Chennai: The streets around Chennai resembled a battle field—splattered with blood, scattered stones, burnt tyres and vehicles— on Tuesday, a day after violence was unleashed as police used batons and tear gas to rein in the crowd of Jallikattu supporters.
Seven days of massive protests across Tamil Nadu to lift the ban on Jallikattu reached an anti-climax on Monday.
By Monday evening the state assembly unanimously passed the bill giving a legal sanctity to the bull-taming sport, but by then the damage was done.
The police action over Jallikattu protests on Monday raises more questions than answers: why force was used when the issue was nearing climax?
Why didn’t the representatives of the government address the crowd when the protestors were demanding an explanation on the legalities behind the Jallikattu issue?
“We saw an unusual number of police nearing the Marina Beach early on Monday morning and they forcefully tried to evict us. As they came in more than a thousand of us formed a human chain near the sea,” said a student who was at the spot during the unrest. They were soon joined by fisherfolks.
Later, reports claimed that a fish market in Nadukuppam, a fishing hamlet, was burnt down by police.
In the next few hours, as people tried to reach the Marina Beach—the epicentre of the week-long protests— the streets leading to the seashore looked like a war zone— arson and violence, stone pelting and billowing smoke from a police station near the beach.
Pushpa, a fruit vendor in Triplicane, said that her roadside shop was damaged by the police. “They overturned the vehicles and carts, when nothing actually was happening here,” she claimed.
S. George, Chennai city police commissioner, however, rubbished the claims. “We wanted a peaceful dispersion and didn’t use any force on the crowd. Some anti-social elements intervened,” he said.
George added that the students did not indulge in violence.
But the videos that were circulated in social media showed a different story, especially a live coverage by News 18 Tamil channel showed a man in khaki setting ablaze an auto-rickshaw in Chennai.
Similar incidents surfaced in Coimbatore, Madurai and other districts. “A policeman damaged a vehicle that was parked,” said a shopkeeper in Gandhipuram, Coimbatore.
While talking to the reporters on Monday night, George said video was “morphed” and would be “probed by the cyber cell”.
As violence spread, most of the roads, including the Old Mahabalipuram Road— Chennai’s IT corridor— were blocked by the protesters.
“When the students were calmly waiting to see what decision the assembly takes, why preempt with police action?” actor Kamal Haasan tweeted.
“Trying to solve the issue through police force is condemnable, when it should have been solved through talks with the youngsters who were protesting peacefully,” said M.K. Stalin, leader of opposition and working president of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the main opposition party in Tamil Nadu.
As the students and other protestors have been demanding an explanation on the Jallikattu law over the last few days, there were no representatives from the government to clarify the legalities till Monday evening. As a special session was convened by the assembly by Monday evening to pass the bill, retired justice D. Hariparanthaman—a popular judge—briefed on the content of the ordinance to the thousands gathered on the beach. Many left the Marina Beach after the law was passed in the assembly. But few hundreds continue to remain near the sea on Tuesday morning.
Though the protests were called off, Vadapalani in Chennai continued to witness rampage late on Monday evening, “Everything had come to a halt. But the police lathi-charged the two wheeler riders and started to topple the parked vehicles,” said N. Anwar, a taxi driver.
George said that they have arrested 40 people who indulged in violence in Chennai. At least 51 police vehicles were damaged, he said.
The opposition parties have sought a judicial probe into the violence that erupted in the state.