Pro-Kannada activists vandalise establishments during campaign demanding 60% Kannada signage

Activists, led by KRV president Narayana Gowda, spearheaded rallies across prominent business hubs in Bengaluru before being detained by the police.

ByMahesh M Goudar

Published Dec 27, 2023 | 10:00 PMUpdatedDec 27, 2023 | 10:02 PM

During the protests, members of the KRV smeared black ink on English signboards. (Screengrab)

In an unsettling twist of events in Bengaluru on Wednesday, 27 December, the business community found itself grappling with heightened anxiety as the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (KRV), a pro-Kannada organisation led by TA Narayana Gowda, escalated its campaign against businesses not using enough Kannada in their signboards.

Several incidents of vandalism by members of pro-Kannada organisations, witnessed in prominent commercial areas such as MG Road, Brigade Road, Lavelle Road, Sadahalli, Byatarayanapura, and UB City, left many traders on edge.

What began as a campaign to create awareness and demand businesses to put up signages and name boards with 60 percent of the space covered by Kannada, turned ugly as activists vandalised private property, defaced name boards, and pulled down signages.

The activists claimed that non-Kannada signboards undermined the state’s official language and were in violation of BBMP regulations that mandated 60 percent Kannada signage.

The violent protests led to unease among business owners, particularly those in multinational companies who bore the brunt of damages and defacement.

On Wednesday, two malls had to shut down owing to protests while customers in shops and establishments in the Central Business District watched on helplessly as pro-Kannada activists ransacked the premises.

The violent protests came even as the BBMP has given a deadline of 28 February to establishments to adhere to the guidelines on Kannada signages.

Also read: Siddaramaiah calls for competitive exams to be held in Kannada

Police take protestors into custody  

Responding to KRV chief Narayana Gowda’s call for a mega rally from Sadahalli toll gate to Cubbon Park, demanding that businesses display 60 percent of their signboards in Kannada, members of the pro-Kannada organisation stormed commercial areas and vandalised shops that display signage in English and Hindi.

As the situation escalated, the Bengaluru City Police intervened, taking several KRV members, including Narayana Gowda, into preventive custody.

The police also filed several cases against the KRV for reportedly vandalising businesses across the city. Later on Wednesday, the Central Division police filed FIRs against 16 KRV members for vandalism.

While some netizens criticised the Karnataka government and the Bengaluru City Police for not preventing pro-Kannada workers from damaging commercial establishments during the rally, others appealed to shop owners to abide by the law of the land.

It’s worth noting that a couple of days ago, BBMP Commissioner Tushar Giri Nath held a meeting with KRV workers, setting a deadline for all shops to comply with the government’s order by dedicating 60 percent of their nameplates to the regional Kannada language.

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

KRV members vandalise shops 

The activists, led by KRV state president TA Narayana Gowda, spearheaded rallies across prominent business hubs. The protesters claimed that these establishments were undermining Kannada, the official language of Karnataka.

Pro-Kannada workers thronged the commercial streets as several shops failed to adhere to the deadline given by the KRV about dedicating 60 percent of the signboards to Kannada by 27 December.

The ire of the KRV activists was directed towards a wide range of establishments, from malls, shops, and commercial buildings to multinational companies.

The protesters damaged and defaced signboards and nameplates that did not prominently feature the Kannada language.

Narayana Gowda told reporters, “These businesses were undermining the official language of Karnataka by not adhering to the Kannada language norms. According to BBMP rules, 60 percent of the signboards and nameplates should be in Kannada.”

He added: “The government that fails to address their concerns about the prominence of Kannada in public spaces, especially in business establishments, would have consequences in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. The government needs to take their commitment to the Kannada language seriously.”

The protests caused significant traffic disruptions on Bellary Road, leading to the airport and various other locations, with activists bringing traffic to a standstill. The police found themselves struggling to manage the agitated crowd.

The clash between the activists and establishments underscores the importance placed on linguistic identity, raising questions about the balance between cultural preservation and business interests as several netizens highlighted that it would hamper Karnataka’s economic activity and investments in near future.

Also read: BJP MP Pratap Simha booked for remarks against Siddaramaiah

‘Traders should follow the law’

Labelling the demonstration a resounding success, Gowda cautioned all commercial establishments to adhere to the Karnataka government’s norms regarding language priority in signage by 28 February, 2024.

In a post on social media, Gowda said, “The Kannada Signboard Awareness Movement which was held in Bengaluru on Wednesday, by the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike has seen unprecedented success. I congratulate all the workers.”

He added: “The KRV has given a clear message to those who looked down on Kannada and Kannadigas in Bangalore. This protest is an example of what happens if the patience of Kannadigas is tested.”

He continued, “Thousands of workers of KRV came from every corner of the state and showed the power of Kannadigas. Thousands of non-Kannada nameplates have been torn down.”

He also said: “Our protest was peaceful. The activists’ target was only non-Kannada nameplates and not any individual or organisation. Therefore, we have not carried out any kind of violent agitation.”

Gowda added: “The state government has ordered to dedicate 60 percent of the nameplates to Kannada by 28 February. So, we wait till the deadline. We will have to wage a big fight against those who do not respect the law of this land and the language of this land.”

Acknowledging potential inconveniences faced by Bengaluru citizens during the demonstration, Gowda expressed confidence in their understanding of the movement’s necessity to safeguard Kannada and Kannadigas in the city. Addressing citizen concerns demonstrates a nuanced approach to balancing advocacy with public sentiment.

In addressing potential challenges from law enforcement, Gowda urged the police department to refrain from filing false cases and harassing KRV activists post-protest. He warned that any such incidents would lead to protests against the state government, highlighting the movement’s dedication to protecting the rights of its participants.

Gowda announced plans for a statewide expansion of the Kannada signboard awareness movement. “The decision to conduct a ‘Kannada Yatra’ in all district and taluk centres reinforces the longevity and commitment of the agitation until every nameplate in the state prominently features Kannada,” concluded Gowda.

Also read: Traders afraid as pro-Kannada activism turns abusive in Bengaluru

State government’s approach

Karnataka’s Home Minister Dr G Parameshwara merely acknowledged the warnings issued by KRV members to commercial establishments regarding signboards in Kannada.

Parameshwara told reporters in Kalaburagi on Wednesday, “The pro-Kannada activists have been warning against the non-usage of Kannada language in the signboards, advertisements, and nameplates. The government respects Kannada very much because all its activities take place in the state’s official language.”

Meanwhile, the Bengaluru City Police booked several KRV workers for reportedly vandalising business shops while carrying out a rally.

Bengaluru City’s DCP (Central) HT Shekhar told South First, “We did not give free hands to the members of KRV to vandalise shops. We were busy making security arrangements near Cubbon Park connected to the rally. They were scheduled to go to Sadahalli but in the midway reportedly vandalised several shops. We have registered cases against the KRV workers for taking the law into their hands.”

He added: “No member of the public was injured in the incident. It is too early to comment on the details of the cases registered against KRV. The investigation is underway into multiple incidents occurring in the city.”

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Wednesday said due process would be followed.

“The activists are fighting for Kannada signages to be used at establishments. I have asked the police to take action against anyone taking the law into their hands,” the chief minister told reporters.

(With Inputs from PTI)