The eight Loyola boys were arrested and taken to Royapettah hospital

A hunger strike by eight students of Loyola College against alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka ended here on Monday, when the police took them into custody. The action, however, sparked protests by students of nearly nine colleges in the city who condemned the arrest of the students who were protesting peacefully.

The six students of Loyola College, who began the fast on their campus on Friday, were later joined by two others. A protest was also staged by All India Catholic University Federation on the same day. The venue of the fast shifted to Koyambedu on Saturday. Three of the protesters are from Chennai and the rest from Karaikal, Tiruvannamalai, Dindigul and Tuticorin, and stay in hostels here.

The Loyola College management, while expressing solidarity with the students, appealed to them to give up the fast and take up the issue in a different way.

The protests had snowballed over the past couple of days. The protesters had received support from leaders such as MDMK chief Vaiko and CPI national secretary D. Raja. DMK chief M. Karunanidhi had urged the students to withdraw the fast and resort to democratic forms of protest. However, on Sunday afternoon, when former TNCC president K. V. Thangkabalu reached the venue, some students shouted slogans and there was a minor altercation. The students said they had insisted from the beginning that they did not want Congress leaders at the venue except those from the Centre. “We wanted to negotiate with them,” said a protester.

A few hours later, around 2. 30 a.m. on Monday, nearly 200 policemen came to the venue with two ambulances.

“We formed a human chain but the police pushed us into the ambulance and drove us off,” said a student. Nearly 50 protesters were taken to a community hall in Arumbakkam and released on Monday morning.

At Royapettah Hospital, where the fasting students were admitted, tension prevailed as police stopped parents and other students from meeting them.

“We were told that our children have no health problems but we can meet them only after 2 p.m. My son has not eaten anything for the past three days but since he was doing good for our people, I did not stop him,” said Kalaiselvi, a mother of a protester on hunger strike.  

Scores of students from Presidency College, Government Nandanam Arts College, Pachaiyappa’s College, Dhanish Ahmed College of Engineering, Vivekananda College among others gathered at the hospital to support the protesters. There were protests in many of these colleges, while groups of students sat on hunger strike at Dr. Ambedkar Law College and Pachiyappa’s College.

At 5 p.m., the admitted students were discharged from the hospital and taken to their college campus where they declared an end to their protest. “We want it to be a collective movement and now that other colleges are also with us, we will look for more substantial ways of making an impact,” said a protestor.

Police officials said they arrested the students when the protest took a violent turn during Mr. Thangkabalu’s visit to the venue.

The protesters’ demands include an international war crimes probe against Sri Lanka, referendum on Tamil Eelam and the closing of the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commission here. Henry Jerome, professor, Loyola College, said the protests were an attempt by students to convince the Central government and students from other colleges. There was no bias to the movement, and the students did not allow political parties to hijack it.”

The DMK-backed TESO has given a strike call for Tuesday. “We will continue our protest after Tuesday because we do not want to be seen as supporting any party-sponsored strike,” said Selvaraj, a student from Presidency College.

More In: Chennai