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In search of a ‘Dharna Chowk’ in Hyderabad

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-05-2017 Yunus Y. Lasania

Hyderabad: Political parties, activists and various organizations are looking for a place to protest in Hyderabad, to conduct large gatherings or rallies, with the city police denying access to ‘Dharna Chowk’, the unofficial venue for staging protests for almost two decades, for nearly two months now.

Huge tents, a dais, blaring loudspeakers have been a common sight at all political rallies and student protests at ‘Dharna Chowk’, an open space opposite Indira Park, close to the state secretariat and legislative assembly buildings in central Hyderabad.

The place has no trace of protests now and has turned into an ad-hoc car parking space for the NTR stadium behind it.

While the state government has identified alternative locations, all nearly 20 km from the city, civil organisations are not happy with the decision.

K. Sajaya from Caring People’s Collective (CPC) said that ‘Dharna Chowk’ was a place from where people or organisations could communicate their demands to the government, owing to the venue’s proximity to the state secretariat and legislative assembly buildings.

“This was where we have been staging protests from the last 20 years,” said Sajaya.

‘Dharna Chowk is also where marginalized communities gathered to voice their demands.

“One of the major LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Queer) pride marches in the last few years was held there,” Moses Tulasi, a LGBTQ group member said.

Various organisations have now come together and have been on a relay hunger strike from the last 20 days in protest at the local Communist Party of India (CPI) office.

According to data from the central zone police, about 1,500 permissions for protests were given in 2016.

Most Indian cities have their own protest spaces. In Bengaluru, protesters gather at the Freedom park, a relatively large-sized open field behind the erstwhile central jail. Similarly, the footpath in front of the state secretariat in Trivandrum, Kerala and Marina beach in Chennai have also been perpetual protest venues.

The ‘Dharna Chowk’ issue might snowball into a major political showdown with the Telangana Joint Action Committee (TJAC), Left parties and other social organisations having given a call to ‘Occupy Dharna Chowk’ on 15 May, when they will march to the site.

TJAC chairman and former professor of Osmania University M. Kodandaram said that before ‘Dharna Chowk’ came into existence in the early 1990s, protests were held in front of the Secretariat.

“Then give us permission to protest there again. There is no point in protesting far away from the city,” he said.

However, police officers said that anyone violating the rules will be taken into custody.

‘Dharna Chowk’ as such is not a notified place for protests, and permissions were given based on the law and order situation, said Joel Davis, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP), central zone.

Four new spaces have been identified at Gandimaisamma, Shamshabad, Pratapsingaram and Jawaharnagar, which are all about 20 km away from Hyderabad.

Protests opposite Indira Park were causing inconvenience to nearby residents, who often complained, said the police.

“There are currently two petitions filed by nearby residents, which are pending in the High Court, to shift ‘Dharna Chowk,” said a senior police official, who didn’t wish to be named.

A senior Congress leader and former Rajya Sabha MP from the city, V. Hanumantha Rao, also approached the high court in April asking it to allow protests to take place at ‘Dharna Chowk’.

Officials from the Greater Hyderabad Municipal corporation (GHMC) and the Municipal Administration department of Telangana refused to comment.

A Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader, who is in charge of the GHMC area in Hyderabad, and chief minister’s daughter K. Kavitha, who is the Nizamabad MP from TRS, refused to comment.

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