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Tamil Nadu's history of protests: From jallikattu to Cauvery and Sterlite, state has been fertile ground for dissent

When the police in Tamil Nadu's Tuticorin town opened fire on protesters on Tuesday, killing nine persons and wounding over 50, it brought to a bloody head months of protests that had been raging in the coastal Tamil Nadu town.

Thousands of protesters hit the streets on Tuesday, hurling stones and setting government vehicles and public property on fire. The agitators went on the rampage in the town, which is about 600 kilometres from the state capital of Chennai.

Police said nearly 5,000 protesters gathered near a local church and insisted on taking a out a rally to the district collectorate after they were denied permission to march to the copper smelter plant. Initial pushing and shoving soon led to violent clashes, after agitated locals began hurling stones at police and overturned a vehicle. Security personnel used batons and burst teargas shells to break up the protest.

 Tamil Nadus history of protests: From jallikattu to Cauvery and Sterlite, state has been fertile ground for dissent

Over one lakh people were said to have participated in the jallikattu protests last year in Chennai. PTI

Many were injured in stone-pelting by the agitators, who also set some vehicles on fire. Windscreens of some government cars were smashed and bank premises were attacked by the rampaging mobs. And as the violence spiralled, police opened fire.

It was only the latest in a series of violent protests that have broken out in the state in recent months. In fact, as reported by The Hindu, Tamil Nadu is the state with the most recorded protests in the country.

As per data for the year 2015, Tamil Nadu reported 20,450 agitations, way ahead of second-placed Punjab (13,089). The report said that while public dissatisfaction regarding inadequate healthcare, education, transport, drinking water and public distribution system was the key cause of such a large number of protests, it could also be on account of the police being more liberal when it comes to according permission to agitations. The higher figures could be on account of both reasons, The Hindu said.

Earlier this month, as the Indian Premier League (IPL) returned to Chennai after a gap of two years, fans were ecstatic. Except their joy was to be short-lived. Delays in the formation of the Cauvery Management Board meant political parties and fringe groups took our protests demanding cancellation or postponement of all seven IPL matches in Chennai till the Centre constitutes the board.

As reported by NDTV, over 4,000 people were at the MA Chidambaram stadium in Chennai for the Super Kings' first IPL match at home in over two years on 10 April, 2018.

There were also reports suggesting cricket fans wearing team jerseys were being roughed up by the protesters and prevented from attending the match. Empty stadiums for the IPL, it was believed, would attract the attention of officials and send a strong message across.

Even Rajinikanth waded into the debate, saying the decision to host matches in Chennai was an "embarrassment". The veteran actor, who recently announced his intention to join politics, was joined by fellow actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan as well as a host of other celebrities.

The issue of Cauvery water has often flared tensions across the state, especially since rainfall has often been deficient. Last month, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Governor Banwarilal Purohit, Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, deputy chief minister O Panneerselvam and representatives of several countries attended the defence expo, protesters held up black flags and black balloons to protest delays in formation of the Cauvery board.

The protests, coupled with the slogan "Go Back Modi" or the hashtag #GoBackModi on Twitter, forced the prime minister to keep away from roads and rely on a chopper instead to carry out his engagements.

But these protests paled in comparison to the ones taking place in New Delhi by drought-hit farmers. The farmers came up with a series of innovative protests, including stripping, posing with dead rats, eating grass, drinking urine, beating themselves with chappals, etc. to highlight their plight.

They sat down at Jantar Mantar half-naked with a begging bowl hung around their neck and human skulls (belonging to their near and dear ones who died of hunger or depression due to severe drought in the last few months), in order to give out a stark statement about their own impending fate.

But that was not all. Five of the farmers even cut their wrists live on television to express their distress; three of them fully stripped, again live on television, to register their disenchantment when senior officials of the Prime Minister's Office refused to meet them. In Trichy district, farmers buried themselves in the soil.

But these protests would all be dwarfed in scale and magnitude by the jallikattu protests that rocked Chennai's Marina Beach in January last year. After the Supreme Court banned the Pongal sport of jallikattu on grounds of animal cruelty, thousands thronged the beach to demand a quick rollback of the order.

The common complaint among the protesters was that the Supreme Court had insulted Tamil culture by disallowing jallikattu. Several schools and colleges across Tamil Nadu remained shut for days on end, while even employees from IT companies joined in solidarity. Lawyers in Namakkal district also announced a boycott of courts. Hundreds of college students sat through the night at the Marina Beach. After the police disconnected the power supply to the Marina Beach, the young crowd used mobile phone lights at night.

However, despite there being near unanimous support for the protest against the ban on jallikattu, the movement remained apolitical. Protesters reportedly refused to meet politicians who came to the beach, while support for the movement spread through social media and word of mouth. The protest was entirely impromptu.

While those braving the heat initially found getting food difficult, after appeals for food were sent out through social media, food packets started arriving along with volunteers.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: May 23, 2018 10:16:29 IST