Two activists of the Swaraj Abhiyan organisation, who have been distributing food to stranded workers in labour colonies in Bengaluru during the lockdown, were booked on May 7 after a complaint by a builder. R Kaleemullah and Zia Nomani have been charged under Sections 153 (provocation with intent to cause riots) and 188 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
“We had been going to the labour colonies to distribute food packets and ration supplies for many days. We knew they were getting restless. They were not being paid their wages, they were not getting proper food. When the government decided to start trains, we helped many of them register on the Seva Sindhu portal because they had no information otherwise,” said Nomani.
Kaleemullah said they had been pacifying the workers, and asking them not to hit the streets. “When the government decided to stop trains and we heard they were beginning to walk, we rushed to the labour colony in Veeranpalya to calm them down. We also said no one can force them to work. So, this FIR is simply harassment,” he said.
On the afternoon of May 7, when officials of the Sampigehalli Police Station arrived at the labour camp of the BL Kashyap construction firm to arrest Nomani and Kaleemullah, the workers protested and refused to allow the police to take them away.
“We had been distributing relief for many days there. So, the workers and nearby daily wagers, gathered there and protested. When they saw the resistance, the police backed off and asked us to come to the police station instead,” said Nomani.
The activist alleged they were being harassed under pressure from a builder lobby and, though they had been charged under bailable sections, they were not being granted station bail.
DCP Northeast Bheemashankar Guled said the complaint had been filed by the BL Kashyap firm. He also pointed to a tweet by the Migrants Workers Solidarity on May 7, which posted a video of migrant workers behind a gate, asking to be sent home. “Bangalore Manyata Park construction workers caged in after @BSYBJP cancels trains under #BuilderLobby pressure,” the tweet said.
“It was fake news. It was not a cage, but simply the gate. When we reached out to the builder and asked why the workers had been caged, they said it was a misrepresentation. So, we then asked them to file a complaint,” said Guled.
“Also, when Section 144 was in force, when there is a curfew in the city, there are videos of Somany and Kaleemullah addressing a big gathering of workers and canvassing. That is also a violation of the law,” he added.
Nomani said that neither he nor any member of his organisation had anything to do with the Twitter handle, or had retweeted or liked that post.
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