Marking attendance at protests across Bengaluru – the story of a puffed rice seller

He knows when there's a protest in Bengaluru
Marking attendance at protests across Bengaluru – the story of a puffed rice seller
Marking attendance at protests across Bengaluru – the story of a puffed rice seller
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Nanjunda is neither a politician nor a journalist, but he generally knows when and where people are protesting in Bengaluru. He has been all over the city to go to these protests.

Appearing to be in his late thirties, Nanjunda walked the two-kilometre distance from his house to Bengaluru's Freedom Park on Tuesday. There were four protests.

Incidentally, Freedom Park is built around a prison that the British used to imprison Indian freedom-fighters.

“I’ve been to Yelahanka, Vidhan Soudha, here, Jayanagar. I go all over the city wherever there is a protest,” Nanjunda says. He lives in Bengaluru away from his wife and kids who are in his native village in Dharmapuri district, Tamil Nadu. The eldest of six children, he had to give up school to look after his siblings. That’s how he began to sell “karapuri”, which has even taken him to Hampi and several parts of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

“I can make around Rs 800-1,000 sometimes (when there are protests),” Nanjunda says. On other days, at his regular spot in the city, he makes between Rs 200 and Rs 400.

Nanjunda was standing next to a shamiyana where around 200 people from 16 districts across the state had come. They were demanding that minister for housing M Ambareesh be sacked for failing to alleviate the problems of slum-dwellers. Many of them are from Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe communities.

The Kannada caption on the placard held by the child in front reads: "This city wants our free labour, but shouldn't this city give us land (for our houses)" 

Behind the protest organized by Slum Janandolana (Movement of slum-dwellers), were a group of around 30 people, quietly huddled together under another shamiyana. They are group of middle-aged and older men, gathered to demand that a file be moved from one department to another. The finance department had apparently returned a file to the education department. In effect, teachers in 21 pre-university colleges would not receive a government pay scale even though other colleges were included.

Pre-university teachers demanding to be included for government salaries

Adjacent to both these tents, is the largest one – a rally of farmers demanding the implementation of the Kalasa-Banduri project. A couple of religious leaders were on the raised platform, and people took turns in addressing the farmers, many of whom were wearing the green shawls characteristic of the farmer’s movement which is now splintered.

The farmers’ group overshadowed the group of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe teachers who had been appointed as honorary school teachers. They were demanding that their services be regularised.

Nanjunda tore off a page from an old English language school text book to make a cone. “(Please) don’t take your lives, farmers,” someone sang in the background over the mike.

“I usually sit on MG Road. You know the watch shop outside the paper office? Next to that. I’ve seen you there a few times. These 'paper' people tell me whenever there are protests.”

The paper people he was referring to are journalists, probably from Deccan Herald or Prajavani, whose joint office is on MG Road. It could also be someone from other media offices located a little further down the road.

He has also been to temple fairs all over the country, selling puffed rice. In the midst of this, he suddenly gestured towards an older woman carrying a brown-coloured sack over her shoulder and said, “You that amma over there? Her son is in Hosur. I met him there once. She too sells puffed rice.”

The woman later set up her basket of puffed rice between the slum-dwellers and the teachers from pre-university colleges.

Nanjunda paused every now and then to sell a cone to one of the few hundred protesters who had come from all over the state to get the attention of elected representatives, who were heatedly debating something in the legislature session that very moment.

He also paused every now and then when the farmers’ leaders remarks elicited loud cheers from the protesters. At one point, someone was saying, “Today at 3 we will show them (the government).” At this, several farmers waved their green shawls in the air.

Farmers who are demanding the implementation of the Kalasa-Banduri project cheering during the protest

The two groups of teachers were rather quiet, being small in number. The slum-dwellers were booing Ambareesh for having got the government to foot his medical bills in a foreign country while not giving a whit about them.

Out in the parking area of Freedom Park, one could hear snatches of the cacophony. On the road, a just a couple of metres away, the din of the city’s traffic drowned out any sound.

Vidhan Soudha, the seat of the state government, is located around 4 km away.

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