How could Bengaluru descend into violence?

On Monday, (September 12 2016) as I was watching the prime-time news on Kannada TV channels, my child walked in. Sitting beside me, she watched the televised show of miscreants vandalising various places.

Suddenly she exclaimed: ‘Ammaa!’ The TV showed the vandals ransacking an Adyar Anand Bhavan outlet, probably on Mysore Road. She asked me, ‘Amma, so there won’t be Adyar Anand Bhavan anymore?’

I reassured her, ‘Yes there will be. These are all temporary problems. Malleshwaram’s A2B is intact, so you don’t need to worry.’

A2B is her favourite hotel and has been a lifesaver for us on the days she refused to eat anything else. The thought of A2B not existing anymore brought tears to her eyes, because she can’t eat her A2B Masala Dosa anymore if there is no A2B near our home. What if the owner of A2B is a Tamilian, the food served there is cooked in Bengaluru. People employed there are all Kannadigas, no one talks in Tamil when you walk in and place your order for Masala Dosa! Moreover, a hungry gut knows no language or race. This is how simple life is, for most of us!

Vandals went berserk during the Cauvery protests. More than 97 buses were burnt. Anything that has the words TN in the number plate is being targeted. Gory images of timber yards and buses being burnt, section 144, curfew, shoot at sight orders, police firing, two deaths…

So, who is inciting violence?

Who wants all these? Ask anyone in the city, no one is happy with the violence. But that’s not how it appears, looking at the TV channels beaming 24X7 in Bengaluru. We see so much violence – rather, televised shows of violence.

I spoke to a Kannada activist who revealed some background information. “We, some of us and our leaders, were called to the police station and asked to not protest in a way that harms public properties. So today we didn’t go out. Yesterday we protested in Mysore Bank circle by burning the effigies of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister. We’re doing it for Cauvery no? What harm in that?” He didn’t want to be named.

When did they go out, and why? “We went out after seeing TV reports of attacks on Kannadigas in Tamil Nadu, at about 10.30 on September 12th morning. But we did not harm public properties.”

So who burnt the vehicles etc? Were they Kannada activists, or someone else? This activist cannot say who it could be. “Vatal Nagaraj and Sa Ra Govindu who called for protests are really powerful and have support. There are many volunteers who would come out, to support them in Cauvery issue, without any expectation. In each area there will be local leaders and volunteers go by the guidance given by them. They might even burn the vehicles. But generally it’s very risky to get into harming public properties etc, it’s a lot of trouble later for us, so most of us don’t do it.”

“And we don’t have anything against people. It’s between the governments, no? They have to sit and solve it, how will harming a Tamilian help? We are not anti-people, but we want governments to solve the problem,” he told me.

Our writer Deepa Mohan, in her blog, says the folks protesting said they have been “asked to do it” – who asked them to do it? What do they get out of it? There are no answers yet, though the Bengaluru City Police who handled the situation will know who it is.

Getting ratings up while Bengaluru burns?

There were some most unlikely people rising to fame by instigating public sentiment in a particular way. What is more alarming is the tone of comments you see in such threads, and number of shares such posts get.

Every regional channel struggled to give fresh news. They didn’t like the fact that some areas in Bengaluru were perfectly peaceful. What can they do? They don’t want to be seen in the eyes of law enforcers a rumourmongers, at the same time don’t want to move away from Breaking News race. They decide to share messages like this:

So does the channel support peaceful protests? If yes, the words like ‘Kaveri Kichchu’ (Kaveri fire), ‘Kaveri Kadana’ (Kaveri war) don’t go well with that. Is there a lack of phrases that indicate peace and neutrality in Kannada? Yelling on the top of their voice like the world is about to collapse, and beaming images of violence and burning vehicles etc over and over don’t help. Doesn’t showing violence incite more violence?

Yet another channel blackened the text overlays and background graphics for text, to indicate it’s a black day for the state. An investor in the channel appeals for calm through press notes, yet the images this TV channel shows contradict that position.

The News Minute reports more in detail about the way media reported the issue.

Changing the media discourse

That the violence was fanned by the media reports was directly expressed by authorities in more than one ways. Karnataka DGP Om Prakash expressed this in front of media, while city police Commissioner N S Megharikh showed his displeasure towards media by not answering the questions by one of the TV channels. (That they made this as well a headline material is a different issue, let’s not get into it!)

The situation called for all political leaders to broadcast peace messages and appeal for restraint. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah and Prime Minister Modi appealed for peace. Central Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu held a press conference, and had to issue a media advisory for the coverage of Cauvery issues.

Within 10 minutes of the advisory by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting being tweeted on Twitter by Bengaluru City Police, 50% of the news channels switched to their regular programming instead of special Cauvery coverage. While two channels went on to air a teleshopping programme, another aired a special programme on a special snake – whatever, but not Cauvery special coverage, thank editors!

Some channels continued with the Cauvery coverage though. However, the tone changed a bit, to highlight positive news, such as the city returning to normalcy. There was even a “feel-good” news on one of the channels, of Kannadigas being helped by Tamilians in Rameshwaram, and a live phone-in with one of the Kannada activist leaders. As if it will calm down the unseen hands behind the violent protests! However, the race to give a different fresh news was won yet again.

Visual media comes under the ambit of Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act 1995, and has a programme code, prescribed by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. There are also clear guidelines and advisories from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued from time to time. So, if we care to question the kind of content we see on television, there are ways to do that.

The city is getting back to normalcy, with schools and colleges open and buses and transport restoring to normal mode. The social media, though may have helped in spreading violence, was also used to promote harmony and restore law and order. The city police handled the situation very well by reacting to every query on social media, and promoting guidances related law and order in the city. Also, I didn’t see much of anti-tamil posts and posts that support / promote violence, on social media handles that I follow, or in my own friend circles and WhatsApp groups. Social media is a just tool, you can use it to do what you want.

We don’t know who caused the violence, but it’s not the regular citizens struggling with their own lives or businesses. This gives me immense hope. With better sense prevailing everywhere, hopefully the coming days will see reason and concrete action towards solving the problem.

Related Articles

Why Cauvery Stage IV water has reached Bangalore, but not your home
No Cauvery water, no water problems. But that was then
Yet another Cauvery for the city, to quench its thirst
Four things that can be done to address Cauvery problem

Shree D N
About Shree D N 75 Articles

Shree D N is an Associate Editor with Citizen Matters. She tweets at @chilipili

1 Comment

  1. I notice that none of the civic problems have been solved in spite of people complaining forever, so do you think we could all gang up and go around calling ourselves pro-civilization activists and burning and damaging property of the uncivilized people (politicians, bureaucrats, BBMP contractors) – who have been killing us and damaging our property for decades? We will ask the uncivilized people to donate to our cause (by force, of course). I expect the police and the PM to be silent while we do that; the CM being the leader of the uncivilized group should do you know what. May be they will shut down the metro and the airport and stop the uncivilized people from running away from their responsibilities.

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