A tale of two protests
- From a Gandhi costume to IIM students who left footwear outside their campus, Bengalureans showed creativity and resilience while protesting the CAA this week
- As citizens register their protest against CAA across the country this week, two ground reports reveal very different shades of protest and state action
It seemed like the protest would be dead on arrival, after all.
It was 11am on Thursday, and a group of around 100 students, activists and citizens who would ordinarily have been making their way to work or college on a weekday morning, had collected at the Mysore Bank Circle and Town Hall—Bengaluru’s equivalents of Mumbai’s August Kranti Maidan and Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. The night before, Bengaluru Police had announced that the city would be under Section 144, the colonial-era rule that prohibits the assembly more than four people in an area, and the protesters were disheartened. “But we decided to gather anyway. People had gone for similar protests despite Section 144 having been imposed on earlier occasions, and we decided we would carry on too," Karthik, a Bengaluru-based journalist who was detained by the police during the protests, told me on Friday.
“When we reached Mysore Bank Circle around 11, a few people had already gathered, and we saw some elderly men and women—they looked like left activists—sitting down holding banners and chanting slogans," adds Karthik (who did not want his full name to be used).
Even as Karthik and his friends were catching up with the larger group, the police arrived and started herding people into vans. A few of the elderly protesters were hauled up from the pavement and dragged into vans. Soon, Karthik found himself in a van as well with around 20 others. Although they were not told where they were being taken, they were allowed to keep their mobile phones and were constantly sharing their location with friends and colleagues, he says.
They ended up at a wedding hall—Mangala Kalyana Mantapa in Koramangala, which backs on to the City Armed Reserve force’s quarters in the same neighbourhood. Soon, more batches of protesters, including historian Ramachandra Guha, who had been picked up at Town Hall in the middle of a TV interview, were brought to the location and herded into the main hall. The protesters continued to raise slogans, says Karthik. “The cops didn’t really stop us or use any particular force, nor did they intimidate us. They also let us hold on to our mobile phones and even though an attempt was made to get all our names, phone numbers and addresses, when some people refused to give these details, the cops didn’t insist," he says.
Did he feel scared at any point? Karthik laughs. “No, it was actually quite powerful and uplifting as an experience. I felt less helpless," he tells me. Not quite a protest veteran, he is no newbie either—over the past couple of weeks, he has been to three protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act.
Guha’s detention had captured the media’s attention—and by the time I reached the kalyana mantapa (marriage hall) around 1pm, there were journalists and photographers hovering around the locked gate, talking to the police inside. Soon, some lawyers arrived, and were allowed to go in. “Madam, don’t worry, we are serving lunch to them. Your friends are okay," a sub-inspector told me outside the gate of the kalyana mantapa. Indeed, they were served a simple lunch of tomato rice and curd soon after, says Karthik.
If the intention was to prevent a further gathering, it failed spectacularly. By 1pm, so many waves of protesters had arrived at the area near Town Hall—despite the prohibitory orders, and despite the morning’s detentions—that the police gave up. They merely stood guard as a swelling crowd of what amounted to at least 5,000 by 3pm took over the pavement and one side of the road opposite—singing, chanting slogans, waving the Indian flag and offering bottles of water and packets of biscuits to other protesters. When I finally made my way there around 2pm—after a 2km walk, because traffic had backed up heavily in this congested part of the city—it was electrifying.
“In fact, the actual swell started happening after the detainees had been taken away. Congress MLA Rizwan Arshad and a few left groups had mobilized people and they started showing up in quite large numbers," says Sharmadip Basu, who teaches history at Azim Premji University. Basu was at the venue earlier in the morning when he, along with a few friends, was detained by the police. But in just under 3 minutes, their bus, a private vehicle with just one policeman, stopped at a traffic signal and most of the detainees simply exited from the back door and walked away, rejoining the protests a few minutes later.
“The bonhomie was just amazing. It was especially poignant to see elderly Muslim men shouting slogans like “Hindustan hamara hai" and “Bharat mera desh", singing Saare Jahan Se Accha. It felt as if not only were they bearing the brunt of these diktats coming from the Centre, even the burden of articulating an adequate response was on them," says Basu.
By 5pm, news arrived that all the people detained in the morning had been released, and the crowd started dispersing.
In many ways, the protest was typical of Bengaluru. There was no violence, the police were (mostly) courteous and (slightly) blundering, tomato rice was served to detainees, a mediaperson asked Ram Guha his “good name", women, as far as I know, were not molested, and my colleague, Mint reporter Sharan Poovanna, captured a “peak Bangalore" thing on his phone after the protests—a few young people collecting the trash left behind on the pavement and roads.
FIRST PUBLISHED20.12.2019 | 11:08 PM IST