Residents of Bengaluru's Padarayanapura want normalcy and an end to the media frenzy labelling them 'jihadis'.

Chaos and fear Inside the sealed Bengaluru ward where violence broke outShop owners line up for permission to open their shops in Padarayanapura
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, April 22, 2020 - 14:09

At 2 pm on Tuesday, a truck loaded with gas cylinders pulled up in front of a police check-post in Bengaluru’s Padarayanapura ward— a confirmation to residents that life inside one of Bengaluru’s first containment zones had changed definitively.

A group of 10 people, mostly men, lined up next to the check-post to pick up cylinders for their homes. A short distance away, 20 others stood in a line, clutching a passport size photograph in one hand and a copy of their Aadhaar cards in the other. They were shop owners in the area, selling a variety of items including condiments and groceries waiting to receive permission to re-open their shops. 

“Since the incident on Sunday, there has been strict police vigil around here,” Jameel, a resident of Padarayanapura says, referring to the change in the place he has called home for over 20 years.

In a short span of time on Sunday night, Padarayanapura, a known shortcut for residents in south-western Bengaluru trying to reach the city centre, became the focus of news channels and social media after visuals emerged of a mob damaging public property.

Sunday’s violent protests 

Protests erupted in the area with a large presence of the Muslim community when a team of Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) officials, along with police officers, reached the place to take 58 secondary contacts of COVID-19 patients into a quarantine centre. Video footage shows a large crowd of people breaking barricades, chairs and tables in protest. 

The police have arrested 119 residents in connection with Sunday’s vandalism incident.  “We have created special teams to ensure all the people who took part in the rampage and those whose faces appeared in the videos are being traced,” Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao said on Tuesday.

Padarayanapura, Bengaluru on April 21

According to Shivaji Rao, the inspector of Jagajeevanram Nagar police station, the officials doing COVID-19 duty managed to retreat from the area. “We have arrested 119 people so far and we are looking to make more arrests as the investigation progresses,” says the inspector. 

Resistance from neighbours, local residents

Residents in Padarayanapura say that the incident took place around 7 pm when officials were attempting to shift a group of people to a quarantine centre.

“Contacts of a coronavirus patient were being taken into quarantine. Police and BBMP officials took one group of people from 10th Cross Road, but when they returned around 6 pm to shift a second group of people, there was opposition from neighbours and other residents in the area. One of the reasons for this was that the people being taken into quarantine were not showing symptoms of coronavirus,” says Jameel.

Police checkpost in Padarayanapura re-erected after Sunday's incident

Eleven coronavirus cases have been reported in Padarayanapura so far which includes patients who visited the Tablighi Jamaat congregation in New Delhi. The officials decided to stop their work and continue shifting people the next day. But when police constables tried to disperse the large group of people who had gathered, a mob rushed towards the tent and upended the police check-post set up at the end of 12th Cross Road.

Wooden logs, stones and knives used 

“Many had wooden logs and knives in their hands. They also hurled stones at the police but there were no serious injuries sustained,” says Inspector Shivaji Rao. Bengaluru Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao and Deputy Commissioner of Police (West) Ramesh B have told reporters that no officials were hurt. 

Read : ‘Neighbours instigated violence’: Cops, BBMP recall unrest in Bengaluru containment zone

Residents of Padarayanapura admit that a group of residents in the area were wrong to resort to violence and damage tables and chairs set up at the police check post. “We condemn the incident and the culprits should be punished,” Jameel says. 

Barricades in the by-lanes of Padarayanapura on April 21

One of the First Information Reports (FIR) filed in connection with the incident names Wajid, Irfan alias Howli Babu, Kabeer alias Altaaf Pasha, Irshad Ahmed alias Zakriya Ahmed, Farzoova and 100 to 200 others as rioters. 

But Jameel also says that innocent people were arrested from their homes and charged with assault, rioting and even attempt to murder. “More people were arrested on Monday with the police turning up at their homes. This included many people who were not part of the riot,” says Jameel.

A ‘corona warrior’ among those arrested

Jameel points to examples like Mohammed Shahbaz, a 30-year-old ‘corona warrior’ working with the state government to distribute ration and groceries, who was arrested from his home on Monday morning. 

Padarayanapura on April 21

Shahbaz resides in Padarayanapura along with his wife, mother and two children, a six-year-old son and a ten-year-old daughter. His family says he was at a clinic in Mysuru Road on Sunday evening when violence erupted in Padarayanapura. 

“He was working to distribute groceries till evening, when he stepped out to accompany his wife to a clinic. He came back home only at night but the next morning, police turned up at our door and arrested him without offering an explanation,” Aftaab, a relative of Shahbaz says.  

Padarayanapura sealed off on April 10

Tension has been mounting in Padarayanapura ever since it was confirmed as one of two wards to be sealed in the city on April 10. Only a single point of entry has been allowed into the area with those leaving and entering being screened. 

Photograph from Padarayanapura when it was sealed off on April 10

According to Jameel, the residents of Padarayanapura were on edge about the lack of clarity given by officials. “Most of the people who live here are part of low-income groups and work as coolie workers, mechanics, auto drivers and carpenters,” says Jameel. Residents are also involved in work like stitching bags and rolling incense sticks. “The people here know about the spread of coronavirus but there was a lack of clarity on what were the terms of the lockdown in this area.”

Photograph from Padarayanapura when it was sealed off on April 10

Demonised by the media

The residents lament the media’s coverage of the incident, which, according to them, was instantaneous, filled with conjecture, and lacking in facts. “Due to the way the incident was covered in the media, it has created an atmosphere of fear here which was not the case before,” says Jameel.

Public TV, which aired a 40-minute segment analysing the incident with Chakravarthi Sulibele, a columnist and writer, began its coverage by speculating whether to term those involved in the violence as ‘traitors or demons’. Other TV channels labelled the people seen in the visuals with terms like ‘rowdies’, ‘sinners’, ‘devils’, ‘rakshasas’, and ‘jihadi virus’. Chamrajpet MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan was termed the ‘king of terrorists’ by one news channel. 

The media’s coverage of the incident has been fanned by statements made by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders. MP Renukacharya, a legislator from Honnali in Davangere district, suggested that “Jihadis should be ‘encountered”.

The residents of Padarayanapura hope that the media frenzy over the incident blows over and that life can return to normalcy in their area. 

Padarayanapura on April 21

On Tuesday, a list of shops were given permission to open their shutters while arrangements were made to provide gas cylinders and basic necessities to residents. An auto, fitted with a loudspeaker, blared announcements about the lockdown and advised people to stay in their homes. 

“We hope that this constant cycle of watching about Padarayanapura in the news is over soon and we can see out the remaining time our area will be sealed like this,” hopes Jameel. 

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.