How a notice to pro-Kannada activists by a mall sparked off Bengaluru-wide protests on signages

Gowda and others have been booked for assault and criminal force deterring public servant from discharging duty, among other IPC sections.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Dec 30, 2023 | 11:28 AMUpdatedDec 30, 2023 | 12:58 PM

Vandalised nameboard of Starbucks. (Supplied)

It appears that the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV) activists and their leader TA Narayana Gowda may be ushering in the New Year at Parappana Agrahara Central Prison, having been booked under non-bailable sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Section 353, concerning assault or the use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging their duty, is among several IPC sections under which they face charges.

Police sources told South First that the bail petitions would be taken up for hearing only on Monday — New Year’s Day — after the opposing party files objections for the bail. It is at that juncture that the fate of the bail orders, whether granted or denied, will be decided.

Related: KRV members in judicial custody over violent pro-Kannada protest

The political equations

Usually on good terms with all political parties, including the Congress, the BJP, and the JD(S), KRV activists find themselves in a precarious position.

Recent events, where KRV activists subtly reminded the ruling Congress in Karnataka of their instrumental role during the Assembly elections, suggesting a potential reversal of support in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, have not been well-received by the national party.

Feeling disillusioned by the ruling Congress after intensifying their protests on Wednesday, 27 December, KRV activists organised a procession from the Sadahalli toll gate to Cubbon Park. Their mission: to remove nameboards lacking Kannada language.

However, when they began removing nameboards near the Sadahalli toll gate, their leader TA Narayana Gowda and associates were promptly arrested, leading to a turn of events as the agitators became violent — vandalising property, confronting law enforcement, and blocking the highway.

Vandalised name board of Third Wave Coffee

Vandalised the nameboard of Third Wave Coffee. (Supplied)

The Bengaluru City Police registered a total of 13 cases against the KRV activists for engaging in violence, including stone-pelting at BMTC buses, deflating bus tires, vandalising shop nameboards, and damaging plant pots. On Wednesday, a total of 53 people, including KRV leader Narayana Gowda, were arrested.

“We have taken complaints from several shop owners and have registered around 13 cases and arrested 53 people who had indulged in violence,” Bengaluru City Commissioner of Police B Dayananda told South First.

The arrested have been booked under Sections 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by a public servant), 283 (causing danger, obstruction, or injury to any person in any public way or public line of navigation), 341 (wrongful restraint), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), and 427 (mischief) of the IPC.

The police have videographed the incidents of vandals and collected sufficient evidence before they went ahead with the arrests, identifying the accused from the footage they had.

All the activists involved in violence were taken to the Police Driving and Maintenance School in Yelahanka before undergoing a medical examination and being presented before a magistrate. Subsequently, they were remanded in judicial custody for 14 days at the Parappana Agrahara Central Prisons.

Cases have been registered at the Chikkajala, Upparpete, and Cubbon Park Police Stations.

Related: Pro-Kannada activists vandalise establishments

How it all started

The campaign to change nameboards and signage to Kannada gained momentum over the past few months, particularly after an incident involving the management of Mall of Asia-Phoenix Mall in the Hebbal area of Bengaluru. The mall had sent a legal notice to KRV activists.

The activists had demanded the mall management install a Kannada nameboard of equal size to the English one. They also questioned the lack of Kannadiga employees, highlighting the prevalence of guest workers from northern states working for lower wages, with free food and accommodation.

“These guest workers are dumped in large numbers — around eight to 12 in one single room — and they work in shifts at the mall at jobs ranging from security guards to valet parking to housekeeping,” R Thyagaraj, President of KRV’s unit in Chickpete told South First.

“When we questioned the mall management about not employing Kannadigas, they not only warned us not to interfere in their administrative affairs but also threatened us, stating that the city of Bengaluru had more than 70 percent people from the North. They said if they stood together, the locals would flee from Bengaluru,” he added.

“The owner of the Mall of Asia, who is from Maharashtra, also managed to pull some strings and register a case against KRV chief TA Narayana Gowda, and that is when the KRV decided to approach not only the Mall of Asia but all the malls in the city, as well as launch an aggressive campaign on enforcing the rule which states 60 percent of the nameboards should be in the Kannada language,” he said.

The Mall of Asia in Hebbal remained closed on Wednesday, seeking police protection against potential action by pro-Kannada activists.

Also read: BBMP sets 28-Feb deadline for 60% Kannada signage on boards

The KRV stand

Speaking to South First, Arun Javagal, the state organising secretary of the KRV, emphasised, “The Shops and Establishments Act states that the local language — Kannada — should cover 60 percent of the nameboards of the shops and commercial establishments. We are okay with even 50 percent of the space for Kannada and 50 percent space for English. But what to do with nameboards and signages that do not have Kannada at all?”

Vandalised name board of Theobrahma

Vandalised nameboard of Theobroma. (Supplied)

“Our activists decided to take down the boards that had only English names on them without any Kannada. Ideally, this is the work of BBMP officials. They have all the powers to enforce the law and if they are unable to enforce the law, it becomes our bounden duty, as we are fighting against the extinction of our Kannada language,” Javagal said.

“KRV activists even met with Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar and informed him about the protest that they planned on 27 December from the Sadahalli toll gate to Cubbon Park. We even petitioned the BBMP authorities to carry out a drive and impose fines on shop and establishment owners who violate the norms,” he said.

“The rule states that the fine is ₹10,000 for the first violation and ₹20,000 for the second violation after the notice is served. For subsequent violations, the trade licence will be cancelled,” noted Javagal.

“However, despite the BBMP knowing its duty and not enforcing the norms, we decided to carry out aggressive campaigns to highlight that they are violating laws of the land,” he told South First.

“It is the failure of the government — not ensuring the laws are enforced. If the KRV takes up a campaign on the issue and enforces it, then the government has a problem with that as well. Why would a ruling government allow us to carry out a protest when they have powers to enforce the law? We (the KRV activists) are only demanding that the laws are enforced,” Javagal told South First.

Also read: Hindi imposition, language protests in Karnataka then & now

What the ministers said

Deputy Chief Minister DK Shivakumar, reacting to the vandalism, asserted that the government would not tolerate individuals taking the law into their own hands under the guise of advocating for Kannada.

“The protesters can stage protests and raise slogans, but damaging property is not acceptable. We are not against the pro-Kannada activists, but they should not take the law into their own hands. We are not ready to accept damage caused to the properties in Bengaluru,” Shivakumar had told reporters.

“We have to save Kannada and we respect those who fight for saving Kannada, but that should not mean that the government will shut its eyes to vandalism,” he added.

State Home Minister G Parameshwara dismissed claims by KRV activists of ill-treatment by police personnel on Wednesday, stating that it was the duty of the police to ensure the safety of citizens and their properties.

“The police will allow peaceful protests for a few minutes to enable the public expression of concerns. But when properties are vandalised, how can one expect the police to sit quietly and watch?” Parameshwara asked reporters.

On Friday, KRV activists gathered at Freedom Park, protesting against the government and police for the arrest of Narayana Gowda and other KRV leaders. Another group of pro-Kannada activists protested near the Badminton Club in Vasanth Nagar, urging the police to release Gowda.