Karnataka government made Kannada compulsory in the state. NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who was then in the Congress, came down to Belagavi and started the ‘Seema Ladai’, he says.

Belagavi was literally on fire. At Hindalaga in the district, nine were killed in police firing. Four were from Hindalaga, three from Belagundi, one from Junne Belagavi and another from Anandwadi in Belagavi. Before that in 1956, five persons were killed in police firing in Belagavi, Astekar said.

Hundreds were sent to jail and many were injured in 1986 incident, he added.

Ashok Chandaragi, President of Belagavi Karnataka Association OrganiSations Action Committee, said that the ‘Seema Ladai’ launched by Maharashtra leaders had literally shaken the state in 1986 but the police did a commendable job in containing the violence.

Maharashtra bigwigs like Pawar, Bhujbal, and thousands of Shiv Sena workers started a violent agitation in Karnataka, then ruled by Ramakrishna Hegde, he says.

As water was poisoned, water supply was disconnected in Belagavi for eight days. The mob targeted Hindalaga Water Processing Unit, which supplied water to the Belagavi city. Then Belagavi SP R. Narayan ordered firing on mob in which nine were killed.

After the firing, the violence stopped in the border district. Maharashtra government considers those killed as martyrs and is providing pension to all the families till date, he says.

Shinde participated in the agitation as an ordinary worker in 1986 and was behind bars for 40 days in Ballary jail. The fact was confirmed by Shinde himself in an interview recently, he says.

Deepak B. Gudanagatti, the Belagavi District President of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike, says that Kannadigas were attacked in Belagavi and treated as second-grade citizens. They were attacked for watching Kannada movies. Now, after Kannada organisations started standing up for Kannada people, these incidents and domination have stopped, he adds.

With the Supreme Court likely to take up the petition and leaders like Pawar again raising the Belagavi issue, the fears of a repeat of the 1986 violence have started to haunt people of the border region.

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