Almost everyone knows Chaithra Kundapura in her hometown — teen activist to ‘fiery’ orator & ‘cheat’

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The other chapters deal with ‘love jihad’, how mobile, internet and college campuses are used to lure Hindu women, the influence of movies on ‘love jihad’, and how to raise awareness on this ‘conspiracy’, among other subjects. 

Kundapura, accused of duping a Bengaluru-based businessman of Rs 5 crore on the promise of a BJP ticket for the 10 May assembly elections, is well-known for targeting Muslims in fiery speeches. 

As it turned out, however, it was a Muslim friend — Congress leader Suraiyya Anjum — she allegedly sought refuge with as she tried to escape arrest in the case (Anjum has denied sheltering her).  

Kundapura was arrested on 12 September from Udupi, about 400 km from Bengaluru. 

She altogether faces 11 cases across the state, ranging from hate speech to hurting religious sentiments.  

Chaithra Kundapura, a native of Udupi’s Kundapura town, was once among the most noted speakers at pro-Hindutva events, but is now a figure of derision in the same circles for her hateful rhetoric against minorities.

Accusations that she used the Sangh’s name in her alleged cheating ploy have not helped matters, as ThePrint found out on a visit to her hometown.

Her mother, however, refuses to believe the allegations against Kundapura. She says her daughter has been “sacrificed”, adding that “most people were jealous of her growth”.


Also Read: How Hindutva activist ‘tricked’ man into paying Rs 5-cr for poll ticket with ‘paid actors & a swami’


‘Payment speaker’ 

According to members of local Hindutva groups, Kundapura was paid around Rs 5,000 for every speech she made in the district, which is part of the polarised coastal Karnataka region, and as much as Rs 25,000-30,000 in other areas of the state. 

The posters for such events were designed to show Kundapura — often seen wearing a saffron pagdi (headgear) — next to lions and tigers. Saffron-clad young men made human chains to escort Kundapura to the stage, and clips of the events were edited with music and shared on social media. 

“In the last 10 years, when Hindutva boomed, this practice of paying money for speeches started,” Satyajit Surathkal, who spent several years in the Sangh Parivar and is now the state president of the Narayana Guru Vichara Vedike, an organisation involved in social issues, told ThePrint. 

Suresh K, a local Communist Party of India (CPI) leader, said Chaithra Kundapura made a name for herself by spewing hate against minorities and keeping the Hindutva debate alive. 

“They are all payment speakers. They spoke at all pro-Hindutva events but none of them was a star campaigner for the BJP in the recent elections,” he said. “It’s to get someone with no official ties to the party to say things they (BJP) really want to say.”  

Amrit Shenoy, a senior Congress leader from the district, said, “For such people, getting a case against them was like a badge of honour that increased their value within these circles.” 

In October 2021, Kundapura made her most infamous speech, which fuelled communal tensions in the region. 

“With just 23 percent (of the population), if you (Muslims) are this arrogant, imagine how much arrogance Hindus, who make up 70 percent, should show. This is a final warning,” she said. 

“You can live if you stop ‘love jihad’. If 70 percent Hindus decide to convert 23 percent Muslims, decide to love them, only two days are enough and you will not see a single burqa in a Muslim household,” she added. “We will apply kumkum (vermillion) on the foreheads of all Muslim girls.” 

This line was used repeatedly by saffron-clad school students in early 2022 when the then Basavaraj Bommai-led BJP government decided to ban the hijab in government-run educational institutions. 

Udupi residents say that Kundapura did not show up for any of these protests in person but did share some of her views online. 

“During the hijab protests, she (Kundapura) was not seen at any of the protests, especially in Udupi town, since Yashpal Suvarna was spearheading it there,” said a resident aware of the developments but not wishing to be identified.

Yashpal Suvarna, a close aide of the then Udupi MLA, Raghupati Bhat, was leading the charge of the protests, and later got a BJP ticket for the assembly elections. 

“She didn’t even go to the Kundapura government school, which is barely a few hundred metres from her home,” the resident said.  

On its part, the BJP has distanced itself from Kundapura.

“There is no connection between this issue (Chaithra Kundapura) and us. Our clear stand is that the names of all those involved should come out, a comprehensive probe must be carried out and all those involved should be punished,” Bommai told reporters on 14 September in Mangaluru. 

‘Evil eyes’

Kundapura’s father works at a hotel and she has two sisters. Her older sister is a teacher and married, while the younger one is studying. Her brother-in-law is a manager in a cooperative bank. 

It’s hard to find Kundapura’s home even though most people in the quaint town by the same name know about her. 

Right behind a two-wheeler mechanic’s shop on the Chicken Sal road, a narrow path leads to her house. Her parents have rarely been home since her arrest brought hordes of media personnel at their doorstep. 

