- NL Sena
A week-long non-violent protest around Jallikattu suddenly turned violent.
Pictures courtesy: TS Sudhir
They walked on the path shown by Mahatma Gandhi for six days. On the seventh day of the Jallikattu protest, the protesters spoke a different language – with stones. The police replied in kind, with lathi charges and tear gas shelling. Vehicles set on fire outside Ice House police station completed the picture of a protest gone horribly wrong.
Vehicles near Ice House police station, after they were set on fire.
Let us try and examine what happened to cause this once non-violent protest to change colours.
One, the decision of the Alanganallur villagers not to conduct the Jallikattu despite the Chief Minister’s presence in Madurai to inaugurate the event. That a village of a few thousand could publicly insult the state government did not go down very well. Particularly since O Panneerselvam was seen as having walked the extra mile to get an ordinance on Jallikattu issued at breakneck speed.
The state, despite Panneerselvam’s non-fussy and calm demeanor, was not amused. The decision was taken to flush out the Marina beach area, which had been taken over by the 50000-odd protesters for the past few days. All roads and lanes leading to the beach were blocked for the police to carry out the operation.
The crack of dawn saw a sea of khaki moving in and asking the protesters to leave. They did not, pointing out that the ordinance issued neither had a signature nor a seal. That’s when force was used and all hell broke loose.
There are two differing versions of what exactly happened at the Marina. The police claim they did not use lathis because they did not want to send across the wrong signal. The protesters, however, alleged that they were assaulted and even women and children were attacked. One student I met claimed his shoulder had been fractured in the melee. By about 8:30am, 5,000 of the 7,000-odd protesters who were at the Marina were evicted. The rest moved towards the sea and stayed put, threatening to get into the sea if the police moved in.
Emotions were clearly running high. The protesting youth, smarting under the police crackdown, ran into the city. The fact that this agitation has been a leaderless one meant that when pressure was applied, it cracked. There was no one to take charge and bring things under control. By the time actors Raghava Lawrence and RJ Balaji appealed for calm, it was too late. What followed was an unfortunate series of events in the lane adjoining Vivekananda Centre, facing the Marina.
Till Sunday, the police and the protesters had behaved as friends. On Monday, they turned sworn enemies. Protesters started pelting stones and the police, angry at the injuries sustained by head constable R Ananthakumar, decided to mete out force.
In one stroke, Chennai having set the bar with a non-violent protest, found its reputation charred.
The OB van of Thanthi TV that was attacked by the Jallikattu protestors.
No one knows if students were at the forefront of the violent protest. The Ice House road is known to be a trouble spot, according to police officers and it is quite possible that miscreants could have taken on the cops in the garb of protesters. Only when video footage is analysed would the police know what actually happened.
But what today has done is to undo all the hard work of the week gone by. With ugly violence of this sort unleashed, putting the city on tenterhooks, the support for the demand for Jallikattu has dipped. The feeling on the ground is that the protesters were taking things a bit too far, and putting up unrealistic demands.
The police and the political establishment say intel reports indicated anti-nationals had infiltrated the protest which is why they had to move in. The jury is out on how fair the allegation is. Yes, there were a number of anti-Modi posters and slogans. There were emotional slogans of secession but that is par for the course in a protest of this kind and scale. There were people holding posters with images of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam chief Prabhakaran, but they were highlighting him as a Tamil hero.
It is quite evident that the situation is getting out of hand. By afternoon, just about every main road in Chennai was blocked with traffic. People had come out on the road, squatting and blocking traffic. Youth were seen climbing on top of buses and registering their protest. Women were there in large numbers as well.
Chennai is now a tinderbox. It is a situation that is being exploited by unlawful elements to make it far worse. The political leadership, seen as weak, has not been able to be seen as effective. The police are doing what they know best, which is to crack the whip. It is for Panneerselvam to rise up to the occasion and behave like a leader who can be trusted.
At this point in time, there are no winners and losers in this battle that has raged for Jallikattu for over a week. Chennai and Tamil Nadu have lost.