Heggannahalli Main Road was witness to violence, arson and the killing of a young man on Monday.

The tale of a Bengaluru locality that erupted in anger over the Cauvery
news Protest Wednesday, September 14, 2016 - 09:09

A giant poster of “Neerdose”, the recently released Kannada film, stares down at the Heggannahalli Main Road. The happy watercolours of pink, yellow and blue that highlight the film poster is a picture of contrast in this Bengaluru neighbourhood, that was witness to violence, arson and the killing of a young man on Monday.         

Curfew has been imposed, as an uneasy calm has settled in Heggannahalli. The shell-shocked residential neighbourhood scarred from Monday evening's events. Policemen, dressed in riot gear, huddle next to the charred remains of a Karnataka-registered bus. The metal frame of the bus stands on a road, riddled with shattered glass and peppered with soot every few metres. A tear gas canister lies by the wayside, a symbol of what unfolded just hours ago. Just across the street, a rubble of blackened steel sheets, ash and embers remain where the Tiruppur Bazaar once stood. 

“Tiruppur bazaar was a shopping store selling items at a discounted rate. Since it was owned by a Tamilian, people forced them to close the shop,” recounts Dinesh*, as he stands by the gate of his house with three of his friends.  The unrest, he says, began at around 4pm on Monday. But it soon spiralled into violence with a mob setting ablaze the Tiruppur Bazaar.  

Dinesh’s neighbour, Shivanna* plays with his daughters on the steps of his house. He denies reports of looting after the violence, noting there was nothing left of Tiruppur Bazaar for people to pillage. 

He explains, “The trouble began when the police arrived.” The streets were packed with angry men and the police’s arrival agitated the mob, he narrates. Manjunath*, a security guard estimates that there were 2000 people on the Heggannahalli Main Road. The men, he says, were all from the neighbourhood, and not outsiders. 

On seeing the police, some men from the mob started pelting stones. “They first lathicharged the crowd. But when the mob set the bus on fire, the police fired at the crowd,” Dinesh says. The firing, they say, came with no warning. Manjunath states that 25-year-old Umesh, who was killed in the police firing, had not even been part of the afternoon protest.  Returning home from the petrol bunk he worked at, Umesh was at the wrong place at the wrong time, he laments.  

Dasappa* points in the direction of where the firing took place, near the RES Polytechnic college.  “Water issues are secondary, atrocities against Kannadigas should stop. People who have migrated to Tamil Nadu have gone just to feed themselves,” he argues, blaming the neighbouring state for the recent attacks on Kannadigas.  

Manjunath joins in, “We need Cauvery water. We were getting water once a week, and only when it rains. That water supply too has stopped. Siddaramaiah must stop giving water. It is our water.”

As Manjunath and Dasappa recount the events that unfolded on Monday evening, more people join in to narrate their tales.  A motorcade of police cars passes through the main road, as the Commissioner NS Megharikh arrives to assess the situation on the ground. Dressed in their striking blue fatigues, the Rapid Action Force is not far behind the police motorcade. With curfew in force, the police officials order the gathering to disperse and retreat into their houses. 

The shift in the mood is palpable as it turns to one of fear and apprehension. Policemen, armed with lathis and wielding shields together with the RAF team fan out along the Heggannahalli Main Road. As the assemblage disperses, most men admit they were shocked by the destruction and violence. It's like nothing they've ever seen before in their lives. 

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