Is no one looking for the missing people of Bengaluru's Cubbon Park?

"Missing and forbidden" people come back as scarecrows to Cubbon Park
Is no one looking for the missing  people of Bengaluru's Cubbon Park?
Is no one looking for the missing people of Bengaluru's Cubbon Park?

A sex worker Laila, a balloon seller Meena, a fortune teller, a Hindu-Muslim couple, a transgender, a tea-coffee seller went missing from Cubbon Park in Bengaluru, but the police aren’t looking for them. The only signs of their presence in the park now, are the scarecrows installed there along with the stories of how they were insulted and harassed. 

On October 18, media and art collective 'Maraa' installed 12 scarecrows representing the "missing and forbidden people" in Cubbon Park. The scarecrows, say members of the collective, are metaphors for things that ward off evil and also protect a large space such as a farmland.

"Tucked inside the bamboo grove, our dreams grew bigger."- The scarecrow-couple

Maraa says that the exhibition on Sunday titled "Story of the scarecrows" was organized to send a message to the state that the conditions laid down by them were unreasonable. When they first attempted such an exhibition in August, Cubbon Park authorities destroyed the scarecrows saying that they could be practicing black magic and that children might get scared.

"In order to maintain a clean and non-intrusive environment people belonging to certain backgrounds, genders and classes have been asked to move out of the park, in many cases they have also been beaten up," says Ekta Mittal, co-founder of Maraa, through which she and other members are reclaiming public space for art through art. 

The djembe player says:"I am an artist and you wouldn't know."

"The park has been made ‘sacrosanct’ by evicting the ‘indecent figures’ so that joggers do not get disturbed," says Ekta, adding that some fortune tellers, vendors who sold tea-coffee and balloons have gone missing because they were denied their right to claim a space that is meant for the public. “There are no rules that officially state that these people cannot come into the park,” Ekta says.

Some months ago, balloon-seller Meena (42) was stopped by authorities from carrying out her trade inside the park. “To get me out of the park, authorities used to burst the balloons and hit me in front of the customers. They would use rude language and ask me to go away. Unable to bear the insults I have moved to a new park,” she alleged.

"He burst my balloons and my children's dreams"- Meena, the balloon seller.

Speaking to The News Minute, Deputy Director of horticulture department, Mahantesh Murugod said that vendors were evicted keeping in mind the cleanliness of the park, but he denied any act of violence or moral policing in the park.

“These vendors dirty the place by using plastic items. Although there are dustbins, people litter the place. Now if we let vendors in, it is going to be more difficult for us to maintain the park,” he said. The horticulture department maintains the parks in Bengaluru.

Yasmeen, who visits the park every Sunday said, “Well, I take my child out to a public park for a few hours on Sunday mornings. I don't want my child to be disturbed by couples' extreme display of affection. By saying this, I don't deny that couples should not be allowed inside parks, but they must have some sense of control and must not be sexually explicit.”

Another visitor to the park, Saravanan echoes the same views. "When I was in Salem, I would have enough space to play cricket in front of my house. Now where is there such a space in Bengaluru? I have been visiting the park with my children on weekends for the last two months, there are times when I have to distract my child from looking at couples, including gay couples, tangled up in a corner," he says.

"My lipstick has stained your dress and you slap me?"- Laila, the sex worker

Another member of Maraa, Angarika Guha who has documented the harassment and insult, sex workers go through when they are caught by the park management for loitering, says that an “atmosphere of tension” prevails in the park.

“These rules have ultimately made parks a homophobic space. For instance, the minute a guard spots a sex worker in the park, they think they are there to solicit clients. So what even if it was true? They find people who are interested and take them elsewhere," she says.

Besides this, there have been instances of moral policing and also flashing in the park. Ekta narrates the story of Sajid for whom the park was a place to meet his girlfriend until the day his girlfriend was flashed at. When they reported the incident to the authorities; it was the couple who was blamed for coming to the park late in the evening.

However, defining a public space is easier said than done and members of Maraa too, are aware of the scale of the difficulty in striking a balance. "We too are pondering the idea of how are we going to strike an equilibrium,” says Angarika.

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