The crowd at Chennai’s Marina beach was unprecedented, and the numbers showed no sign of dwindling as the night progressed.
For the second consecutive night, pro-jallikattu protesters were gathered in thousands to demand that the ban on the bull taming sport be lifted. Drum beats filled the air, and for many youngsters, the preferred medium of lodging their protest was dance.
While the usual idea of a protest this large might include a stage erected at a prime location, and a leader or leaders making speeches through the day, Marina had no such signs of a centralised agitation this time around. Indeed, there were thousands of people at the beach – but most of them were huddled in small and medium sized groups, each group chanting slogans at its own pace.
And then there was the floating population. Volunteers who were distributing water and food to the protesters, bikers who did rounds of the beach road carrying banners and posters, musicians who were keeping up the morale of the people, reporters who were trying to capture the mood of the crowd, and of course roving agitators and newcomers, who were trying to work their way around the beach and not miss out on anything.
Atthar Ahmed has been helping with the traffic management on the beach road since Wednesday evening. It was his second night at the Marina, and according to him, the crowd had multiplied in the matter of a day.
“There are five times as many people as there were yesterday, and I’ve been volunteering for three days now. There are no leaders for this campaign, there is no organisation backing us. This is totally spontaneous, and the only reason I’m here is because I want to be a part of it,” said Atthar.
Santosh, an IT employee from Chennai, is also helping with the traffic. Wednesday was his first night of protest. “I’m planning to stay the night,” he said.
Many other volunteers at the Marina were distributing water and biscuits to those gathered at the beach. While several people have offered to provide food and water on social media, there isn’t any branding of any NGO, company or other organisation, at least outwardly.
In fact, a large percentage of the crowd is students from colleges in and around Chennai, and for them, this is an opportunity to show their Tamil pride, and lend their voice for an issue that resonates strongly with them.
Mehmood and Mubarak, former students of Madras University, were also among those who wanted to be counted in the fight for jallikattu. “Around 80% of the crowd is students, and we’re here to support them,” they said.
While the demographic was mostly young men – women weren’t completely missing or invisible. In fact in several groups, women, young and old, led the sloganeering.
Shiva Shankari, a resident of Velachery, said she was at the protest because she felt inspired and encouraged by the early protesters. “Our Tamil culture does not allow women to be outside so late at night. But this is a cause for which all of us have come to lend our support even at such late hours,” she said.
Shankari, her husband and friends were planning to stay for a few hours into the night. When asked about whether her work would get affected by the protests, she was quick to add that this, too, is important work for them.
While the situation is peaceful, many of the agitators are angry at what they see as the apparent inaction of the government. Even as Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O. Paneerselvam gets set to meet Prime Minister Modi, and has requested the protesters to call of their agitation, this simply doesn’t cut it for many of the youngsters.
One of the protesters said, “Instead of going to Delhi, our political leaders could have come to Marina and addressed us. That would have told us that they support this movement.”
Thursday marks the third day of widespread protests against the ban on jallikattu in the state. The agitation started in the wee hours of Tuesday, after the police arrested over 200 people from Madurai’s Alanganallur for planning a jallikattu event.
Celebrities and politicians have been voicing their support for the movement for the past 48 hours. As the number of protesters out on the streets of Tamil Nadu grows, the Chief Minister has planned a meeting with PM Modi for Thursday morning.
Source: The News Minute