Satyagraha keeps the fight against steel flyover going

Writer Girish Karnad, actor Prakash Belawadi and citizens' groups at the Satyagraha at Freedom Park in Bengaluru on Sunday. Photo: K. Murali Kumar  

Protest music, daylong fast and silent introspection marked the urban Satyagraha at Freedom Park on Sunday as citizens’ groups protested the proposed steel flyover on Ballari Road.

The Satyagraha — which was planned along the lines of the India Against Corruption movement — also served as platform for a debate on not just the steel flyover, but on the larger mobility plan for Bengaluru’s burgeoning population.

Compared with the human chain protest held last month, the Satyagraha recorded a lower turn out with a conservative estimate of nearly 1,500 participants. But Citizens for Bengaluru (CfB), which is spearheading the protest, ascribed this to the interim stay order on the project by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).

Jnanpith Award winner Girish Karnad made it to the venue despite his ill-health. “I came here to say beda, despite my ill health, for the city’s health is more important than mine,” he said.

Naresh Narasimhan of CfB repeatedly stressed on the need for constant vigil despite the stay order. “There has been confusion over Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) affidavit in the High Court. The BDA has not backed out of the project and there is a long battle ahead,” he said.

The organisers also added a new slogan, #CancelTheTender, to the popular #SteelFlyoverBeda. “We need to tell the politicians that it is the city’s people and voters who reject the project,” said a protester.

The CfB has its action plan chalked out for the fight ahead. Experts from Indian Institute of Science and other institutes have been roped in to do an independent environment impact assessment, in time for the November 25 hearing of the case by the NGT. The CfB has got over 20 residents’ welfare associations from across the city to pass formal unanimous resolutions opposing the steel flyover and is working to rope in more associations.

Ee bhoomi..svarga....#SteelFlyoverBeda

Folk-rock band Swaratma lent their support to the #SteelFlyoverBeda campaign by performing during the urban Satyagraha on Sunday.

A popular song of the band, “Ee Bhoomi Svarga Agutide...”,was answered back with the chorus “Steel flyover beda” from the responsive audience. The song, which celebrates nature against development, fit well into the narrative of the campaign. Another performance that held the audience in thrall was the rendition of “Toppiwalleh... sarpe haath daale, khali phet maare...toppiwalleh,” improvised on the spot with veiled references to politicians championing the steel flyover.

On the question of their popular songs being used to spearhead urban protest movements, Swaratma’s lead vocalist Vasu Dixit said, “We write songs taking everyday life for inspiration. So it will obviously resonate with many situations. I have read all the arguments on the steel flyover, both for and against, and I feel it is not a wise idea,” he said.

During the Satyagraha, many Kannada poems by G.S. Shivarudrappa and K.S. Nisar Ahmed were sung by the protesters.


‘Cemetery of trees’

A cemetery of trees with marked tombstones was how artist Badal Nanjundaswamy imagined the steel flyover on Sunday. Half-cut trees with tombstones and garlands mourning their death were a strong comment on the environmental impact of the steel flyover, said Ramprasad, a green activist who was part of the Satyagraha.

“The project will lead to the death of 812 trees. What else will it be but a cemetery?” asked Mr. Nanjundaswamy. Another art installation at the site used a tree at Freedom Park, fitting it with oxygen masks and putting it in an ICU.


Octogenarian cyclist

B.R. Janardhan (84) cycled his way to the protest venue leading a young team of cyclists. He participated in the Satyagraha through the day, observed fast from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. “If at my age I can cycle, why can’t the youth do it? If more and more people start cycling, the government will be forced to shift its focus from cars. Now, most of us commute in cars and protest against the steel flyover,” he said.

A retired Indian Railways employee, he argued that the railways are the only viable alternative. “There are nearly 400 km of railway lines running through the city, but none of them are being used for intra-city commute.”

Thou Shall Not Steal’

Nazneen Tonse, a resident of Langford Town, had a large banner on her body that read: Thou Shall Not Steal. She came up with the caption during the human chain protest last month. At the time, historian Ramachandra Guha alluded to her slogan in a speech on the project, which he termed “foolish, foolhardy and fraudulent.”

‘Family planning for vehicles’

T.R. Hegde, a retired headmaster from Sirsi, visiting his son in the city, was in attendance at the satyagraha with his extended family in tow. “I often visit Bengaluru as my son is here, and I find it difficult to even cross the road here,” he said. “Back home, our town has also begun witnessing traffic snarls. The answer is not adding road infrastructure. As a nation, we took to family planning to regulate the population explosion. If we can do it with humans, why not with vehicles?” he asked.

Train to the airport

Patrice, a French expat living in Bengaluru for the past 16 years, participated in the Satyagraha with his family of three children. “I have seen this city deteriorate over the past 16 years. We are focusing on private transport and not public transport. Take any metro city, all of them have a train connectivity to the airport. The city desperately needs to promote railway connectivity,” he said.


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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 9:04:00 AM |

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