Violence is not new to Mangalore. However, police action on protestors at the scale at which it occurred on December 19 is something that the city has not seen in a long while.
The day started with people defying Section 144, gathering to protest on the street and getting lathi charged by policemen. This was followed by police firing on citizens with armed guns, killing two and injuring several others. Curfew was imposed after the initial bouts of violence in the afternoon.
After this, the police, in large numbers, entered a hospital where injured protestors were receiving treatment. They launched tear gas within 30 metres of sick patients inside the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), attempting to barge into patient rooms where protestors had taken refuge. This report provides a detailed account of the day’s events, collected from different eyewitnesses.
After the imposition of Section 144 across Karnataka on Thursday, December 19, the Mangalore police denied different groups in the city permission to protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). Like elsewhere in the country, where many took to the streets despite the imposition of Section 144, people in Mangalore came out in large numbers. This was not the first protest in the city against the Act – several protests had already taken place earlier in the week, including a protest organised by students.
On Thursday morning, no one organisation had called for a protest, given that they had been denied permission to do so. However, as eyewitnesses recall, several local residents had come out on the streets near the State Bank area, close to the district commissioner’s office where protests had been taking place all week.
Initially, there were around 200-300 protestors on the street, chanting slogans like “CAA hai hai”. The police had begun to announce that they will lathi-charge the protestors. At around 1:35 pm, they followed through with their threat and began to lathi charge protestors on the street, who were unarmed. Videos released by local news channels show protestors marching down the road, peacefully sloganeering against the CAA, being lathi charged by the police. Misbah, an activist who wanted to be identified only by his first name, was present in the area administering first aid to the protesters. He recounts that many protestors were severely injured by the lathi charge, which continued for a long time.
By 2:45 pm, the protesters had regrouped near Nellikai Road and Azizuddin Road, close to the area where the lathi charge had occurred. As the police attempted to charge them with lathis, the protesters began pelting the police with stones. Some policemen were injured in the stone pelting.
This is when the police used armed rifles to shoot at the protesters. One eyewitness claims that a bullet hit the eye of a protester and another hit a protestor in the chest. Both of them were rushed to the hospital. Reports later confirmed that these protesters had succumbed to their injuries and passed away. However, the Mangalore police has not released the cause of death as established by the post-mortem report.
In retaliation to the police shootings, protesters began to burn tyres and continued with the stone pelting. There were more people on the streets, in different areas within the city, by 4 pm, once the news of police firing into the crowd had spread. This is when public figures like former city mayor K. Ashraf were brought in to pacify the protesters. He was not successful in doing so. Misab recounts, “I was reading namaz when I heard that a stone hit Mr Ashraf’s on the face – he was seriously injured.” After that, curfew was announced across areas coming under the jurisdiction of five police stations within the city.
From 3:30 pm to 6 pm, however, violence and clashes between protestors and the police continued. As another eyewitness, a PhD student who is currently visiting her family in the city, recounted, as news of the shooting spread, the chaos and tension on the road was evident. She was driving with her family towards the city centre at 4.30 pm when they met a roadblock by civilians who were asking commuters to turn back their cars due to an altercation between the police and people on the street.
Concerned about what was taking place, they parked the car and started walking towards 30-40 protestors who were largely inside a lane close to the Highlands area in Mangalore. They were shouting slogans at a police riot control vehicle on the main road adjoining the lane. Inside the riot control vehicle were 10-12 policemen. Three-four police in full riot gear were on the street, trying to lathi charge the protesters who were loudly asking if the police were going to beat them.
She recounts: “There was a short tussle between the police and protestors. The police moved to lathi charge them and the protestors pelted stones at their van. They were careful to hurl stones at the police vehicle and not at the few pedestrians who were closer to the police riot van on the road and facing the protesters. The protesters anger about the shooting carried out by the police earlier in the day was evident.” The police on the road then got into the van and drove towards the pedestrians, who had grown in number. The protesters at this point also retreated back into the lane.
Between 5 pm and 6:30 pm, police vans began to roam the city announcing that curfew will be implemented across town. By 6:30 pm, all the shops in the city centre had been shut and the streets had cleared out.
Later in the evening, however, videos of the police entering Highlands hospital in large numbers were released and circulated on the local news. Police personnel, in full riot gear, were seen forcing their way into patient rooms and the ICU in the videos, purportedly in search of protesters. This occurred at 6:56 pm, as the CCTV footage clearly shows, much after announcements of curfew had been made and stone pelting across the city had subsided.
A hospital official, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that three teargas shells were used by the police inside the hospital premises. Two were used in the parking lot and one inside the hospital lobby. The teargas used inside the lobby was launched only 30 metres away from the ICU, which had severely sick patients inside. Three people with bullet injuries and six others with minor injuries sustained during the protests were also receiving treatment in the hospital at this point. While some protesters had entered the hospital, a lot of men and women seen in the video are hospital staff. The police, in their eagerness to catch the protesters, appear to have gone after the staff as well.
Early on Friday, December 20, news arrived that internet data services would be shut down in the city for 48 hours and curfew would be extended till midnight of December 22.
On Saturday, December 21, Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddiyurappa landed at the Mangalore airport at noon on his way to Udupi, to visit the ailing Vishwesha Theertha Swami of the Pejawar Mutt. He visited Mangalore city on his way, and promised an inquiry into the violence. At the time of his landing, police personnel tightened curfew, deploying several policemen to oversee even small bylanes. Riot vehicles had been deployed across the city.
Various leaders from the opposition were prevented from entering the city. Congress’s Siddharamaiah was banned entry. Binoy Visvam, a Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP from Kerala, was detained by the city police in Mangalore.
Residents within the city say that the situation remains tense and that recovering from the shooting of two civilians in the heart of the city by the police is not easy.
Shaunna R. is a Teaching Fellow and PhD candidate at Columbia University, New York.