The workers’ unions walked to Freedom Park on Sunday after a High Court order had disallowed disruption of traffic for a procession from Bengaluru railway station to Freedom Park.

Union workers in Bengaluru undertaking their walk to Freedom ParkImage by special arrangement
news Court Tuesday, May 03, 2022 - 02:32

Skirting around a Karnataka High Court order restricting public demonstrations to the Freedom Park in Bengaluru, thousands of trade unionists took out a rally on May Day in the city as part of the International Workers’ Day celebrations. Citing traffic concerns, a vacation bench of the Karnataka HC triggered a controversy by stating that the trade unions should make sure the workers’ rally should stay on the footpath and not spill out onto the road.

The order raised fears that the May Day rally may be called off. However, after intense deliberations union leaders decided to go ahead with the event. It turned out to be a major success with the participation of all the major unions — the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) affiliated to the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU) of the CPI (Marxist), the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) of the CPI (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation, the Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC) affiliated to the Congress, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (BMS) of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Hind Mazdoor Sabha. They held a march from the railway station to Freedom park with the leaders insisting that they did not violate the court order.

“As far as we are concerned, we believe we complied with the court order as we did not disrupt traffic,” Apanna, state secretary of the AICCTU, said. In its order on April 28, the High Court directed the state government to ensure that no protests or processions are held in the entire city of Bengaluru except at Freedom Park.

The matter was brought before the court by the unions that were challenging a March 3 ruling of the same court that protests and demonstrations can only be held in Freedom Park. Encouraged by the exception made by the court for the Karaga festival, the unions took up the matter once again ahead of the May Day events. The court however dismissed the matter saying the Karaga and workers rally are incomparable. “As per the court’s instructions we gathered at Freedom Park. But to get there, our comrades had to walk from Town Hall. This could not be helped, how else would people reach the venue?” Appanna said, clearly wary of offending the judiciary.

He also said, “There is a general slump in workers’ rights and the police, government as well as the courts are hostile towards any attempts by workers to unionise and agitate collectively. This is a matter of great concern.”

Addressing the rally, former Supreme Court judge V Gopala expressed his displeasure at the court’s order and said it was shocking that restrictions were sought to be imposed on a global event like May Day.

“The court should have been a little more cautious, in view of the fact that Labour Day is a global event for workers. The HC denied permission to march but allowed the use of to walk to the park — what about the people or shopkeepers on the footpath?” he said.

The court order raised a controversy also because of the remarks of the judge when it was pointed out that the Bengaluru Karaga, a religious festival involving lakhs of people, was allowed to go ahead. The court had observed in its order that the Karaga is observed at night and is therefore not a traffic hazard like the workers’ march. Reacting to this, Justice Gowda said, “If you notice the Karaga festival procession, there is barely any space to walk on the road when the procession is taking place. So what if it is a night event, dont ambulances run at night? But in the Karaga case an exception is granted as it is a religious thing, so, why not make an exception for a global holiday?”

In a press release, Justice Gowda also said that the order “strikes at the heart” of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution of India. “Constitutional courts must always bear in mind that the concern for upholding the fundamental right to protest and the right to peaceful assemblies must necessarily take precedence over any imagined inconvenience that may be caused to commuters and motorists,” the release said.

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