Harish Bangera, who spent 20 months in jail in Saudi Arabia over false charges of blasphemy, returned to India on August 18, 2021. He talked to Swarajya Magazine about his ordeal and said he would not rest until those who did injustice to him are punished. He said, “I will not rest until they are punished, and that is when my battle for justice will be complete.” He said he will not rest otherwise there would be no consequences for those who ‘put a Hindu through hell and get away with it’. He also said he has not earned a penny since December 2019.
Terming his release a miracle, Bangera said, “They spent just two days behind bars and are out on bail, while I suffered for one year eight months in jail, not knowing if I would see the outside world ever again. I didn’t know if I would ever make it back alive, for the crime that had I been accused of was such. And to be charged with blasphemy that involves Mecca and the royalty of that country was not a small issue. My life was almost over.”
The story of Harish Bangera
In December 2019, a Facebook profile emerged under his name and photograph on which a post was published with a photograph of Kaaba at Mecca sporting a caption that read, “All my Hindu Brothers …next Ram Mandir in Mecca…be reddy for fight…Jai Sri Ram…Modi with us.” The post not only attracted hundreds of comments but went viral in Saudi Arabia, and several social networking groups shared its screenshots. It attracted the attention of the authorities in Saudi Arabia, resulting in the beginning of the nightmare for Bangera.
He was dismissed from his job, arrested and tried for blasphemy for months. During that period, he tried to explain that the profile does not belong to him, but no one listened. Reportedly, he had shared a post about the anti-CAA protests that led to riots in Mangalore in 2019 that resulted in the whole fiasco against him.
He said, “They called me, threatened me, sent messages. They started posting my photos on WhatsApp and Facebook and spreading rumours about me. I had taken down the video already, yet local Muslim folk from our coast who knew where I work turned up at my workplace to attack”.
It was all about revenge
Bangera said that to stop people from attacking him, he made a video in which he apologised and promised not to share any such content in the future. But that did not make any difference. He said, “They wanted to take revenge and created a fake profile and posted some derogatory stuff and posts about making temple in Mecca. This was when I began to fear for my life. I felt my life was over.” Bangera further added that no one was there to support him, and he was “In that land, there is no one we can call ours”.
Bangera’s wife supported him from India
Bangera’s wife suspected that the whole case was a conspiracy against her husband. Bangera’s friend Lokesh, activist Ravindra Shanbhag, Abhimata and other local organisations came in support of his wife. They filed a complaint at Udupi police station who pinned down two culprits for creating a fake profile and publishing the post that led to his arrest.
Udupi Police named two Muslim brothers Abdul Huyez and Abdul Thuyez from Moodabidri, Karnataka, behind the fake profile. They were arrested in October 2020, but they are currently out on bail. A case against them is under process before the trial court.
Once there was enough evidence against the two, local leaders followed up the case, and a message was sent by the Government of India to the Government of Saudi Arabia seeking his release. Shobha Karandlaje, Member of Parliament from Udupi and MoS Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare, was one of the frontrunners who played a role in Bangera’s return.
She had reportedly written to the Secretary of the Ministry of External Affairs through the Home Department of Karnataka and followed up with Kamal Pant, head of intelligence, to speed up the investigation.
Bangera said, “Shobha ma’am has assured me that she will definitely ensure that the culprits are punished. Else there will be many more Harish Bangeras who may not have the support and resources I was fortunate to get.”
Reportedly, those who spread the rumours in Saudi Arabia were booked for false rumours and defamation. Proceedings are going on against them. Bangera said, “I think four of them have already been arrested. The law there doesn’t make room for any ‘influence’, you see. It is not India.”
Bangera was forced to confess
As there were endless enquiries for him, Bangera claimed that there were attempts to have him confess the crime. While comparing the Indian and Saudi legal system, he added, “It was bound to be so harsh given that the crime they had implicated me in was such.”.
Bangera doesn’t wish to return to Saudi Arabia, for he can’t imagine living away from his family after what they have gone through and especially because his’ wife literally got him back from the clutches of death.
Living without being in touch with family was difficult
Bangera left for Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahsa after his vacation in summer 2019. That was the last time he saw his wife and daughter. For the first three months in jail, he was not allowed to talk to his family. During those 20 months, he was able to get permission to have an audio call only four times. The first call he was able to make was cut after three minutes. He said it was difficult to live without knowing what was happening outside.
Bangera thanked God for making his return possible
When he was in jail, his wife, friends and organisations who supported him walked to the Anegundi temple and vowed if he returns back safely, he will do ‘padayatra to the temple. He said, “Ganapathi has made it happen.” Before giving an interview to Swarajya, Bangera completed the pilgrimage to the temple.