BANGALORE, DECEMBER 30: An innovative anti-citizenship-act protest with roadside kolams (alpona or rangoli), drawn with rice powder, led 7 people to be arrested in Chennai on Sunday morning.
Some of the half-dozen kolams ~ all drawn on pavements along a small residential street in Besant Nagar around 7.30 a.m. ~ had “No to NRC, No to CAA” written alongside. The rest, more creatively, had the slogan woven into their design.
The police, who report to a BJP-backed AIADMK Government, arrived around 8 a.m. and arrested the 4 young women and lone young man behind the protest: Gayathri, Arathi, Kalyani, Pragati and Madan.
When senior lawyers Yogeshwaran and T Mohan arrived to help them, they too were arrested, allegedly for “creating a ruckus”. All 7 were released by 10 a.m. after a large crowd gathered outside the local police station.
Gayathri, a lawyer who deals with human rights and technology issues, told The Telegraph that the accused had not been told what the charges were against them, except that one cannot paint kolams on a public road without permission.
Local reporters said the police had refused to reveal the Sections under which the 7 had been arrested.
Hindu women paint kolams usually at the entrance to their homes or outside the gates ~ to welcome Goddess Lakshmi or guests, drive away evil spirits or simply beautify their home.
Gayathri told reporters the arrests were a violation of basic rights. “We have a culture of celebrating art and dissenting against anything we want. Drawing kolams is a key element of our tradition during the (current) Tamil month of Margazhi,” she said.
“It’s sad that we are living in a police state where we have to beg (permission) even to draw a kolam.”
Assistant Commissioner of Police Vinoth Shantaram, who had ordered the arrests, said: “A small group can grow into a large gathering and lead to law-and-order problems. So we had the right to arrest them.”
Gayathri told this newspaper that the 5 who drew the kolams were “like-minded citizens” who were against the citizenship act and “have no political affiliations”.
Madan is a student at Anna University, Arathi is a graphic designer while Kalyani and Pragati are “freelance writers”, she said, declining details.
“I live in the next neighbourhood. The rest came from all over Chennai,” she said.
Gayathri said the 5 had chosen Besant Nagar because it’s a “quiet little place”. They picked the exact spot only on Sunday morning.
“We assembled at a tea shop in Besant Nagar and had tea before choosing a peaceful location to paint the kolams around 7.30 a.m.,” Gayathri said.
“But by 8 a.m. a large posse of policemen and policewomen swooped on us and asked us to get into the police van. When we refused, they dragged us into the van,” Gayathri said.
She called her lawyer friends Yogeshwaran and T Mohan. “When they came, the police took them into preventive custody. They released us around 10 a.m. after taking down our personal details, such as father’s name and address,” she said.
DMK president MK Stalin criticised the arrests. “This Government is denying even the basic rights enshrined in the Constitution. The cases booked against them must be withdrawn,” he wrote on Facebook.
The DMK has asked its women’s wing members to draw kolams outside their homes with slogans against the new citizenship act and the NRC on December 30, a PTI report said.
Tamil Nadu has witnessed large protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the NRC. At least 10,000 people participated in a march to the Raj Bhavan organised by the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath on Saturday, clogging roads.
On December 23, the DMK and its allies had held marches across the state. While Stalin led the programme in Chennai, the party’s district heads spearheaded the protests in the district headquarters. (Courtesy: TT)