Chennai's Elliots beach is not unused to large crowds during the weekends. But this Saturday, when over 200 people gathered at the venue, it was not on the beach's sands for leisure, but at its entrance to spread a message.
The Coastal Resource Centre and members of the Save Ennore campaign formed a human chain which started at Thalapakattu biryani at 3.30 pm to raise awareness in the city ahead of the monsoons about the encroachments in Ennore Creek, a backwater located in Thiruvallur district.
While the campaign has intensified after the 2015 floods, actor Kamal Haasan's visit to the site on Saturday morning, has created further dialogue on the matter. Especially about how Chennai's residents must raise their voice against the encroachments.
"When people who have a mass appeal give a message, it reaches people more easily and amplifies the message as well," says environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman. "Even Kamal Haasan was shocked by the extent of damage inflicted upon the Ennore creek," he adds.
The human chain, according to the environmentalist has two purposes - to express awareness about the issue and to inform others about the state of the creek in North Chennai.
Fisherfolk who took part in the human chain lamented that their complaints have fallen on deaf ears for a decade now. "The quality of water has deteriorated and this has severly affected out catch of fish," explains Vijaya, from Kaatukuppam.
While the rest of the state eagerly waits for the monsoon, 10 lakh people from North Madras are dreading it. "Because of the encroachments there will be severe flooding. Last year, we all had to take refuge in a church because the water entered our homes. How long must we bear this?" she asks.
And this region's vulnerability to flooding is exactly why Chennai must be concerned.
"The rest of Chennai has to understand that their safety depends on Ennore as well. In 2015, floods stopped the functioning of the Chennai Petroleum Corporation Limited in Manali and the city suffered as a result," explains Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resource Centre.
Residents who turned up at the protest, were in the city when the 2015 floods wreaked havoc and are not ready to experience the nightmare again.
"We as people of this city have to understand that we cannot disassociate ourselves from these problems because it will affect us too," says Janani, a lecturer at Ethiraj college. "This human chain is the beginning of a larger campaign that seeks to make every citizen aware of how he or she can contribute to environmental causes. It is now or never. There is no more time to ignore the problem," she adds.
Gayathri, a member of Voice of people, a women led initiative says, "We are concerned citizens and cannot remain mute about what is happening around us. This protest today will energise the community and encourage people to participate in efforts meant for the betterment of their lives."