Dark clouds of smoke appeared ominously just before noon as news spread that the protestors against the ban imposed on the bull-taming sport jallikattu in Chennai had set fire to a police station
Huge clouds of smoke could be seen from Marina beach, the site of peaceful protests for the last few days. It turned out that vehicles outside the Ice House police station in Tiruvallikeni had been set on fire.
While the extent of the damage could not be ascertained, it was estimated that about 20 vehicles, including stolen and recovered motor-cycles, as well as a police car and an auto were burnt down in the fire.
The cause of the fire remained unclear and it was not clear who was responsible for it.
But the trouble started earlier on Monday morning when a huge contingent of police descended on the beach at about 5 am.
Around 6.30 am , hundreds of jallikattu supporters on Chennai’s Marina beach began running towards the waters for safety. The police had surrounded the crowd in an attempt to evict the large group protesting opposite Vivekananda House.
This was the spot where protestors had first gathered on Marina beach eight days ago. But over the week, the protest against the sport had snowballed into a much larger agitation against a number of issues such as the Cauvery dispute, exploitation by multinational corporations, the distress of Tamil Nadu fishermen being arrested for fishing in Sri Lankan waters and much more.
The simmering distrust and discontent with the present state and central government was striking. At 6 am in the morning, some of the protestors opposite Vivekananda House began to read out the ordinance allowing jallikattu to the crowd. The Chennai Commissioner of Police had given this paper to the protesters, asking them to leave since the issue had been resolved.
But this ordinance did not satisfy the protesters. “There was no signature on the paper, and no way to show that it was authentic,” said M Naveen, a health care professional who has been at the protest from the first day onwards. “We said we would not accept the ordinance without consulting our lawyers but the police did not give us time. While we were protesting, the police began to hit at the crowd with lathis and everyone ran towards the water. Some women and children even fell inside it.”
Support from fisherfolk
Earlier, the group of protesters opposite Vivekananda Nilayam had attracted the largest crowd and had carried out the protest in an organised way. Over the past week, food, water, even glucose and balms for headaches were being distributed among the protesters. But now, the scattered crowd were left trying to regroup by the waters.
“We have to gather our volunteers once again and make arrangements for microphones, food and water,” said Naveen. “But it will be difficult now that the police have gathered here.
After being charged at, many protesters called up their friends and family asking them to come to the beach to support them. The fisherfolk from the nearby fishing villages came out in large numbers after hearing the news.
“The fisherfolk are treating us like their children,” said Jonathan David, another protestor.
Several boats with black flags were docked along the shore where the protesters had gathered.
“Nothing will happen to anyone now that we are here,” said Kasiamma, a fisherwoman. “Why are they charging at peaceful protestors, most of whom are college kids? Now all the fisherfolk from every village will come here to support. The police won’t be allowed to touch anyone.”
Not giving up
After the initial charge, the police blocked the passage of vehicles onto Kamarajar salai, which runs along the Marina Beach. At 11 am, the situation was at a standstill, but the protestors’ anger at the police was mounting. They sat on the sands of the beach, waiting. Everytime the crowd was on the verge of turning unruly, some volunteers pacified them.
“Police and media will tell you the entire issue has been solved,” yelled a young woman to a group of fisherfolk from the nearby village. “But it isn’t. Don’t listen to them. I am educated and telling you this. Until the PCA [Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] Act is ammended, we are not going to leave. This may take a week, but we aren’t going anywhere.”