Violence broke out early on Monday as police sought to remove protesters occupying landmarks in many cities in Tamil Nadu seeking a “permanent solution” to the holding of jallikattu, the annual bull-taming festival.
As a large posse of policemen tried to clear the Marina beach in Chennai ahead of the Republic Day celebrations, the week-long protest that was hitherto apolitical and peaceful took an ugly turn with mobs indulging in stone-throwing and arson.
Police said ‘anti-social elements’ crept into the protests and instigated vulnerable youth to indulge in violence. Even as the State Assembly passed the Bill on jallikattu, some of the protesters were in no mood to disperse.
On the Marina Beach, a few hundred youths holding black flags gathered at the shoreline and threatened to enter the sea if police advanced towards them.
Several police and public vehicles were torched or damaged in Chennai and other cities. Motorcycles parked in front of the Ice House police station here were set on fire by a mob. Since the main entrance was engulfed in flames, about half-a-dozen police personnel were rescued from the rear entry.
A video aired by the News 18 channel, apparently featuring policemen torching vehicles on Radhakrishnan Salai, went viral later in the day.
Police opened fire in the air to disperse protesters at Vadapalani and Valasaravakkam at night. Two fire tenders were torched, one in Vadapalani and another in Vyasarpadi.
Senior police officials met protesters across the State early on Monday and persuaded them to disperse after explaining the steps taken by the State for conducting jallikattu. While most students were convinced and left the venue, some youth refused to budge.
At a special sitting, the Assembly unanimously passed the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Tamil Nadu Amendment) Bill, 2017. The legislation seeks to amend certain Sections of the Central Act to ensure that bulls are not barred from being used for the rural sport. The Bill is to replace an ordinance.
Vested interests entered the stir, say activists
Representatives of jallikattu agitators, including actor Raghava Lawrence, film director Gowthaman and Abdul Kalam Vision India Movement mentor V. Ponraj, who were engaged in talks with the police for several hours on Monday, announced that they had urged the students to withdraw the protests. However, ‘vested interests’ had entered the stir and were making unjust demands, they said.
Violence erupted in areas abutting the Marina Beach after police prevented youth of nearby slums from entering the scene. Police fired tear gas shells and used batons to chase away protesters who threw bricks and stones at them. Normal life came to a standstill in Chennai around noon following incidents of arson and road blockade. After TV channels aired visuals of unrest, schools were closed and parents asked to take their children home.
“As the students dispersed, we put up barricades preventing youth instigated by some anti-social elements from entering the Marina Beach. They started attacking the police, blocking traffic and sending alarming messages on social media. Police exercised the utmost restraint,” Chennai Police Commissioner S. George told The Hindu.
Violence was also witnessed at Alanganallur in Madurai where there was disagreement over the village committee’s decision to organise jallikattu and withdraw the protest. Police persuaded protesters in Coimbatore, Erode, Salem, Madurai and Tiruchi to disperse and used mild force where there was resistance.