The jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu came to an unfortunate end on Monday with violence breaking out in the state.
To that point, the unprecedented protests in Tamil Nadu also saw unprecedented friendship between the police and the public. There were even instances of policemen making speeches in favour of the protesters and joining them.
However, while the public was celebrating the solidarity and cooperation shown by the police, it all changed on Monday.
Several people have questioned the motives behind the sudden crackdown by the police on the protesters who had held their peace over a period of seven days. Disturbing footage of cops setting fire to vehicles and indulging in vandalism have also been doing the rounds.
The News Minute spoke to Mylapore DCP Balakrishnan who had addressed protesters at the Marina beach calmly and had won the public’s respect for the way he had handled the crowds. What went wrong on Monday?
The exhaustion is apparent in Balakrishnan’s voice.
“From the time the protests started and till the 22nd, the police was telling the people about the steps taken by the government to meet their demands using the public address system. We were very conscious about being patient in dealing with the crowds – we knew that even a small incident can have huge repercussions on a crowd of that size,” he says, summarising the police’s strategy.
“We were careful that even if there is instigation, we handle it without creating any problems. These were the instructions we’d given the force. Till the 22nd, there were no allegations against the police. People were praising us for how we were handling the situation,” he adds.
On January 21, the emergency ordinance permitting jallikattu was passed. However, most protesters refused to leave, demanding a “permanent solution”. Balakrishnan points out that the information about the emergency ordinance had been beamed by the media.
“On the 22nd, we spoke to the protesters and explained things to them, asking them to leave. But on the 22nd, there were certain extremist, radical groups which started to dominate the protests. The information we received was that these people were trying to keep the protests alive till the 26th, Republic Day, in order to create more problems. The students were peaceful but these groups were influencing the protests,” he explains.
“There was no sign of the protests coming to an end. So on the 23rd morning, we once again explained to the protesters all the steps that have been taken and requested them to leave the venue. We were forced to disperse them,” he says.
Balakrishnan then recalls the trajectory of events on Monday:
“There were a few antisocial elements in the crowd who went around spreading rumours about the police action. Some TV channels even reported that a few people had died because the police had beaten them. All this turned the people of the kuppam nearby against the police. When the protesters tried to enter Kamarajar Salai, the police tried to prevent them. But they started pelting stones at us. The police had to use minimum force to disperse the crowd… there were people throwing even petrol bombs. More than 100 cops have been injured.”
There is discernible public anger against the police currently. The force used by the police and the acts of arson captured on camera have left the public with little forgiveness for them.
Balakrishnan acknowledges that what happened was wrong.
“I did see the videos of police burning vehicles. Violence is wrong, whoever does it – whether it’s the public or the police. It’s unacceptable. There is an enquiry happening to identify who these police people were,” he says.
The video of Balakrishnan addressing the crowds at Marina has been circulating on social media. What did he feel about the pulse of the protests?
“The crowd was receptive when I spoke to them. There were some who threw bottles when I was speaking but overall, they were peaceful and the students understood what I was saying. Till the 22nd, they cooperated very well and except a few stray incidents, there was no problem,” he asserts.
As to the policemen who protested along with the public, Balakrishnan says, “It was wrong of policemen to participate in the protests when in uniform. When you wear the uniform, you can’t express your personal views.”
While the media and public have been talking about the commitment shown by the protesters who stayed overnight at protest venues, not much has been said about the invisible men and women in khaki who stood guard and did their duty. Balakrishnan is matter-of-fact in listing the difficulties they faced in those days:
“We worked for about 20-22 hours. We could barely rest. Food was arranged for us though. The crowd would stay there till 4 am every day… so we had to be there and do our duty.”
Source: The News Minute