A Ganesh Nadar watches the fourth day of protests dawn on Chennai’s Marina beach.
A people who had been broken by the currency scarcity following demonetisation, hit hard by the drought and the death of their favourite chief minister, could do nothing but look on frustrated at every development. Now, it seems, all the pending resentments have boiled over on to the sands of the Marina beach where it would refuse to cool down, and lie festering unless appeased.
What brought about this transformation of a docile people was Jallikattu.
The Tamil sport of bull-taming, which was banned by the Supreme Court in 2014 for cruelty towards bulls, has done what no political outfit could do. Mobilise the people of Tamil Nadu perhaps for the first time since the anti-Hindi agitation of the 1960s, when most of today’s participants were not even born.
It’s 5 am on the fourth day of the Marina protest, but for the cops on the arterial, scenic road there is no rest. Just as the people have made the popular beachfront their home, so have the men in khaki. They had barricaded the road so that traffic from Marina towards the north could not cross Napier bridge into Georgetown, where the secretariat is located. But those who wished to enter Marina from Napier bridge could do so. Not that at that hour anyone was coming that way.
Youngsters were bunched up, walking around. The Anna Samadhi, final resting place of the state’s immensely popular, first non-Congress chief minister was shut but strangely, the one next door, MGR memorial, was open. Small groups went in to pay their respects to the country’s first film-star turned chief minister, and his protégée, Jayalalithaa, who passed away last month and who lies interred just a few feet away.
The mobile latrines that were present the day before were not there today. So the public toilets at Marina were packed with protesters waiting to use them.
Ablutions done, refreshments were handy. A threesome in a Tempo Traveler were distributing biscuit packets to the protestors, while another family was distributing coffee from a can. As the mother poured the coffee to the sleepy crowd, her 15 year old son was giving water packets and 10 year old daughter was handing out paper cups. A banner on the coffee can said, ‘For Tamil pride, for Jallikattu’.
“My son wrote it,” said the proud mother.
A tea stall nearby was manned by a young girl who looked dead tired.
“I have been here all night, and my mom operates this stall in the day,” she explained. By her side another young lady was selling bhel puri.
“I want one bhel puri, one paani puri, one masala puri,” ordered a young man.
“How can you eat paani puri at 5 am?” asked his friend.
“It’s not for me, it’s for that guy, go ask him,” he replied.
They were a group of five friends discussing the previous day’s protest.
“This is useless and pointless, the government is ignoring us. We should go on a fast unto death,” declared one. But the others did not agree. “Let’s wait for two more days and then we will do that,” said another, carrying the day.
Some girls were walking around, discussing among themselves. “Good thing the government declared a holiday for colleges, a lots of students are here,” one of them said. Which is a fact.
While two boys were sweeping the protest site studiously, one young man was distributing toothpaste to those who asked.
At 6 am it was still dark, and the cops decided that traffic will no longer be allowed on the beach side of the road. Barricades were immediately put up and autorickshaws parked along the beach quickly moved to the other side.
It was 7 am, the morning sun could be seen crawling up on the horizon, and a young girl took up the mike. The beachfront was already crowded with thousands and the numbers would cross a lakh by noon. She started explaining Jallikattu the sport and why they were protesting. It was no longer about the sport, but about Tamil pride and Tamil rights.
“Was this a federal structure or was Tamil Nadu merely a subordinate state in the Indian Union?” was the raging debate.
On the sidelines a man reading the day’s newspaper reported that the attorney general had found a working solution to the issue. Soon he had a small crowd around him as he read out loud from the report.
Some people were still sleeping on the beachfront while others were preparing for the day ahead. Sensing that another day of protest was beginning, the cops started announcing, “Please keep off the road, stay on the beach, we have coffee for you, it’s in that Maruti van on the right. Please help yourself, we also have biscuits for you”.
A student of architecture, S Aditya said, “I came here with my college friends, no one called us. Food comes in vans at lunch time along with paper plates and is distributed to everyone here. But no one asked for it. People are distributing water packets through the day, all volunteers. The mobile toilets were also arranged by good Samaritans and not by the government. Yes, we will remain here till Jallikattu is allowed.”
A policeman could be overheard telling his colleague, “Thank God, they are disciplined, makes our work easy. It’s a good thing they did not allow politicians and actors to hijack their agitation.”
On the beach the banners were all against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and PETA the NGO, and none against the state government.
When I asked a student as to why they were not bothered about the drought but were agitating for Jallikattu, he said, “That was an act of God, this is an act of the Supreme Court.”