Chennai: On Friday, Kamarajar Road, which runs along the Marina beach, was opened for traffic on Friday after four days. What looked like a battlefield on Monday is back to normal, but slum dwellers living around the beach are yet to come out of the trauma of the violence witnessed earlier in the week.
Residents of the area and at least two independent fact finding teams said after the peaceful Jallikattu protests turned violent on 23 January, following an early morning eviction by the police, the fishing hamlets and settlements off the Marina beach were targeted by the authorities.
On 23 January, the seventh day of peaceful pro-Jallikattu protests, the Chennai city evicted people saying it was clearing the Marina for Republic Day celebrations. Roads leading to the beach were blocked; lathi-charge, stone pelting, firing of tear gas shells and arson followed.
In the next few hours, the streets around the beach resembled a war zone.
Chennai city police commissioner S. George said police tried to grab “anti-social elements" that had intruded into the protests. “We wanted a peaceful dispersion and didn’t use any force," he said on Monday.
But videos that surfaced on social media showed men and women in khaki burning autorickshaws and vehicles, barging into houses and lathi-charging fishermen and Dalit hamlets around the beach.
However, George said the video evidence was “morphed" and would be probed by the “cyber cell".
“They broke into the house, ransacked our locality and burnt the fish market. The women police verbally abused us," said a 23-year-old resident of Nadukuppam, a fishing hamlet near the beach.
On Monday, when the roads were blocked, fishermen supplied food and water using boats to the protesters near the shoreline. The residents said though they didn’t take part in the protests, they helped by providing water and other basic facilities.
A report published by an independent fact finding team led by V Vasanthi Devi, former chairperson of State Commission on Women, supports the claims of the Nadukuppam residents.
According to the report, the policemen vandalized the residential area and policewomen set fire to vehicles and the fish market. It says a few policewomen spread “a silvery powder on the fish market" which looked like a firecracker powder and then set the market on fire.
Another independent fact finding team led by social activist A. Marx also reiterated that some inflammable substance was used by the police to set the market on fire.
A woman in Rutharpuram, a Dalit settlement said, “Police behaved liked rowdies, verbally abused and violently attacked us."
“Policewomen were as abusive – physically and verbally – as the policemen and used sexist, demeaning words, entered homes, destroyed furniture, dragged innocent men, women and children out on the street and beat them up in public view," said the report by the all women team of Vasanthi Devi.
Marx and his team, observed that a pregnant woman who ran for safety after being “chased away from the Marina by the cops, fell down and had an abortion."
On Friday Tamil Nadu chief minister O.Panneerselvam, during the assembly session, said “anti-nationals" had intruded in the peaceful protests. “Some protesters carried pictures of Osama bin Laden during Jallikattu protests," he claimed.
He said: “142 cops and 138 protesters were injured during the violence in Chennai." So far 66 cases have been filed and 215 arrested in Chennai.
Panneerselvam also said that as opposition parties and media have raised complaints that police indulged in violence, “an enquiry will be set up and proper action will be taken."