Karnataka now greenlights pro-Palestine protests but activists remain sceptical
A pro-Palestinian protest held at Freedom Park in Bengaluru on December 3, after Karnataka government did a turnaround and gave permission to hold such events

Karnataka now greenlights pro-Palestine protests but activists remain sceptical

Bengaluru activists are demanding that the police should withdraw the FIRs filed against the protestors

After a shocking and harsh clampdown on pro-Palestine protests, the Karnataka government had a sudden change of heart and approved Bengaluru’s first legal protest against Israeli aggression in Gaza this month.

This event, which was held at Freedom Park on December 3, was attended by nearly 400 people, including theatrepersons who came together to raise slogans, read out poems written by Palestinian poets, and to voice their anger against Israel. The participants expressed concern over the worsening situation in Gaza and West Bank and the “systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians”. They condemned the relentless bombing of Gaza, which has killed more than 15,000 Palestinians, US support of Israel and more.

Participants also held placards at the event which said, “This is not a Muslim issue, it is not just an Arab issue, it is an issue of human rights.” Another said, “Stop the genocide and ethnic cleansing”.

According to a statement issued last month by the Bengaluru for Justice and Peace, a coalition of voluntary groups organising the pro-Palestine gatherings, people in various countries have organised protests bringing lakhs of people together on the street, to call for an immediate ceasefire and to express solidarity with the Palestinian people. And, had condemned the Karnataka police and the state government for deliberately curtailing the constitutional rights for not allowing them to protest peacefully. They slammed the government for stifling their voices of solidarity to Palestinians despite India's historical support for the Palestinian cause.

The sudden turnaround

Activists in Bengaluru are however sceptical about the Karnataka government's sudden turnaround. They still recall how in October the police had filed FIRs against protestors on two occasions and repeatedly rejected their permission letters for protests on the Palestinian issue at Freedom Park.

The situation ostensibly changed after Karnataka chief minister Siddaramiah came out with a statement that he will not oppose any “form of expression” in line with the Constitutional ideals. “We are in favour of all forms of expressions that are not against the core inspiration of the Constitution”, he said. And, he squarely blamed the police for “misunderstanding”and creating unnecessary confusion.

The change of heart reportedly happened after writers, poets and theatre activists protested against the forced cancellation of a pro- Palestinian poetry reading in Ranga Shankara . They met Siddaramaiah who reacted with his statement asking the DGP not to prevent pro-Palestinian protests.

Questioning why the pro-Palestinian protets were not allowed earlier, Aishwarya Ravikumar, general secretary, People Union for Civil Liberties, Benguluru said, “The statement issued by the CM is shocking because he does not make it clear why the government remained silent for two months. The police had taken a very visible and strong stand to stifle our right to a lawful assembly and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians. Though we are now being allowed to protest, the police has not withdrawn the FIRs against the protestors and by doing so we are under a constant threat and feel like we are walking on eggshells.”

Bengaluru activists are now demanding that the state government should immediately withdraw the two FIR’s filed against pro-Palestine protestors at MG Road and Church Street in October. The charges against the 11 accused in one FIR are for causing public nuisance, unlawful assembly etc. No chargesheets have been filed and no arrests have been made so far.

“If the central and state government are not voicing what the people of the country feel on the Palestinian issue, we have a right to assert our voice through public assertion. There is a lot of anger against Israel – but we see Karnataka Congress leaders posing for photographs with the Israel consul general. Clearly, there seems to be no clarity on their stand against the Israel government,” she added.

Earlier, when the activists had approached the Karnataka police for permission to hold the pro-Palestinian protests, they were told that the police cannot give permission since they were not equipped to handle the backlash from right wing groups. On withholding the permission to hold pro-Palestine protests, Vinay Srinivasa, another activist from Bengaluru for Justice and Peace said, "We did not expect the Karnataka government, which says it is committed to the Constitution, to have behaved in this manner. Though we are happy the permission was finally given, we need to question the timing of the CM's order."
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