On Monday night, when pro-Kannada activists were running riot in India’s Silicon Valley, a wave of fear swept through the 1,000-odd residents of Sanjay Gandhi Nagar.
Residents of this tin-shed cluster that houses construction workers and men and women who survive on odd-jobs, claim their forefathers were brought from Tamil Nadu to build Bengaluru city.
For many of them, ghastly memories of the anti-Tamil riots of December 1991, also on the Cauvery water-sharing issue, has come back to haunt. Their colony was razed completely during those dark days, when they spent the nights in biting cold on pavements, holding small babies and scared stiff, wanting to escape to the land of their forefathers.
The then local MLA, S Ramesh of the Congress, a follower of S Bangarappa, persuaded them to stay put and helped them resettle in their lives.
“In comparison Monday’s attacks by the shouting brigades of youth was less scary, but we are afraid nevertheless. And the fear still lives in us, but we are hopeful that now things are different. At least, within two days things are returning to normal and we had people coming here to reassure us,” said S Nirmala, who was a victim of the 1991 anti-Tamil riots like several others in this shanty.
She recalled that some women were molested and raped then. But this time around, volunteers of the Tamil Sangam visited the colony and ensured police protection was there.
There are 450 shanties cheek-by-jowl, a tin sheet separating the 15 x 5 feet metal box that the families call ‘house’. The Sanjay Nagar, located in the Nandini layout of North Bengaluru nestles between two industrial estates, off the Mysore-Tumkur highway, falling in the Rajagopalanagar police station limits that was one of the most disturbed areas and under a curfew.
Bengaluru has some 2,350 slums housing six lakh people, out of which 95 per cent are of Tamil origin. Other prominent localities where Tamils are in large numbers are Gandhi Nagar, Lakashmir Narayanpuram, Prakash Nagar, Ramachandra Puram, Sriramapuram, Chikpet, Yelahanka, Binipet in North Bengaluru and Chamrajpet, Shanti Nagar, Basavannagudi in South Bengaluru, Jayamahal, Mallesawaram, Shivaji Nagar and Bharati Nagar in Central Bengaluru.
The Tamil dominated areas that witnessed violence and were disturbed included Rajagopalanagar, Peenya, Kamakshipalaya in North Bengaluru and Nyandalli, Kengeri in West and Nice Road, South Bengaluru.
As the city slowly limped back to its daily grind--schools, shops and offices cautiously resuming work—Tamil residents of Sanjay Gandhi Nagar slum cluster, idle workers and womenfolk huddled around wondering where the next meal would come from.
“Our main worry at present is one of livelihood as we are out of work and may be till few more days. Please ask the government to help us,” wailed Vijayakumari, a casual labourer.
S Dhanabhagyam, an 80-years-old widow who lives with her four sons, a daughter and 12 grandchildren in two shanties, said: “We have lived through the worst of times. We will live through this too. Whatever they (Kannada protesters) do, this is the only place we have and we will not go anywhere else.”
Social worker Ramachandran was speaking to the residents at Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, exhorting them to display the courage and good sense and frustrate the efforts of those fomenting trouble.
There are others, like L Tamiladiyan, a functionary of Naam Tamilar Katchi, who smells conspiracy of Kannadigas to use the excuse of Cauvery waters to kick out people of Tamil origin. Several of these workers were brought from Tamil Nadu many decades ago to build the Vidhan Soudha, Kannambadi Dam, ministerial houses, multi-storey buildings and much of the new Bengaluru, he said.
“For generations we have been living here without any problem with Kannadigas and consider Karnataka as our ‘Thai’ (mother),” he said, adding,
“This (current violence) is not about Cauvery at all, but is a ruse to oust Tamilians.”
However, M Velu Nayakar, BBMP Corporator of Lakshmirdevi Nagar that encompasses Sanjay Gandhi Nagar, rubbishes this theory.
“There is a pattern to the violence that occurred on the outskirts but did not touch the central areas of Bengaluru. The lumpen elements and the unemployed youth from rural areas joined in the violence and looting, some for fun and some to rob,” he says.
Clearly, the state government did not anticipate that things would escalate to this level, said Nayakar, adding it could also be a political ploy to defame the ruling Congress government.