It was close to 1.30 pm on Tuesday and 28-year-old Karthikeyan, a student of Madras University was sprinting on the footpath near Marina Beach, even as cars stood still on the road beside him. He was heading towards a bus which was parked on the road, 50 metres from the college. It had brought traffic to a halt and a line of students were slowly walking into the vehicle, surrounded by khaki clad policemen.
Seventy students belonging to the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Chennai's Kelambakkam were on their way to take part in a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in Madras University when they were stopped by the police. The students were ordered to board the bus and leave to their own campus. Karthikeyan, who was among the students leading the protests in Madras University, rushed to check why the TISS students were sent away.
"I was waiting at the entrance of the college to welcome the students but they called and told me that they were blocked by the police on the footpath," says Karthikeyan.
He first sent 24-year-old Subbiah, another student from Madras University to check what was happening. But he soon received another call.
"The TISS students called me again and said that the police warned that they won't be allowed to walk any further from that point and that the protests in the University itself was going to end in sometime," says Karthikeyan. "They were basically spreading misinformation to divert the students from the protests. They did not want our numbers to grow and voice to become stronger," he alleges.
The visiting students were allegedly pressured to go back to their campus and a public bus was hailed down to accommodate them when they refused to get into police vans.
"I was really afraid that they would be detained and asked the cops why they were being sent away," says Karthikeyan. "The police present there then told me that it was because they were protesting on Marina Beach. I immediately pointed out that they were just walking to the University and that there is no court order that prohibits walking on the road near Marina. They got really angry that I was arguing and began dragging me to a police vehicle. Subbiah came to check on me and he too was roughed up," he alleges
TNM witnessed the two students being forcibly taken into a police car on Kamaraj Salai despite their protests.
"We were dragged by our hair and collar into the police vehicle," says Karthikeyan. "From there, we were taken to the Mylapore station and they threatened to arrest us for blocking traffic and creating law and order issues. We were doing neither," he adds.
And while the two students were detained in the station, the police not only failed to give a reason for apprehending them, but they also allegedly attempted to use them as a bargaining chip.
"The college administration told us that the two students will be let go if we stop protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act," Valarmathi, a student of Political Science, told TNM on Tuesday. "We refused to give in to the demand. It was blackmail," she alleged.
The agitation continued in Madras University on Tuesday even as over 100 police officials arrived at the campus and efforts by the administration to convince students to leave failed. Agitators, however, had an additional demand - that the detained students be freed.
In the Mylapore station, meanwhile, Karthikeyan and Subbiah, were made to sit in a room from 2pm until 11pm with no information on when they can leave. When TNM contacted the police, a senior official claimed they were under 'inquiry'. In fact, it was only after 10 pm that the police even confirmed which station the students were kept in.
"We tried to explain to them that we were only taking the other students to the campus but they didn't listen," recalls Karthikeyan. "They said even questioning the police is against the law," he added.
Finally, close to midnight, the college administration called the station to know about the whereabouts and release of the students.
"They allowed us to leave at 1am and we came straight to campus," says Karthikeyan. "We will not be intimidated. Our protests will continue as planned."
The protests continue for a third day at Madras University, despite authorities declaring holidays from Wednesday.