“My grandfather fought against the British. My father struggled to make money for himself. I fight for a job. You know what my children will fight for? Do you?”
The youngster with the microphone under G.U. Pope’s statue on Marina Beach had his audience in thrall. No one replied, willing him to answer for them. “They will fight for their tradition!” he said, the crowd exploding into applause.
Yet, a few minutes later, Anto was walking away to a different spot. He could have stuck around, whipped his audience into a frenzy. “Someone else always takes over. I stick to my group of 5-6 friends and move around,” said the M. Sc student of D.G. Vaishnav College.
Several such Antos are choc-a-bloc on Kamarajar Promenade. Directing traffic, holding hands to make sure passers-by are not inconvenienced and going out of their way to be courteous. Conspiracy theories — mostly around PETA — abound, but there was legitimate, white-hot anger against those in positions of power.
Even the press was not spared. “Media, media: Modi unga Daddy aa ?” went a chant.
Anti-establishment chants roar
Older women and men sat around and chanted along as a group of youngsters wrote impromptu protest couplets and performed them. The Prime Minister and Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam remained their main target. BJP state president Tamilisai Soundararajan’s eternal hope did not go unnoticed, either. “Probably such promises kept us from protesting on such a scale last year as we hoped Jallikattu would actually take place,” said Anto.
“Let’s not forget [Union Minister] Pon. Radhakrishnan slept after promising us so much,” said I. Prawin, a student of Pachaiyappa’s College. He was referring to a viral WhatsApp forward of the picture of Mr. Radhakrishnan allegedly dozing off inside the Lok Sabha. Prawin had just performed a song in front of Thiruvalluar’s statue. “I composed it,” he said adding: “I call it Jallikattu Singam . I keep walking up and down, singing it at any mic on offer.”
In some sense, the protest at Marina is a fierce reclamation of public space. “I like to think of this as a combined protest. People were already inconvenienced by demonetisation and this has given them a chance to voice their anger,” said V. Prakash, a student of Alpha College. Prakash had his face painted to resemble a bull. He was on his way to the heart of the protest, in front of Vivekananda House, to perform a street play. Prakash said he has been organising such events since the Pongal last year.
Black was their colour- shirts, flags and even a piece of cloth hanging from the outstretched hand of a Subramania Bharati statue - and countless were their numbers, despite the announcement about the ordinance earlier in the day.
On the beach opposite the Vivekanandar Illam, trained dancers as well as onlookers broke into dance. A group dug a hole in the beach and poured the contents of a half-litre bottle of Pepsi into it: the result of misinformation that the company supports PETA.
The protesters had also devised a passive-aggressive way of controlling the crowd. " Okkaaru, okkaaru! Tamizhan nna okkaaru , (If you are a Tamil, sit down!)" went the chant when people block others' view.
The political theatre that Marina had come to become also had installations in the form of symbolic funerals, mainly for the Prime Minister and Chief Minister.
"The Prime Minister could have done something to solve this. Instead, he pretends like he does not understand our problems," said Kishore Kumar, who said he was a student of a Madras University-affiliated college. Kumar and I. Divakar had created sand mounds indicating faux burial sites for the PM, CM and AIADMK General Secretary V.K. Sasikala.
Eyeing a ‘permanent’ solution
Protesters insisted the events of Friday morning does not mean the movement will die down. “Ordinances are useful for only six months. Once the Budget session of Parliament begins, this will be forgotten. We need to somehow get it into the Constitution so that it remains out of the Supreme Court’s purview. Isn’t that Schedule 19?” asked V. Gomathi, who teaches at Rasi College.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is not over till a bull runs on to the ring. I want that sight of a man hanging on to its hump before I can leave Marina,” said Prawin.