Across Chennai, protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act continued all week as students gathered to show solidarity with their counterparts in the North
Mint is running a series on what students across Indian campuses have to say on the issue
Chennai: Protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act spread across Chennai over the past week, with students of several colleges demonstrating on campuses and on the streets. On Monday, a day after the crackdown in Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi, about 150 students of IIT-Madras organized a march inside their campus.
“It was an immediate reaction to what happened in Delhi. We knew we had to show our solidarity," said Anil Varghese, a 26-year-old PhD student of the institute.
Azhar Moideen, a student of IIT-M’s humanities course, said the institute did not allow the spirit of activism and dissent to flourish inside the campus. “Even during the Emergency, the IITs didn’t participate much," he said. “But things are slowly changing. With reservation, we are seeing students from different social and economic classes coming together, and more of us are asking questions."
On Tuesday, 100 students from various colleges, including IIT-M, in Chennai hit the streets. On Wednesday, the city police, state government and college administrations barricaded gates and posted at least 200 cops outside University of Madras, where students were gathering. By the evening, the police had withdrawn permission for a planned protest, which was part of a nationwide agitation.
On Thursday, the city responded.
Police permission or the lack of it did not deter at least 2,000 people from gathering at Valluvar Kottam, a monument built in the 1970s in memory of Tamil poet Thiruvalluvar.
“The Act will destroy the secular nature of the country. If the government is discriminating against Muslims today, it can happen to other minorities, too," said Lijo Kaavya, a second-year student of English literature at Ethiraj College. “This Act has to be scrapped. We will use social media to reach out to as many people as possible," said Kaavya’s classmate Harini J.T, adding that a majority of her classmates were against the Act.
Slogans of Hindu-Muslim unity and student power echoed as police stood behind barricades, watching the protestors. “There is no permission for the protest, and these people are courting arrest," said a policeman, who did not want to be named. “We are waiting for orders from higher officials."
The orders never came as the police decided to “respect sentiments". Citing a possible “threat to law and order", Chennai city police commissioner A.K. Viswanathan had denied permission late on Wednesday. On Thursday, however, he was quoted by The Times of India as saying: “We didn’t give permission for the protest. As many started gathering at the venue since morning, respecting their sentiments, we didn’t evacuate them. We allowed the protesters to continue with their protest..."
On Friday, however, Chennai police booked 600 members of 41 organizations who planned Thursday’s protests for unlawful assembly. “The cases are against office bearers and others. Whenever protests take place without permission, cases are registered," Viswanathan told Mint.
The commissioner also denied reports that actor Sidharth, Carnatic singer T.M. Krishna, and Lok Sabha MP Thol Thirumavalavan were among those booked. “No actor’s or singer’s names have been included. We have booked cases against the organizers plus the number of people present."
Large-scale protests in Chennai started after the police interrupted a peaceful march by about 100 students from Marina Beach to the University of Madras on Tuesday.
Two students from the university were detained at Mylapore police station from noon till almost midnight. “We were roughed up at first. But later in the afternoon, we were given lunch. Our phones and wallets were taken away," said K. Karthikeyan, a second-year Masters student of political science.
On Wednesday morning, Karthikeyan was back on campus to join his friends and continue protesting. But the numbers had dwindled to about 25. Most students left campus on Tuesday night, believing they would regroup the next day. Instead, they found a sea of khaki uniforms jamming the entrance to the university. No one was allowed into the campus. The college administration declared holidays till 23 December, after which break for Christmas and New Year break begins.
“The college administration is forcing us to leave campus immediately. The hostels and mess are closed. Those from north-eastern states or other distant places cannot afford to stay in hotels till they can catch their trains back home," said Sathyalakhmi, a Masters student of public administration who is from Thiruvannamalai.
“I will sleep outside the college gates in solidarity with my friends from other states," she said.
“In Triplicane (a commercial and residential neighbourhood nearby that is home to multiple communities), beef and pork shops remain closed for Hindu festivals not because someone is forcing them to, but as a friendly gesture. This Act will break this amity," she said.
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