“Most people were jealous of her growth. We feel like there were many evil eyes on her and she has been sacrificed,” Kundapura’s mother Rohini said, speaking to ThePrint near their house. 

Rohini said their daughter “never told us anything about what she did nor did we ask”. “Most of what we know (about the arrest and case) is from the TV,” she added. 

She had a simple childhood, and attended the Government Girls school in Kundapura. Her speaking skills were discovered in her college days, when she emceed several events. 

It was around this time when she first hit the streets, gaining instant notoriety. 

In 2014, she was among those who protested against the gruesome murder of Rathna Kothari, a young college student who went missing before being found dead in Byndoor. 

A teenager at the time, Kundapura is said to have stormed ahead of the others in the ensuing protests in the coastal district. 

“Engaged in a bitter struggle” with her contemporaries in the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), the RSS’ student wing, Kundapura found in these protests an opening to move ahead of the pack, said people who knew Kundapura in those days. 

The following year, she was among the most vocal protesters when another teenager, Akshatha Devadiga, was found dead in circumstances similar to Kothari’s. 

Kundapura was among those who painted the murder as ‘love jihad’, even though, two days later, the then superintendent of police K. Annamalai — now the Tamil Nadu BJP president — arrested two Hindu boys for the crime. 

Her speeches made her a larger-than-life character, adored by scores of youngsters in the pro-Hindutva network. This came alongside a career in journalism, which saw her serve as an anchor for Samaya TV and Spandana TV

It is here that she met one of her alleged accomplices in the cheating case, Srikanth, as well as Anjum. 

“Her speeches got so much traction that she even started her own organisation… I think it was called Yuva Shakthi. But it didn’t survive,” said a senior district-level functionary of the Bajrang Dal, requesting anonymity. 

She also started a business selling flags, buntings and kesari shawls but her public speaking was more in demand, it is learnt. 

“The VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad), Hindu Jagarana Vedike, Bajrang Dal called her for our programmes. First, it was from surrounding areas, and then from other districts,” the Bajrang Dal member said. 

Two years ago, Kundapura was considered for an organisational position in the Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the VHP, but she received only unfavourable reviews, he added. 


Also Read: Congress’ Suraiyya says she didn’t hide ‘friend’ Kundapura, Hindutva activist held for ‘BJP ticket con’


‘When Sangh came to know’ 

Govind Babu Pujari is a well-known businessman in Bengaluru and runs a charitable trust in Byndoor. 

In a brief conversation with ThePrint, Poojary detailed how Kundapura “created” two characters called “Vishwanath ji” and “Nayak ji” to dupe him of Rs 5 crore. 

Vishwanath was a character played by a Chikmagalur resident while Nayak was played by a street chicken stall vendor, according to the FIR, seen by ThePrint. 

Soon after Kundapura’s arrest, Kannada TV channels showed an under-construction home in Udupi’s Hiriyadka that was allegedly being built by her. 

But Srikanth’s mother says that the 0.2-acre plot and home belonged to her son and the construction cost was just Rs 18 lakh and not Rs 80 lakh as shown in the media. 

Srikanth was Kundapura’s personal assistant, his mother said. 

Kundapura’s mother, however, is not so sure. “This is what they are saying on TV… We don’t know,” she said. 

According to the pro-Hindutva leaders in the region, the news of Kundapura’s “exploits” had reached the top echelons in the Sangh Parivar nearly two months ago, after Pujari contacted senior BJP and RSS leaders about the issue. 

“As soon as Poojary found out, he contacted all leaders and informed them. The RSS leaders said that the issue should come out since the organisation’s and pracharaks’ name was misused,” said one senior leader, requesting anonymity. 

Surathkal said it was “an absolute misfortune that such people are made into icons”. “They think that by speaking ill of Muslims, Christians…Congress… They think this is Hindutva… and people paid her to speak,” he added.

Chaithra was on the run many days before the official complaint was made on 8 September, police and local leaders say. As the noose tightened, around 9.30 pm on 12 September, Kundapura made a desperate attempt to run into Krishna Matha in Udupi. 

But she was eventually arrested. 

Kundapura and six of her associates and a seer are currently in judicial custody until 8 October. Nearly 80 percent of the money has been recovered, according to police officers.
Law-enforcement officials say other stations where Kundapura faces cases are expected to seek custody to ensure she remains in jail even if she manages to secure bail in this case. 

At least two senior police officers told ThePrint that the investigation continues, and it remains to be seen if more names come out during questioning. 

(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)


Also Read: ‘We are losing our friends’, say Udupi Hindu students about Muslim classmates in hijab row


 

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