By Sharan KA and Shoubhik Ghosh:
The Cauvery water sharing dispute is a century-old one that sparked off between the then-Madras Presidency and the State of Mysore. In 1892, both the States came to an agreement with regard to the sharing of water. Gradually, what were peaceful protests later turned violent in the 1930s when the Maharaja of Mysore along with the British, planned the construction of dams and reservoirs across the river. Since then, several court hearings have taken place, violence in the form of riots has seen its presence in both the states, and political games have unfolded where the regional sentiments have superseded logical reasoning.
Ever since, the display of pro-Kannada/Tamil activism has been steadily on the rise especially after the 1991 anti-Tamil riots in Karnataka which led to destruction of life and property. During the current protests in the town hall, many representatives from various regional organisations invoked the sentiments of the 1991 riots.
Although the river originates from Karnataka, the state government claims that it has never received its due share of the river’s water as Tamil Nadu gets most of the water. Additionally, Bengaluru is mostly dependant on the water from Cauvery. The situation took an ugly turn when the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release 15000 cusecs of water to Tamil Nadu. This led to a bandh on September 9. Later, the figure fell to 12000 cusecs but this was still unacceptable a verdict for the people of Karnataka, especially for the thousands of farmers and millions of people across various districts who are entirely dependent on the water from Cauvery.
On the September 12, a huge protest took place following the Supreme Court verdict. With Section 144 in place, the IT capital was under a lockdown with traffic jams in the afternoon resulting in ambulances getting stuck. This protest was also intensified due to an incident involving a Tamil student in Bengaluru, where the student was beaten up for posting derogatory remarks on the involvement of Kannada celebrities in these protests.
Mysore Road saw some very violent protests. A truck registered in Vellore was burned near the satellite bus stand. An expressionless person photographing this incident on his mobile phone gave a grin and said, “This had to happen sometime or the other.” People with the state flag and colours were also posing for the press and starting waving the flags when the cameras faced them.
A horrifying scene took place near the KSRTC Depot in Deepanjali Nagar where a truck belonging to a Chennai-based logistics firm was torched. As the engine and tyres burst, the mob was cheering and continued to throw stones at the truck. People started throwing stones on a Manappuram Gold Loan branch after someone said that it is a Tamil Nadu-based firm but stopped after they got to know that it is based in Kerala. As police vehicles arrived, the mob dispersed the scene in less than a minute.
On September 13, the city wore a deserted look in the morning. However in Laggere, a BMTC bus and a fire engine were torched and reduced to metal carcasses. Scars from yesterday’s protests too remained, with many soot patches and burnt vehicles on the roads.
For both the warring states, long-term solutions like rain water harvesting and rejuvenation of fresh water from lakes could be a viable solution. There cannot be appalling displays of violence expecting to bring about a gargantuan shift in the way the government and the judiciary looks at the issue.
In the words of a friend of mine, “The upper or middle class urban India lives in little bubbles that get these rude awakenings to reality that maybe will be a horribly unfortunate lesson in empathy. Bengaluru is home to everything I’ve known and loved. The next time you justify riots or pogroms, or state-sponsored lawlessness and violence of any kind, I hope you’ll stop and remember the faces and voices of Tamizhar friends today.”