Around 12.30 pm on Thursday, hundreds of people gathered around 50 metres away from Bengaluru’s Town Hall. Despite the police insisting that they disperse, the protesters marched to the Town Hall, and within minutes, the crowd swelled. This large a crowd is seldom seen at Bengaluru protests, and what made this gathering unique was that they had defied Section 144 imposed in the city and turned up at noon, even though almost a hundred people had been detained in the morning.
The Bengaluru police had initially not allowed any protests, but on Wednesday, Police Commissioner Bhaskar Rao said that peaceful sit-in protests would be allowed. Protests were slated to occur at two different locations in Bengaluru on Thursday and the organisers were relieved. But within two hours, the Commissioner changed his stand and announced that Section 144 would be imposed from 6 am on Thursday and no protest will be allowed.
Protesters being detained at Town Hall on Thursday morning
The outrage against this clampdown was immediate. Within minutes of the announcement, a motley group of protesters reached the Town Hall on Wednesday night.
By Thursday, this anger grew as more people started questioning why the police imposed Section 144 on the 68 million people in the state without any direct or proximate threat. And this resulted in people coming in waves to Town Hall and Mysore Bank circle, without worrying about the consequences of defying Section 144.
Historian Ramachandra Guha, who was present at the protest at Town Hall, said that people were turning up not just against CAA but also to speak against the imposition of section 144.
“Section 144 is a colonial law. The British Raj used section 144 to suppress Gandhiji’s movement. I feel sorry for the police that those in Delhi are giving them orders. Gandhiji fought for plurality and the BJP government is going against the ideals of pluralism,” Ramachandra Guha said.
Many protesters called the imposition of Section 144 as government clamping down on their fundamental right to free speech.
“There was already anger among people and especially youth about the discriminatory laws. And people wanted to protest. After not getting permission, the police gave permission and just two hours later, section 144 was imposed. This obviously angered people. And conveniently, section 144 is going to be lifted to accommodate a pro-CAA rally on December 22. This obviously shows what the government is trying to do and so people showed up to express their anger,” said Maitreyi, a lawyer at Alternative Law Forum and one of the organisers of the protest.
Speaking to TNM, Leelavati, Bengaluru North district secretary of CPI(M), said that they had not expected this kind of crowd, had the protests been held normally – without section 144 in the picture.
"We expected people to show up for the protest as many were enthusiastic about it. But we did not expect the kind of crowd that was there at Town Hall today. The second wave of protesters were a mixed crowd. Some people, who were not part of any groups, also showed up to protest. There was obviously anger about the police not giving permission to protest," Leelavati, who was present at the protest by Left parties at Mysore Bank Circle said.
The police had called them on Wednesday evening and informed them that no protests could take place. “We were all ready for the protest as we had got permission and suddenly, they imposed section 144. This was obviously done to curtail our right to protest. Without protesting, how can we communicate our outrage to the government? We were outraged that section 144 was imposed and so we gathered to protest anyway. We did what we had promised to, and sat down to shout slogans,” Leelavati said.