The end of a protest

January 25, 2017 12:04 am | Updated December 04, 2021 10:46 pm IST

Everybody loves a good protest — an orderly, self-limiting protest at iconic landmarks organised with state sanction and police protection. But what began as a people’s protest on Chennai’s Marina beach against the ban on jallikattu quickly descended into chaos and confusion when the protesters stood their ground even after the government came up with a practical, legislative solution to the judiciary-imposed prohibition of the annual bull-taming ritual. As the police resorted to force, violence broke out in several parts of Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately, some in the police not only used excessive force but also tried to match the rioters in lawlessness by attacking two-wheelers and setting fire to autorickshaws. Only later in the day did the authorities try to use rational arguments by taking the help of a retired judge and a group of lawyers to persuade the protesters to vacate the Marina where the Republic Day parade is scheduled to be held. Clearly, the government was slow to react, relying more on hope and good fortune than on facts and ground reports. And when it did, it acted as if the agitation was a case of breakdown of law and order. Many among those who had taken the lead in the protests gave a call for withdrawal of the agitation, but by this time the movement had acquired a life of its own. No one thing would have pleased what had become a large, amorphous crowd of several groups of people with very different agenda items: jallikattu was by now no more than a loose binding thread.

For days the Marina had been the haunt of people of all hues. Those owing allegiance to Hindutva saw the ban as an attack on cultural rituals and seemed to make common cause with those from minority communities who felt threatened by the BJP-led government at the Centre. Conservatives sensed a judicial overreach on civil issues and shouted the same slogans as left-wingers who imagined the upsurge to be a people’s uprising against authoritarianism. AIADMK members who tried to showcase the protest as a rebuff to a domineering Centre stood not too far from DMK loyalists who wanted to use the opportunity to paint the State government as inept. Not surprisingly, many of these people wanted the protest to go on, no matter what. The legislation addressed only the symptoms of their anger, not its underlying cause. The government and its police force must take the blame for misreading the mood and mishandling a volatile situation and putting a whole State through an entire day of anger and anguish.

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