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Distraught Bengaluru civil society demands right to protest for Palestine

Bengaluru for Justice and Peace has written letters to the chief minister and police authorities to allow them to protest for Palestine and peace after they were denied permission.

ON Friday, members of Bengaluru for Justice and Peace wrote to the chief minister of Karnataka, Siddaramaiah Avaru, demanding the state government to uphold their right to protest for justice for the Palestinians and for calling for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel–Palestine region.

Bengaluru for Justice and Peace is a broad coalition comprising organisations and concerned citizens working on the issues of human rights, social justice and environmental rights, for the realisation of promises of the Constitution.

On October 7, Hamas, a political and military organisation governing the Gaza strip of Palestinian territories, launched a violent attack on Israel, killing over 1,400.

Following the violence, the Israeli government launched a retaliatory attack on Gaza. Reportedly, Israel has dropped thousands of tons of explosives, displacing over a million and killing over 7,028 Palestinians in Gaza.

The letter by Bengaluru for Justice and Peace is in reference to the state government’s alleged efforts in “clamping down” on protests by denying permission to hold protests as well as detaining peaceful protesters gathered in solidarity with Palestine.

India’s position

Historically, India has expressed its unequivocal sympathy for the cause of Palestine. India was one of the last non-Muslim states to recognise the establishment of Israel in 1950.

Prominent leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi have determinedly stood by the rights of the Arabs in Palestine.

However, in recent times, India has displayed a “balancing act” to the Israel–Palestine conflict.

In 2016, India abstained from voting at the United Nations on whether Israel should be persecuted by the International Criminal Court for Israel’s alleged war crimes in Gaza in 2014.

In 2017, India voted in support of a resolution opposing the US and Israel for an attempt to unilaterally declare all of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. Palestine claims the eastern part of the ancient city of Jerusalem.

After the attacks by Hamas, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, expressed his solidarity with Israel.

On October 12, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) reiterated its official stand on establishing a sovereign State of Palestine.

MEA wrote, “Our policy in this regard has been long-standing and consistent. India has always advocated the resumption of direct negotiations towards establishing a sovereign, independent and viable State of Palestine living within secure and recognized borders, side by side at peace with Israel.”

On Friday, during the United Nations General Assembly’s Tenth Emergency Special Session, a resolution that called for an immediate humanitarian truce in the Israel–Hamas conflict was adopted. Along with 45 other countries, India abstained from voting.

Letter to the chief minister

Referring to the continued bombardment of Gaza, the letter reads, “You are aware that the bombing of civilians and systematic violations of human rights continue to be accelerated by the Israeli government, and there is a grave humanitarian crisis in Palestine.”

Citing the rejection of permission, the letter says on October 26, the deputy commissioner of police (West Division) rejected permission to hold the protest on displaying support for Palestine in Freedom Park on October 28.

At present, protests in Bengaluru are only allowed in Freedom Park, a public park in the city. In the past, civil society organisations have raised grievances about restricting protests to Freedom Park and condemning them to invisibility, the possibility of key conversations is eliminated and the essence of protests is devalued.

The letter further states that the state police have detained and filed first information reports (FIRs) against protesters in Bengaluru, Mysuru and Tumkur for voicing their support for Palestinians.

The letter highlights the irony that while the FIRs are filed against peaceful protesters on the ground the protests are permitted only in Freedom Park, the permission to protest in the same is denied.

It is also pointed out in the letter that the state government’s clamping down efforts have come despite the Congress Working Committee calling for an immediate ceasefire and extending its support for the rights of the Palestinians.

Blaming the Karnataka government for “deliberating silencing voices of solidarity with the Palestinian people,” the letter notes that protests have been allowed in cities of other states such as Pune, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kozhikode and Coimbatore.

The letter points out that the United Nations secretary general, during his address to the Security Council, recognised decades of displacement and violence against Palestinians. The secretary-general called for immediate intervention of the UN to mediate negotiations, restore peace and uphold the rights of the Palestinian people, the letter reads.

In conclusion, Bengaluru for Justice and Peace presents three demands from the chief minister— to ensure that the police do not curtail the right to freedom of speech and expression and assembly, and to grant permission to protest; to withdraw all FIRs registered against protestors; and to conduct an inquiry on the rationale for registering such FIRs.

Letter in reply to rejection of permission

On Friday, Bengaluru for Peace and Justice also wrote a letter to the deputy commissioner of police in reply to the rejection of permission to hold such a protest.

According to the letter, the rejection violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, right to peaceful assembly and right to association guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution.

The letter explains that the protest planned at Freedom Park aimed— firstly, to donate blood to symbolise solidarity for those who lost their lives in Palestine; and secondly, to hold a public meeting and protest calling for immediate ceasefire and restoration of justice and peace in the Israel–Palestine region.

The letter notes that the rejection for permission to protest— justified as an international issue and thereby, a threat to law and order— is “unsustainable” and does not find a place in the reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

The letter avers that the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to assembly is not at the mercy of the police.

We cannot let Karnataka to become a police state where our dissent against genocide and solidarity with victims of violence is contingent on the whims of the police,” the letter adds.

Requiring the organisation to approach from one office to another for seeking permission, the letter blames the police for being “the arbiter of fundamental rights and [for having] abused your powers”.

Calling the rejection unconstitutional, the letter urges the deputy commissioner of police to reconsider the decision.

The Leaflet