Women, children injured in police lathi-charge against anti-CAA protesters in north Chennai

Published : February 15, 2020 18:37 IST

In Old Washermanpet, Chennai, police roughing up people protesting against the CAA on February 14. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Anti-CAA protesters at Old Washermanpet in Chennai on February 14. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam

Anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests erupted across Tamil Nadu on February 8, Saturday, after the Chennai City Police resorted to a lathi-charge on peaceful protesters, predominantly Muslim, at Old Washermanpet in Chennai on February 7, Friday, night. Many of the protesters, including women and children, sustained injuries in the police action. More than 100 protesters were arrested. On Saturday, protesters gathered at the same venue and demanded action against the police “for unleashing violence against women and children on Friday night”.

Condemning the police action, widespread protests erupted across the State and in many places in Chennai city. Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruchi, Salem and Tirunelveli saw protests and rallies in which large numbers of Muslims took part. Small towns and villages, too, recorded spontaneous protests. The agitating people urged the State government to punish the policemen and officials responsible for the violence in Chennai.

It all started when protesters, numbering around 5,000, including a large number of women and children, joined a sit-in protest, which was into its second day, at Washermanpet after their Friday prayers at the nearby mosque. They raised slogans against the CAA, the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and urged the State government to pass a resolution against the CAA in the Assembly, the Budget session of which is under way. They drew attention to the anti-CAA resolution passed by the Union Territory of Puducherry.

As time passed, the crowd of protestors swelled into a huge gathering. Those in the locality claimed that the protest remained peaceful and orderly. Many volunteered to distribute water bottles and food packets to the protesters. Traffic in thoroughfares like Waltax Road and Mint Road remained unaffected until around 8 p.m. when the police descended suddenly on the venue and asked the protesters to disperse. The police allegedly told them that prohibitory orders had been promulgated in the area, prohibiting meetings and processions for 15 days from February 13.

“As such, the police warned us, our assemblage and protest were unlawful since we had not got permission. But our people told them that it was a peaceful protest against an Act which is draconian and anti-democratic. We told them that we were not disturbing the public in any way since we had confined ourselves to the lanes and sublanes of our residential locality only,” said one of the organisers to Frontline on Saturday.

But the police were not in a mood to listen to them. The protesters claimed that the police entered the area in large numbers and started beating the youths who had been organising protests against the CAA in the city. In the melee women and children were beaten.

Jannathul Pradesh, one of the women injured in the police violence said: “I told them [the police] not to beat us and the children. We were very peaceful and disciplined. But they were inhuman and resorted to indiscriminate beatings. Many women suffered injuries. We got treated in local hospitals here.”

A number of women Frontline spoke to on Saturday said that men outnumbered women in the police force that arrived there. “It was to terrorise the people, especially women, to discourage them from joining such protests in future. We were manhandled and beaten. The State wants to serve a warning to us—not to come out of our houses to defend our rights,” said Jannathul. Many women alleged that they were beaten inside the police vans by policemen and wanted the government to take action against the erring police personnel who unleashed violence against them.

As the police action threatened to grown into a major law and order problem with protests continuing across the State, Chief minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami summoned Chennai City Police Commissioner A.K. Viswanathan to his Camp office at Greenways Road on Saturday morning. At the more than 30-minute closed-door meeting, the Chief Minister, according to informed sources, discussed the law and order situation. The sources, however, claimed that the Chief Minister expressed his displeasure at the way the police handled the Chennai protest.

The Commissioner held talks on Friday night with representatives of Muslim political outfits and assured them that those who were arrested during the Washermanpet protest would be released. Opposition parties, including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the Congress, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), the Communist Party of India (CPI), the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and various other outfits condemned the police violence on protesters. Manithaneya Makkal Katchi leader M.H. Jawaharullah, in a statement, called it “police brutality’ against peaceful agitators. Senior Muslim leaders met the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP) on Saturday and submitted a memorandum.

Meanwhile, the police have registered cases against hundreds of protesters for taking part in anti-CAA agitations across Tamil Nadu.

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