A movement effectively killed? How Karnataka quelled police protests with ESMA and sedition

The man slapped with sedition once called the control room and asked for cops to come to Cubbon Park for a protest. They did
A movement effectively killed? How Karnataka quelled police protests with ESMA and sedition
A movement effectively killed? How Karnataka quelled police protests with ESMA and sedition
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The Karnataka police protest has taken a new turn with the state slapping a sedition case on Shashidhar Venugopal, the leader of the Akhila Karnataka Police Mahasangha.

On Thursday afternoon, Karnataka Director-General of Police Om Prakash said that the police constabulary had been convinced to withdraw their protest.

Addressing a media conference, he said that Shashidhar and a man from Kolar named Basavaraj had been booked under Sections 124A, 166 and 109 of the IPC, and Section 5 of the Essential Services Maintenance Act. He said that the pair had been booked as they were “instigating” the “police family” along with “rowdies” into protesting on June 4.

Since last week, the media has been reporting on a protest planned by the constabulary demanding better pay, a weekly day off and regular leave, and against harsh punishments meted out to them by the senior officers. Although no numbers are available, many constables across the state had applied for leave on June 4. The protest now appears effectively quelled.

Asked what the state police would do about these demands, Om Prakash said: “The state government has to do address many of them, we cannot make any changes under pressure. We require time (to implement their demands).”

Asked why the senior officers took so long to address the grievances of the constabulary, Om Prakash said: “We had heard of the protest a week ago, and we were waiting for it to simmer down.” He said that constables who had applied for leave had given written undertakings withdrawing their applications.

On Twitter and Facebook, the Bengaluru City Police (BCP) went on overdrive, posting pictures about the housing being constructed for the constabulary.

The Twitter handle of Bengaluru Police Commission NS Megharik also exhorted in Tweets that the police force should always be mindful of their duty and that “discipline comes first”.


The handling of the whole episode however, simply goes to prove that there is an urgent need to overhaul the entire police force. While the state government has for decades dilly-dallied on increasing recruitments, the cluelessness of the top police officers suggests a failure of the state intelligence in anticipating the magnitude of the grievance. The subsequent arrests of Shashidhar and Basavaraj indicates the highhandedness of the police in quashing any questioning of the senior officers.

“They still had two more days (until June 4). Instead of calling them for discussion, they’ve slapped them with sedition. It was a one-day token protest, they would have returned to work the next day. It is the government’s job to provide good working conditions for people. What was the need to invoke ESMA?” said HV Anantha Subba Rao, State President of the All India Trade Union Congress.

He supported the demands of the police. “What is the meaning of a 24-hour work day?” Most Indian labour laws specify an eight-hour workday with overtime allowance to be paid in case of extended hours.

“They are supposed to maintain law and order. Instead, they are being made to wash the officers’ clothes, look after their kids. What is this?” says Subbarao, who has been a trade union leader for many decades.

He said that a few years ago the state government was mulling the inclusion of public bus services under ESMA. “They couldn’t do this because there was a mass organization which opposed it. The police have no such organization.”

Assistant Professor of Criminology and Socio-legal Studies at the University of Toronto, Beatrice Jauregui told The News Minute that police forces in India are prohibited from forming unions on which labour laws would be applicable. A quick search revealed that the central law came into force in Karnataka in November 1973.

Jauregui is currently researching police unions and political protests with specific reference to the 1973 uprising of sections of the Uttar Pradesh police. Many people were killed, injured, arrested or jailed, dismissed from service during that time. Forty years later, court cases are still dragging on, she says.

Developments in Karnataka echo those in Uttar Pradesh. “For the past five years, there have been renewed efforts to form unions in UP to fight for the very same rights that the KN police are calling for. One group has even filed a petition with the UP Human Rights commission. It’s an under-studied social movement, but it seems that senior police officers are very wary and keeping a close eye on any activities that might seem to precipitate mass agitations,” Jauregui told The News Minute.

Shashidhar the maverick?

Shashidhar was arrested at around 12.30 am on Thursday, from his house in the Yelahanka area of Bengaluru. At 11 am that day, he was scheduled to address the media at Press Club.

Speaking to TNM on Wednesday, Shashidar had said that they were strategizing on how to take the protest forward in the wake of the state government invoking the ESMA.

“We are taking feedback from the constables. We are also consulting with our lawyers,” he said. Suggesting that he anticipated the consequences of such a protest, Sashidhar said: “The protest will go ahead for certain, but we have to lessen the casualties, haven’t we? We (the organization) can’t give a rope to the constables to tie their hands with.”

Shashidhar said he started the Mahasangha in 1986. “They dismissed me for starting it.” This could not be independently verified. It is unclear which police wing he served in as he hurriedly answered a few questions over the phone.

There have been rumours that there were other reasons for his dismissal from the police, but Subbarao dismisses them. “He’s no riff-raff, he’s a fighter.”

Subbarao recalled that in the 1980s, Shashidhar had once called the Bengaluru police control room. “He urged the constables to turn up in Cubbon Park for a protest. And people actually did.”

The state government swiftly swung into action. “They arrested Shashidhar and his parents and lodged them in central jail. Then, it was where Freedom Park is now. It was weeks before we managed to arrange for lawyers who could bail them out,” Subbarao said. He does not recall the sections which were invoked then, but feels sedition was not one of them.

Writer and activist Shivsundar vaguely recalls a police protest in the 1980s, from stray mentions in the media. “The media covered it, but it wasn’t a state-wide issue and did not have so much attention.”

He supported the right of the police protest to demand an improvement of their working conditions. “By nature, the police force is a repressive structure. It is designed to protect power and politicians, whether it is Brahminical or capitalist. But there is a lot of victimization within the police as well. Individual cruelty is heightened in a system that is inherently cruel.”

However, he warned it was dangerous for groups who supported the protest to merely restrict the discourse to civil rights with regard to working conditions. “The question is: What direction should the protest take? If you only talk about giving the constabulary good working conditions without demanding institutional overhaul, then you will just make the police more efficient at helping the system be cruel.”

(With inputs from Sarayu Srinivasan)

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