An average day
So today started as an average day but slightly different. Today is the Bakr-Id holiday so offices are closed and Rez was working from home. School was open though. This meant that Rez hadn’t set the alarm and I woke at 6:48am. Zahra was due to leave at 7am – we were running late. After a quick turnaround of dressing, breakfast and teeth brushing we were on our way by 7:15am. Manohar put his foot down and we made it to school by 7:30am. I returned home and did the usual chores whilst we had power and Rez was working in his office. We chatted to our driver about the schedule for the week and plans for the day. Nothing unusual.
Around 11am Matt came round (he lives in the same complex on the other side) to discuss work with Rez. Around 11:30am we headed out to pick up a new international assignee from Germany who had arrived in Bangalore the previous day and was staying in a hotel. We headed out to a local restaurant, pointing out shopping places and hints and tips about living in Bangalore along the way.
Lunch was in a steak restaurant called Millers 46 hidden away on the third floor of, what looked like, an abandoned building. Whilst buying and consuming beef isn’t illegal in Bangalore, it is in other states in India and generally everyone takes care not to offend Hindus out of respect. The steaks were delicious. I was glad I was able to eat for a change. It’s been a while since I’ve joined a lunch / dinner and been able to eat properly. It was nice to feel almost ‘normal’ for a short while.
We headed out to Starbucks for an after lunch coffee, again pointing out to our new friend what to expect over the next few months.
The school run
We left Starbucks as we needed plenty of time for the school run. On the way I started picking up messages on various WhatsApp groups that violence had erupted around Bangalore. Spontaneous protests had broken out regarding the release of Cauvery river water to Tamil Nadu. Cars, vans, lorries and buses with Tamil Nadu plates were being attacked. This was supposedly in response to Karnataka registered cars being attacked in Tamil Nadu over the weekend. Pictures and messages started come in thick and fast. This was quickly followed by the school sending out a message to collect children immediately from school and the school would be completely closed by 3pm.
Fortunately we arrived at school at 2:30pm to be greeted by children running to school buses and teachers frantically and yet calmly ensuring those being picked up by parents were all accounted for. It was strange. There was a sense of urgency yet teachers and children were rushing in a calm manner. We collected Zahra and got her into the car quickly. Buses were already leaving. I was updating worried parents on the situation at school. We called a friend to ensure her children were safely on their way (they were – on the school bus, as the car was too far away to reach them in time). More messages from scared and concerned parents responded to with updates saying calm but rushed at school. I had a brief chat with the Primary Principal and updated him on what I knew and we headed off. By the time we were on our way with Zahra all the school buses were in convoy on their way out of school.
The journey home
We still had Matt and Marcel with us in the car as we had headed straight to school from the coffee. Helicopters were circling overhead. Cars were speeding past each other frantically overtaking in a rush to get home. At the junction of the main airport road we saw the first result of the protests – the Adyar Ananda Bhavan restaurant had been vandalised. All the windows had been smashed and there was a large police presence. The restaurant is a Tamil Nadu chain.
More pictures and messages were being sent from around Bangalore in the expat community groups. We were glad to be nearing the complex. I’ve never felt so releived to be going through security into the complex. We were back safe and without incident. We immediately sent our driver home so he could collect his children from school and get them home safely. He was very grateful.
We turned on the news channels as soon as we returned home and watched the events as they unfolded around Bangalore. It wasn’t looking good at all. Unplanned violent protests breaking out at random points across the city. Some of them were in Yelahanka where we live.
Some of the school children had a long journey across the city and parents at various drop off points were providing updates to their parents as to where the buses had got to. We were all releived when all the children were back at their homes safely.
I updated friends and family advising them we were safe and continued watching the news reports. We called Marcel’s driver to collect him while it was still safe enough and headed over to Matt’s to ‘help’ him deal with the water leak in the kitchen. Again ‘normal’ in the abnormal. Marcel was collected and we headed back to our house to see what we had in for dinner (as previous dinner plan abandoned as shopping was required and that was definitely out). Messages and pictures came in throughout dinner.
As we settled down to watch a movie I received a message from the school that it would be closed tomorrow “due to the continued protests regarding the Cauvery water crisis and violence across the city”. We were advised to remain indoors. News of other international schools closing started filtering through the expat WhatsApp groups. Rez’s workplace however will remain open tomorrow and he will have to travel into work, having been advised to take ‘adequate precautions’ as we are in a ‘sensitive area’. No helpful suggestions as to what those ‘adequate precautions’ might be though. (Two others are currently on a plane from the UK on their way to Bangalore, having been advised that it was safe to travel.)
Another Bandh (general strike) has been called for Thursday.
What is the problem and why are there protests?
I’ve already written a blog post about the Bandh and the reasons for it – but why today? The matter of sharing the Cauvery river water is already in the Supreme Court, which is currently on holiday, so a ‘vacation bench’ heard the matter today and allowed some respite to Karnataka. Karnataka now has to release 12,000 cusecs* of water daily until 20th September. This is 3,000 less than the state was asked to share last week. However the water has to be shared over more days which means that Tamil Nadu will now get much more than the court originally ordered by the court. Karnataka asked the court to reconsider when it realised that it was not a relief or respite at all. The court refused and admonished the state by directing it to ensure compliance and to control protestors. Given the court directive it is unlikely the protests will dissipate anytime soon.
We will be on heightened alert for any violence on the street. Zahra and I will obviously stay inside the secure complex tomorrow as advised. It is becoming difficult to keep a bored 10 year old entertained within a small complex but that’s nothing compared to those who do not have this security. I am more concerned about Rez, and others, having to travel when it’s potentially unsafe to do so. (There’s clearly no Health and Safety Executive in India for firms to worry about.)
It is disruptive. Shopping is impossible and deliveries will not be met. This means that if it is safe enough to venture out on Wednesday there will be a lot of people shopping and bulk buying – especially drinking water, as another Bandh has been called for Thursday and we will be confined to the complex again.
Incredible India is indeed incredible, but not always in the way they hope for.
Update at 10:30pm
Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) of 1973 was imposed by the police. This empowers a magistrate to prohibit an assembly of more than ten people in an area. According to sections 141-149 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the maximum punishment for engaging in rioting is rigorous imprisonment for 3 years and/or fine.
The police have started firing on protesters resulting in 1 death and 1 injured.
20 buses with TN number plates have been set ablaze.
*A Cusec is a measure of flow rate and is informal shorthand for “cubic feet per second” (28.317 litres per second). It is generally applied to water flow, particularly in rivers.