Occupy Bangalore: a more ‘intimate’ crowd than expected
By Soham Chatterjee
They sent out about 10,000 invitations. About 850 responded. Maybe 25 showed up.
Make that 30 if you include the press.
These twentysomethings arrived to “occupy Bangalore,” to protest India’s efforts to shut down “torrent” sites that allow file sharing — and the distribution of pirated movies and music — and to tell the public about India’s attempts to punish people who post “obscene” content on their social media websites such as Facebook or Twitter.
Unlike the May 31 “bandh,” or “shutdown,” which forced much of the city to close as India’s Bharatiya Janata Party protested the rising cost of fuel, it seemed harder to get people to stand up for virtual rights. Internet freedom rallies don’t quite arouse people’s passions in any country, let alone one that already bans the importation of certain books. And remember: this is India’s self-styled technology capital.
“We hoped to create awareness of Internet censorship in India, but I am disappointed with the turnout,” said Anupam, a 22-year-old software engineer.
Some Internet users might have been more aware. A hacker or group of hackers called Anonymous India launched denial of service attacks against Indian government, political parties and corporate websites to protest the government’s blocking of online file and video-sharing websites such as thepiratebay.se and dailymotion.com following a March 29 court order.
“The attacks are meant to create awareness among the powers that be, and apply pressure on them to change their ideas on censorship,” said a recent university graduate, who was participating in the protest. The occupy movement, she said, reflects concern among India’s growing population of Internet users (about 121 million, or 10 percent of India’s population) over the government’s attempts to curtail their freedom to express themselves.
She conceded that some people might be miffed by not being able to watch pirated movies and listen to music for free, but said that the sites carry plenty of legitimate content.
The event, which was scheduled to take place on Saturday in several Indian cities was simple: show up wearing the “anonymous” masks featured in the film “V for Vendetta,” hold up signs, throw no punches. In Bangalore, the occupiers stood their 50 square feet of ground until a wiry Metro cop in a starched uniform used a cocked eyebrow, one bristly mustache and three short blasts on his whistle to force them to disperse.
They straggled west down the dusty MG Road, arriving at the three-way intersection where Kasturba Road and Queens Road split off at Cubbon Park. Flanked by daunting numbers of passing cars, the group pondered over where to go next. A man and woman walking in the opposite direction, attracted by the Guy Fawkes masks, turned around and joined the group. Several protesters along the way had peeled off to find a store with a copy machine to make copies of the masks.
A few confused people stared at the group as cars and trucks honked and braked their way down the street. Beyond a few guys in cars making catcalls at the women protesters as they passed, few paid attention. We asked questions and took pictures. A young man who called himself Kalki asked Robert to “please not take my picture when my mask is up.” The recent university graduate lowered her mask so she could see better. The view was a little desolate. She announced to the oblivious drivers in a sarcastic voice: “We are occupy. We are here.”
Not for long. Two plainclothes cops and a uniformed officer told the group that they didn’t have permission to protest. If they wanted, they could go to a former jail site called Freedom Park that is a designated protest spot. An official licence to protest, one anonymous occupier noted, rather defeats the purpose.
(Writing and photos by Robert MacMillan)