The Big Story: Protesting for livelihood

The Cauvery river water dispute has led to another major churning in Tamil Nadu. Following a favourable verdict from the Supreme Court in February, the state was hopeful that the century-old dispute would finally draw to a close and water will flow to the fields in the Cauvery basin. However, politics has derailed this hope.

The Centre has used all sorts of arguments to delay the implementation of the Supreme Court order, which directed it to form a scheme according to the Cauvery tribunal award to implement the water-sharing formula. In its affidavit asking for more time, the Centre has cited the Karnataka Assembly elections due on May 12 and claimed implementing the scheme before the state elections could lead to law and order problems. This affidavit was part of a clarificatory application the Union government moved last week seeking to know what the Supreme Court meant by a “scheme” in its February order.

On Monday, the Supreme Court slammed the Centre for delaying implementation of its order and asked the government to file a draft scheme before it by May 3. The Tamil Nadu government approached the Supreme Court with a contempt of court petition last week, asking for action against the Centre that had failed to respect the order.

In the meantime, the public unrest in Tamil Nadu has worsened. Many spontaneous protests have erupted across the state demanding Cauvery water. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader MK Stalin is currently on a tour through the Cauvery delta, seeking to mobilise people.

Over the last few days, there has been a social media campaign asking people to register their protest at Indian Premier League cricket matches to be held in Chennai. At first, political parties demanded that the matches be shifted out of Chennai respecting the sentiments of people, who are not in a mood for entertainment when their livelihood is at stake. Since this demand was turned down by the IPL management, people are being asked to turn up for the matches at the Chepauk stadium wearing either black clothes or black badges as a show of protest. However, the state government seems to be in no mood to allow a popular protest, given the experience of the Jallikattu protests Chennai witnessed in January 2017. The ground has turned into a police fortress, with reports suggesting that those wearing black could be denied entry.

It has become a common argument in India that sports and politics should not be mixed. This argument assumes that sports functions in a vacuum and not in the same society that is facing the problems of degrading rights and livelihood.

Across the world, sporting events have been used by people to make strong statements against abuse of rights. In the 1960s, boxer Muhammad Ali used his stardom and the boxing stage to protest against the war in Vietnam. Since 2016, African-American stars of the National Football League in the United States have been raising their voices against racial discrimination by kneeling down to the national anthem rather than standing up. In many places, the crowd too have copied these gestures.

It is the right of the people to choose the mode of protest. As long as the method used is non-violent and within the framework of the law, the governments should keep away from dictating what people should do in specific spaces. It would also be the smart thing to do for the government as trying to clamp down on peaceful protests could lead to a more violent manifestation of the simmering anger.

The Big Scroll

Cauvery or cricket: What do CSK fans feel about calls to shift IPL matches out of Chennai?


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