Protest for Jallikattu: Stir could have been ended peacefully

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The rules and regulations in Tamil Nadu’s Animal Welfare Act now have enough provisions to guard against cruelty to the bulls.

Everyone in Tamil Nadu knows on how jallikattu as a game of braves involved in taming the bulls has found a place in Tamil folklore, literature and history. Jallikattu is part of Tamil culture and psyche and has been going on for generations.

Hence I feel compelled to say that nobody has a right to question this, as it would amount to questioning the very basis of Tamil culture and dignity.The rules and regulations in Tamil Nadu’s Animal Welfare Act now have enough provisions to guard against cruelty to the bulls and how those who participate in this game should behave. I feel that the case of Tamil Nadu has not been put across properly in the Supreme Court. I also wonder whether Tamil Nadu put across enough arguments in terms of facts and figures and the true intention of a foreign based organisation whose interests seem to be more than what it meets the eye.

It is against the background of recent jallikattu protests that I would now attempt to analyse the various agitations in Tamil Nadu from the days when I entered IPS in 1961 and the way Police handled them.  The first agitation, which I handled as ASP, Namakkal was the anti-Hindi agitation of 1965, which erupted throughout the State.

It was an emotional issue and the people of Tamil Nadu felt agitated that Hindi would be imposed on them and consequently the prospect of their being denied benefits in the central government jobs and other avenues of service. The Tamils feared that they would be discriminated against and treated as second class citizens.  I was emotionally in concurrence with this viewpoint as the agitation went on and turned violent and subsided only when Pandit Nehru, the then Prime Minister, gave an assurance that Hindi will not be imposed on the people.

While I was all for the agitation, but when it turned violent it became an unmanageable issue.  The then Tamil Nadu government was initially totally against the use of firearms against the agitators.  I remember vividly the circular of the then IG Mr. Arul communicating the government’s intention.  The hands of the policemen were tied and when the violence broke out there were gruesome killings of police officers by agitators. Two Sub-Inspectors of Tiruppur in the then Coimbatore district — Ramaswamy and Venkatesan — were not only set fire to but the agitators saw to it that their lives were totally extinct by running over their bodies with a double bullock cart.  Even to think of it one feels shaken to the bones.  DSP Annasamy of Mettur was stripped naked and made to run for his life and, in the process, fell into the Cauvery river and died later, not only brokenhearted due to the shame he suffered but also because he fell seriously ill.  After such incidents of policemen being murdered, the government woke up and untied the hands of the police.

Political parties are welcome to commemorate on a martyr’s day those agitators who were killed in the anti-Hindi agitation. But what about the policemen killed by the agitators, though at that time Mr. Arul held a special commemoration for these policemen who were killed and a Commemoration Parade was held on October 21 every year for all those policemen killed while on duty.

I can quote more episodes like inflicting serious injuries on the SP of the then South Arcot district, the RDO and 31 other police personnel on September 17, 1987; the fatal attack on PC 503 Selvaraj of Ukkadam while on duty on November 29 1987; the attack and injuries to 105 policemen by an unruly mob protesting against the arrest of their leader in Paramakudi on September 11, 2007. These are only a few examples of unjustified violence against policemen who were doing their duty.

There are also classic episodes of police exercising extreme restraint in dealing with agitating but peaceful crowds.  A crowd of nearly 4,000 squatted on the road from Tiruvarur to Nagapattinam in November 1978 when MGR as the Chief Minister wanted to visit the cyclone affected people and areas in and around Nagapatinam.  The demand of the crowd was quite reasonable in the sense they genuinely felt that relief material was denied to them and bags of rice were being appropriated by the ruling party men.

The demands were that not only had I to get them their relief material but also arrest the concerned functionaries for appropriating bags of rice. This I did despite the gentle plea by then Collector that the accused were ruling party members. I faced a lot pressure to disperse the crowd by force and make way for MGR’s convoy. I had to send word to MGR and request him to delay his departure from Tiruvarur after fully apprising him of the facts of the case.
The events relating to the jallikattu protests on the sands of Marina and elsewhere in Tami Nadu were a commendable example of public gathering in great numbers and exercising utmost restraint. The policemen acted in an equally commendable way in enabling the public to express their voice of protest.  This went on admirably for one week and the media commended and applauded this gesture of the public and the police.

Without prejudicing the mind of the probe commission recently appointed. I would still like to say a few things based on my 36-years experience in the art of crowd management. I do not know why suddenly the police, who were otherwise acting admirably, resorted to a lathi charge to disperse the crowd on the Marina. The best thing the police could have done was to wait for one more day till the law was passed and approved in the Assembly. Once the law was in place to replace the ordinance, the best course of action would have been to get an order u/s 144 CrPC promulgated, which would have rightly given the police a legal handle to operate because the crowd would then technically have become an ‘unlawful assembly’.

The police need not have allowed all sorts of groups and sub groups to operate.  In such situations, it is for the police to have taken over the leadership of the situation and to organize essential services and food to the crowd.  It is not difficult at all if the police had requested the government for help.

If there had been infiltration of extremist elements in the crowd, it is for the police to have identified and isolated them.  The general public should have been apprised of this then and there.  In fact, they would have helped the police in the process of isolating unwanted elements.

My observations are based only on my experience in the field in handling crowds and managing them.   I am only sad that what proved to be an admirable example of correct and restrained attitude of the public and the police ended on a sour note.

I end up by quoting what has been said in the Kohima cemetery commemorating the soldiers who had laid their lives in World War II – “When you go back tell them of us and say that we give our today for their tomorrow”. Our policemen are doing precisely this – they are giving their lives for the peaceful future of the people of Tamil Nadu. Please allow them to function without belittling them and demoralising them.

(The writer is a former DGP, Tamil Nadu)

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