The kolam protest that went on to become a state-wide phenomenon in Tamil Nadu, with DMK leaders like party Chief MK Stalin and Thoothukudi MP Kanimozhi decorating their home entrances with ‘anti-CAA’, ‘anti-NRC’ kolams, began as a small movement in Chennai’s Besant Nagar area. A small group of less than 10 gathered near the bus depot at 7 am on December 29, stocked with white and red kolam powders. Around 8.30 that morning, five protesters were detained and then let out an hour and a half later that same day.
On January 1, the Chennai Police Commissioner held a press conference about crime statistics – and when asked a question about the kolam protest in Besant Nagar, the top cop seemed well prepared with printed slides and a video on a projector. Answering the questions that many have been asking around why the protesters were detained for simply drawing kolams on the road, AK Viswanathan declared that the detention was not for the traditional art. “We did not give them permission for the Kolam protest but the arrest was not made for drawing kolams. In fact, they had already drawn 7-8 kolams both in public places and outside houses,” said Chennai City Police Commissioner AK Viswanathan.
“But outside one particular house they made an issue when the owners of that house objected to them drawing the kolam. The 92-year-old man objected. Only then the police intervened and made the arrest. They then raised slogans against the police. We did not detain them for drawing kolams. Only when someone objected to drawing outside their property and a problem arose, the police intervened,” he claimed.
A video of a man objecting to the kolam and a woman from the house pouring water on the “No NPR, No NRC CAA” drawn in red was then played at the press meet. “Who gave them the authority?” he is heard asking.
TNM was present when the detentions were made and unlike what the police have said during the press conference, the objection from the 92-year-old man came only after Gayathri and the others were taken away in a police van.
A crowd had gathered when the police proceeded to take Gayathri and others by force. After the police van left, a police officer was briefing the media when the old man seen in the video expressed his objection to the kolam – and this was after Gayathri and the others had been taken away. Gayathri, in fact, had not drawn the kolam outside the man’s house but instead was speaking to reporters at that time.
After the protesters were cleared, the man expressed his consent to file a complaint against the protesters if required, following which the police were seen taking down his details.
No problem arose between the protesters and the residents of the area, as claimed in the police press conference. TNM also spoke to three other journalists who were at the spot that day, and they concurred with this. However, it is unclear if any of the residents called the police station in protest against the kolams.
The Kolam protest began opposite the Besant Nagar Bus depot and then proceeded to the 3rd Main Road where the protesters drew kolams outside houses and on the footpaths. When Gayathri arrived to speak to the press reporters, she was informed by Assistant Commissioner Vinoth Shantharam V who was present, that they would be detained for unlawful gathering. He also told her that there was an FIR against her already for a protest organised earlier that week.
She resisted and demanded to know why the police were rounding up the protesters. “They asked us not to draw on public roads but we can outside houses. When we were doing it, they were arresting us. They are saying it’s unlawful assembly. How is this unlawful assembly?” she then asked those gathered, including the media.