‘Current dispensation does not want any opposition’

Mayor Gautham Kumar said that frequent protests in front of Town Hall were inconveniencing the general public as well as organisers of programmes inside the venue.   | Photo Credit: K_MURALI_KUMAR

For decades, people and organisations who wanted their voices to be heard would gather outside the Town Hall to stage dharnas and protests. However, if the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) council has its way, this may soon end.

In a move that activists and several prominent citizens have labelled as “undemocratic”, council members on Saturday passed a resolution to ban protests in front of the Town Hall.

Critics of the resolution cited the symbolic value of Town Hall as a venue of protest and said this was an attempt to silence protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

Freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy, who recently defied the authorities and staged a protest at Town Hall, believes that the resolution is part of a hidden agenda to suppress dissent in a phased manner.

Recently, the Bengaluru police announced that organisers have to sign indemnity bonds of up to ₹10 lakh as a precondition for permission to stage protests.

“The current dispensation does not want any opposition. They do not like to even acknowledge opposition, let alone accept it. In such times, what more can be expected,” he said, and added that such unethical and undemocratic restrictions should be opposed.

Over the last few months, the Town Hall has seen several organisations stage protests against the CAA and violence in other parts of the country. Historian Ramachandra Guha, who was one among many to be forcefully removed from the venue by the police during an anti-CAA protest, expressed hope that the Karnataka High Court would overturn the resolution should it come into effect. “A shocking and shameful resolution. It is designed to suppress the voice of the citizens,” he said.

Students, too, are unhappy with the BBMP’s decision.

Sithara H.M., a student activist, said, “The Town Hall is a landmark where people come to express not only their dissent but also their grievances. Banning people from doing it is as good as asking people not to express their problems at all.”

Space for dissent shrinking?

Over the years, spaces to stage protests have been shrinking, say activists.

“During the freedom movement and even much later, there were a lot of places to protest. People could freely and peacefully assemble and protest at Dharmambudhi lake, Chiklalbagh (close to Majestic), Bannappa Park, Freedom Park, to name a few places,” said freedom fighter H.S. Doreswamy.

Activist Vinay Sreenivasa said that democracy demands that people question the government, hold them accountable, and protests are a way to do that. “Ten years back, they stopped allowing protests on M.G. Road, near Gandhi statue. Now this. We cannot accept this curtailing of rights,” he added.

Gandhian and theatre personality Prasanna Heggodu said, “Vidhana Soudha, Vikasa Soudha, and politicians are inaccessible. Even newspaper offices have become increasingly inaccessible.”

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 1:54:31 PM |

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