At this quiet lane opposite N5 campus of Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, it is hard to imagine a crowd turning aggressive, towing vehicle taking away parked vehicles belonging to students and faculty, students getting into a run-in with a BJP MLA and a few locals. Depending on who one talks to, different triggers and factors are talked about – from a strained relationship with the locals, the graffiti of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with “Sab Changasi” written on it, the problem of parking space, the high-handedness of the BJP MLA and lack of support from the police over issues of moral policing and harassment.
On 14 January around noon, the BJP MLA SR Vishwanath reportedly entered the campus along with locals. At the same time, a towing vehicle from the traffic police also reached and started towing the parked vehicles. It started with a fight over vehicles parked in the narrow lane and the police declaring it a no parking zone. At the same time, the locals complained about the students wearing shorts and smoking on the roads. Also, perhaps, more importantly, the MLA cautioned and criticised the graffiti on the walls opposite the campus – to be specific one with Modi with a finger on his lips and the words “Sab Changasi” (his now-famous response to “howdy Modi”).
Following the fracas, the college was closed and reopened on Saturday with students and faculty wanting to put the incident behind them. Most of the walls are now peach-ish with white paint mixing with the saffron. In some places, old graffiti with alien faces and some landscapes still survives.
“We have always parked in this lane and though there is a problem of space there has never been an altercation of this kind. But there have been issues with residents in the past also. There have been instances of catcalling or sexual harassment on the streets. We live as PGs in the neighbourhood and we move from one campus to the other so we are often on the roads as this is not a gated campus unlike some universities,” says one student. The students did not want to be identified for security reasons. They have issued a statement on behalf of the students but is not signed by any. "Treat the statement as our bible," says one student without wanting to elaborate.
Vishwanath did not respond to messages or take any calls. In his previous interviews to various media outlets, he has defended his actions saying the graffiti was an insult to the prime minister and has added that he did not criticise the students about their clothes but was concerned about graffiti and the parking issue.
Srishti has several campuses in Yelahanka area of the city with a student population of 1,600. Students are often required to go from on campus to the other and use bicycles or bikes. Since the students don’t have hostel facilities on campus they stay as PGs, albeit dedicated PG accommodation for Srishti students. They are friends with the local shopkeepers, fruit vendors but the interaction with residents is limited.
The students do stand out in the area and most of them – from other parts of India – rely on Hindi and English over Kannada. Also, as many pointed out the students have been largely apolitical and the ones participating in the on-going protests against CAA and NRC are small in number.
“It’s not so simplistic. This is an Arts and Design college and there are many students from the north. There is a strong Kannada identity which resents the outsiders due to problems of poverty and unemployment. They also judge students over clothes but these are students and students like anywhere else. Also please understand Srishti has been here for many years and there has been not a single violent incident. By and large, they are also getting along alright. Yes, there are problems but there is also love and acceptance from many,” says a faculty member.
That is also seen when one speaks to the old establishments. Such as owner of Hotel Taste of India, which has catered to students and residents all alike. "These are just students and we are fond of them. Some of the old students come to meet me whenever they come to Bengaluru," says the owner, a senior citizen. “These are difficult times and I feel worried about these children. They are just students after all,” he says referring to the atmosphere of protests and arrests and detentions.
Students say graffiti is fairly common in this area. “We often request or take permission before painting on walls –in which case it is “public art” and not graffiti. We also have initiatives to engage with the residents. However, at the moment many walls have been painted over and a lot of work – which was not political – is lost. We don’t know who painted the Modi graffiti but they painted saffron over that wall and many others,” says one student.
“The BJP MLA seems to have used these fault lines to make his point. There was hardly any political action going on here.” This perhaps is the crux. Students feel that the BJP MLA used the existing but manageable problems to further his agenda of intimidation in the present atmosphere of student resistance.
Students also spoke of being targeted over clothing and smoking in the evenings or at night in the past. Incidents of cat-calling and sexual harassment on the roads have been reported but not really acted upon by the police. “The cops don’t do anything if we complain. We have to be careful,” says another student.
Some of the students have participated in the anti-CAA protests happening in the city. On Friday evening, they tried organising a 48-hour satyagraha at Freedom Park in the city but were asked to leave at night by the cops. Even those who are part of these protests say that since they don’t have a student body or a large collective group, political action can hardly be the reason for this altercation. “Largely the students are apolitical but perhaps, he just wanted to make sure that there is no organisation of protests in his constituency?”
“There is no problem. They didn’t even have to shut the college. We are always there to protect and support the students. We are just a phone call away. The parking problem had to be addressed as there were complaints. The presence of traffic towing vehicle was just a coincidence and had nothing to do with the MLA visit. No one has filed an FIR and the matter was settled amicably,” says DCP North Bheemashankar Guled.
Geetha Narayanan, director of the institute, wishes to put this behind and also look at the incident in lager perspective. “It is important to not view this incident at Srishti in isolation and make this about locals here. Such incidents between students and residents happen everywhere in the country. We believe in engaging with the community and have been doing so for many years. It is best to put this run-in behind us and move on.”
Even as students resume their classes and assignments and guards are watchful of people around the campus, a group of people stands outside the N5 gate with one camera and microphone. Students urge to not to engage and make any enquiries to avoid any trouble. Some of them are planning to join their friends at Freedom Park. Some are working on their assignments. Traffic, tea shops, auto-rickshaws, fruit vendors are going about their business. Seems like just another day at Srishti and at Yelahanka even as the cautious undercurrent remains palpable.
Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.
Updated Date: Jan 20, 2020 16:18:47 IST