As protests return, LARA dusts old strategies

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After a respite of two years, residents of Lake Area are once again besieged by vehicles 

After a respite of two years, residents of Lake Area are once again besieged by vehicles 

A conspicuous corner near Valluvar Kottam is hallowed ground: It preserves the right to voice dissent and raise contrarian viewpoints. Though residents of Lake Area understand its importance, they cannot gloss over the fact that on account of this space, they are not able to leave and enter their own without a struggle.

At the height of the pandemic, the protest corner had gone silent. Protests would have been allowed when restrictions had been eased, probably with limited gathering.

With the world opened up now like a broken coconut, the silence is rudely shattered every day.

Protests are being organised on a full-fledged scale, as they used to be, notes Ramanath, secretary, Lake Area Residents Association (LARA).

As a result, LARA is planning to revisit some of its own initiatives to keep themselves from being swamped by vehicles.

CE Suryanarayan, whose family has been living in the Lake Area “for a hundred years, before the area was developed in its current form”, is bracing himself for the inevitable, after a respite of two years.

Suryanarayan, who is part of Exnora Nungambakkam, points out that when the gathering is big, vehicles spill over into all the streets of Lake Area. One needs to watch their gate. The moment they let their guard down, a vehicle would show up in front of it.

Given the magnitude of the problem, residents have realistic expectations from any of the measures they have taken to cope with it.

One of the initiatives: Pasting stickers on residents’ cars to identify outsiders who leave their wheels behind.

“Some people have changed their cars since the initiative was launched and there are new residents; the initiative has to be refreshed,” Ramanath points out.

The stickers are also meant for the police, to let residents pass through when a protest is under way.

“Sometimes, even with the stickers, we are prevented from entering our own houses, because the police place the barricades all over the locality, blocking the streets. That is the only way they can deal with a large gathering. The street I live in, Sixth Cross Street, in is a cul de sac: Imagine blocking the street! Even though there is a Supreme Court order which says one should not block public access to the roads, I cannot blame the police because they are not able to control the crowd. Most of the meetings are fairly large these days, and people come in all sorts of vehicles, and park them here. When we complain to the police, they also plead with us, ‘Sir, please wait for two hours. They will go away’,” says NS Swaminathan, vice-president, LARA.

LARA has realised that they have to persist with measures like the sticker strategy, but cannot wager all their efforts, energy and time on them. In 2018, LARA went to court over the issue.

“We filed a PIL where we stated our position clearly. Protest is our fundamental right and we are not questioning that, we are only asking that an area that will cause the least inconvenience to students and residents be chosen. This is one instance where a protest area is found abutting a residential and school zone. Padma Seshadri is about 150 metres from the venue. Govt. Boys High school Numgambakkam and Govt. Girls High school Numgambakkam are about 300 metres from the venue. It is at an important junction, and so if a big meeting happens, the whole thing comes to a standstill. A few years ago, when the Plus 2 exam was going on, a big protest meeting descended on the area, and there was honking of horns, how do you think the children would have concentrated on their paper? My neighbour, a heart patient, was stuck and in a serious situation. The ambulance would not be able to come in. We had to somehow get him out in an auto, and from there take him in a car to the hospital,” Swaminathan illustrates.

Swaminathan notes that LARA had written to the police commissioner, and the court had asked the Association to again write to the police commissioner seeking a solution to this issue.

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