Defying prohibitory orders under section 144 of the CrPC imposed by Bengaluru police, thousands of protesters in Bengaluru turned up on the streets on Thursday to voice their dissent against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
The morning began with an uneasy calm as the designated protest site Puttana Chetty Town Hall was turned into a fortress with almost hundred police personnel, three Karnataka State Reserve Police (KSRP) vehicles and BMTC buses kept on stand-by. This was because protesters belonging to citizen groups and left-leaning political parties issued fresh calls for protests. Orders under section 144 prohibits assembly of groups of more than five people, public gatherings and carrying firearms.
In spite of the orders, messages were shared on social media at 9 am by collectives of citizen groups and NGOs organising Thursday's protest, confirming that it would go on as planned.
The organisers quoted the phrase "When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes dutyâ€ť popularised by former American president Thomas Jefferson in their calls for people to protest.
The first set of protesters turned up at Town Hall at 10:45 am. These protesters came alone and chose to remain anonymous but police personnel turned them away from Town Hall.
At 11 am, a group of protesters approached Town Hall from the Unity Building in small groups. This included the historian Ramachandra Guha, who was dragged away by police officials while he was being interviewed by the national broadcaster NDTV. He was heard reasoning with police officials that he had come alone to the protest but he was detained along with a group of 50 protesters.
Soon, small groups of protesters made their way to Town Hall consistently. A group of 29 students including from National Law School University of India (NLSUI) began a sit-down protest close to Town Hall. Chetan Singh Rathore, DCP of Bengaluru (Central), urged the students to drop the protests but after the students resisted, they too were detained.
Things however changed at 12:30 pm, when hundreds of protesters, mostly residents of nearby areas, gathered on SJP Road close to Town Hall. This group included a large number of Muslims who reside in central Bengaluru areas. The protesters were heard chanting slogans criticising the CAA, NRC and the ruling BJP government. The protesters also chanted slogans like â€śHindu, Muslim Bhai Bhaiâ€ť. Chethan Singh Rathore, along with SJ Park Inspector Tanveer Ahmed, began a discussion with the protesters.
Organisers of the protest told TNM that they were adamant that they would not disperse from the area until the detained protesters were released. Over 200 protesters taken away by the police in Town Hall were detained in SJ Park, Wilson Garden, Chamarajpet police stations and at another location in Adugodi.
Soon, hundreds of people including students, lawyers and the general public gathered at Town Hall and joined the first set of protesters. The protest continued till 4 pm with protesters chanting slogans and holding up placards.
Chethan Singh Rathore, DCP, Bengaluru Central, relented to the request from protest organisers. Speaking to TNM, he said, "We agreed that no cases would be booked against the protesters who gathered at Town Hall in the afternoon if the organisers convinced everyone to disperse peacefully from the area. However, we have booked 20 protesters under Section 188 of IPC at the SJ Park Police Station."
Around this time, Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa told reporters that the â€śpolice cannot take the law into their own handsâ€ť and that the police â€śshould only take action if someone is creating law and order problemâ€ť.
â€śI have come here to protest because the government here does not want to hear our voice. We are talking about equality and humanity and not about divisions. Then why is it that the police force is being used to stop us from voicing our concerns about the CAA,â€ť Gikki Aluakh, a resident of Bengaluru who was at the protest said.
Another protester Tanveer Ahmed likened Thursdayâ€™s protest to civil disobedience. â€śThe public has defied Section 144 and this is a great step towards civil disobedience. The CAA is anti-constitutional and come what may, we donâ€™t want CAA or NRC in this country, â€ť Tanveer said.
Three-and-a-half hours after the protests began, the crowd dispersed at 4 pm. The organisers of the protest, buoyed by the success of Thursday's agitation, are planning further protests in the city once the prohibitory orders in the city end at midnight on December 21.