Memorandum demanding for the right to protest in Bengaluru

Nov 01, 2023
By Horaatada Hakkigagi Janandolana (People's Movement for the Right to Protest)

Bengaluru has seen the right to protest being stifled, thanks to decisions made during the previous administration. We are a coalition of progressive and democratic groups and individuals who have come together to demand that the right to protest be returned to us. This fundamental right has been hollowed by the Bangalore City Police through the Licensing and Regulation of Protests, Demonstrations and Protest Marches (Bengaluru City) Order, 2021 that was brought in January, 2022. 

For over a year, the police have restricted protests in any place other than Freedom Park, and have refused permissions for processions. This has caused enormous hardship to all those seeking to exercise their constitutional rights and is against the very spirit of plural and diverse Karnataka where all citizens can make their concerns heard and felt. 

In 2022, the High Court was hearing a suo-moto PIL which sought restrictions on protests. Even before the judgement was passed, the Police Commissioner of Bangalore issued an undemocratic new order governing protests. This Licensing and Regulation of Protests, Demonstrations and Protest Marches (Bengaluru City) Order, 2021(hereinafter the “2021 Order”), designated Freedom Park as the only place for protests in the city — a violation of Constitutional rights. After the issuance of this 2021 order, the High Court closed the petition. Thus, what stands between Bangaloreans and the right to protest is this brazen, unconstitutional order passed by the former Police Commissioner. 

Through this order, the Police have been curtailing this fundamental right to protest by prohibiting protests, demonstrations, dharnas or protest marches in Bengaluru city without obtaining the license under this order. This marks a complete change from what was previously being followed; And through Clause 4.1 of the Order,all protests in the city are relegated to Freedom Park. It bears repeating that the capital city of Karnataka, to which people from all over the state come to make their voices heard – has today only one site of protest- Freedom Park! 

This restrictive order has been strictly implemented by the police resulting in many cases being filed against several marginalised communities for engaging in their constitutional right to protest. This includes workers for the traditional May Day rally, farmers protesting land acquisition in Devanahalli, Dalit activists seeking internal reservation, Powrakarmikas protesting for their rights, and residents of Malleswaram for organising a walk on the Sankey flyover issue, LGBTQI community members who wanted to organize the traditional pride march etc. 

This order empties the right to protest of its very content as protests often have a meaning specific to a certain area. Farmers of Devanahalli protested the land acquisition of their lands, in Devanahalli. They had a case slapped against them since they didn’t protest in Freedom Park! The same became true of Malleswaram’s residents. If people are not permitted to protest at the place where the protest is relevant, the purpose of the protest is completely lost. Why should people be forced to travel to Freedom Park for a protest? 

It bears repeating that protests are a part of the constitutional right to the freedom of expression. When protests are restricted toFreedom Park, and condemned to invisibility,it is a violation of the expressive and communicative aspect which is the very heart of the right. In a democracy protests are a form of dialogue between affected citizens and other concerned citizens as well as a way for affected citizens to ensure that their voice is heard by the government. 

It is such protests which have made India the world’s largest democracy. The protests after the 2012 Delhi gang-rape saw a strengthening of anti-rape laws; protests by garment workers resulted in new PF rules being scrapped; Anganwadi and ASHA workers have got pay raises only after protests; the farmers’ protests led to the withdrawal of the farm laws. Bangalore owes much of its magnificent green cover only because of ordinary people protesting the arbitrary felling of trees. The Modi government’s plan to introduce NRC-CAA was also stopped only because of the wide protests. 

By relegating all protests to Freedom Park, we eliminate possibilities for these key public conversations. This is not just a cost borne by Bangaloreans; this rule similarly harms Karnataka’s residents from the far flung corners of the state who come to the capital city to make their voices heard. By being relegated to a corner of the city where no one can see, the meaning of the protest itself gets devalued. The restricting of protests to Freedom Park impoverishes the very meaning of democracy and renders it hollow. 

Our freedom was made possible by protests, and our Constitution, aware of its importance in a democracy, enshrined protections against anti-democratic impositions. The 2021 Order is in blatant violation of the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a), and the right to peaceful assembly under Article 19(1)(c)of the Constitution. The Supreme Court has consistently recognized the right to protest as an essential feature of our democratic fabric under those Constitutional provisions. 

The 2021 order was brought in with the specific intent to stifle protest and to silence the voice of those who were suffering under the previous BJP dispensation. This includes farmers, the working class, women, Dalits and other marginalized and vulnerable communities. In the most recent elections, the people have raised their voices against such stifling and anti-people policies. 

As a new government accountable to the people of Karnataka and their decision to reject an anti-democratic government, it is your responsibility, we believe, to protect the democratic values upon which our nation was built. We trust that you will recognise the significant role of protests in our rich history. We can foster a more inclusive and democratic society where the aspirations of the people are respected and their voices are heard only by protecting the right to protest. 

Therefore, we demand that you immediately withdraw the Licensing and Regulation of Protests, Demonstrations and Protest Marches (Bengaluru City) Order, 2021 and ensure the protection of the fundamental right to protest. We also demand that you immediately withdraw all cases filed against persons who have exercised this fundamental right to protest, including workers, farmers, Dalits, women and other marginalized communities.