COVID-19: A hasty govt, regional media spark vandalism in Bengaluru

Following Sunday’s incident, which took place in a Muslim dominated locality, the state government has also deployed nearly 800 police personnel to monitor Padarayanapura area | The Federal

On Sunday (April 19), a mob allegedly vandalised a police check-point in a COVID-19 containment zone in Bengaluru’s Padarayanapura ward. The mob questioned healthcare and ASHA workers over their ‘discretionary manner’ of quarantining people.

The administration sealed the area on April 10 following five positive COVID-19 cases. As of April 21, there were 19 positive cases. The residents accused the administration of failing to give any prior notice to the residents and that they went ahead imposing strict restrictions with a mere promise to supply ration and essentials.

Following Sunday’s incident, which took place in a Muslim-dominated locality, the state government has also deployed nearly 800 police personnel to monitor the sensitive area to restrict people’ movement, with an exception to medical emergencies.

The police also registered five FIRs based on complaints from four police personnel and a civic body doctor who were on duty. The police arrested 59 people on Tuesday (April 21). Except for one, all the FIRs carry the same names of five people as accused.

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After declaring Padarayanapura in Bengaluru as a containment zone, people’s movement were restricted | The Federal

Contradictions in FIR

The statements from police and doctor in the FIR filed by the police had few contradictions.

Initially, Deputy Commissioner of Police (West Bangalore) B. Ramesh gave a statement saying there was only vandalism and no violence. But FIRs, including the one registered based on the complaint from the doctor, says the mob pelted stone at the police, some of whom were injured. But, the doctor who spoke to The Federal, denied reports of injury to the police personnel and that he did not give such a statement to the police.

The police, however, booked the accused for inciting violence, breaking social distancing norms under the Disaster Management Act, damaging public property, and attacking public servants.

Home Minister Basavaraj Bommai said the government and the police would teach them a lesson. “We will show what police power is. We will clamp down on them without any fear or favour,” the minister said.

What led to the violence?

After speaking to the residents, The Federal found two reasons which could have fuelled the violence.

One, the failure of the civic body and state in supplying essentials which could have led to the outrage on the streets.

Two, some of the primary and secondary contacts who were to be quarantined in institutional quarantine facility (hotels in the city), refused to budge to government’s request but instead questioned the health official over the discretionary manner in which the whole process was done.

“It’s a sensitive area. Many are illiterate and they are insecure as they see on Television about police/administration cherry-picking Muslims in certain areas,” said Syed Liyakhath, a resident in the locality. “They should have clearly explained to them about quarantining and before quarantining”, he added.

Anger over the limited supply of essentials could have also led to the vandalism.

Liyakhat said the police/BBMP were not supplying essentials on a daily basis. In fact they stopped in between during the lockdown period, he added.

“After the BBMP sealed down the area on April 10, we received ration from the local corporator and the municipal administration. But after 3-4 days, the milk supplies stopped. Then they turned intermittent,” Liyakhath said.

One of the area corporator Imran Pasha’s aide, part of the Civil Defence, who distributed the ration kits in the area said only 75% of the population in the area got ration and that the rest were yet to be covered. The violence broke out in the same area where the essentials were yet to be supplied. “We covered 75% of the locality. There’s not enough arrangements done so the distribution got delayed,” Riyaz Pasha who distributed government ration kits said.

In fact, people had put posters on the tin sheets in Urdu and English saying people were not having ration cards and had no ration at home either.

However, the local MLA Zameer Ahmed Khan denied that ration was in short supply.

Even as the administration claims people are given ration, residents of the locality have put up posters saying there’s lack of food grains

Local media targets ‘community’

Even though the Chief Minister warned people of taking action against those speaking ill of the Muslim community for isolated incident like that of Tablighi Jamaat, the regional media continued to portray the community in bad light.

One of the TV channels, TV9, not only was body-shaming the arrested Muslim woman but also demonised the entire community. In another, they questioned the Chief Minister stand in protecting the community and tying the hands of police by asking them to not mistreat on the Muslim community. In another, the RSS member accused the government of succumbing to the community’s pressure and blames Muslims for the rising cases in the city.

The regional media also claimed that the MLA had total control over the area and that he was not letting the healthcare workers/police to quarantine people without his permission.

Denying the allegations, Khan said, “I condemn the whole incident, those who were involved in vandalism and violence should be punished. But I have not asked them to take permission for quarantining. I only told the police to do it in the morning hours. But they (health workers and police) stretched it till night and people failed to get confidence in their action,” Khan said.

Venkatesh Bubberjung, a practicing lawyer specializing in human rights and civil liberties, who frequents the place and has clients in Padarayanapura, says the area also has a sizeable Kannada, Tamil, and Telugu population working as daily wage workers, civic workers.

“The regional media portrayed it as a Muslim dominated area. But the area always portrayed multiculturalism. There were anti-social activities, like in any other place with the same demography. But they were small and under control with good policing,” Bubberjung says.

But the media turned it around. “Initially they (regional media) accused the police of soft pedalling. There were aberrations, yes, but the police were even-handed in handling the situation. Yet again, the media questioned and turned the political class against them,” Bubberjung says.

“The whole thing is blown out of proportion and multiple FIRs are filed at the behest of BJP’s pressure forced by the Media for a big case.”

Innocents arrested

“There was no problem with foodgrain supply nor was there any problem with quarantining in our lane. But the police arrest innocent people for some miscreants’ fault,” Nisar Pasha, a resident in the locality says.

“The police picked up one of my cousin brother Suhail Pasha and four other Muslim men in our lane for reasons without giving us reasons.”

When asked if his brother was involved in vandalism, while he claimed in the negative, he said some men entered their building to hide from the police and that they left after a while. Perhaps, the police mistook them for his brother, he says.

Pasha says such acts would frighten the residents and they would increasingly suspect the government’s actions and intentions if this continues.

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