Chennai's budding dadas and bus violence
Machete-wielding student rowdies assault rivals, terrorise the public in Chennai. A look at a distinctive Chennai sub culture that is the training ground for budding gangsters
Today's newspapers and television are full of news and visuals about two students of Chennai's Pachaiyappa's College involved in a battle with rivals, brandishing machetes and scaring bus passengers, motorists and pedestrians yesterday.
This kind of student violence is a phenomenon unique to Chennai and rowdy elements from some colleges who want to assert their dominance over bus routes. In Chennai slang, it's known as 'Route Thala.'
What is this route thala?
When people hear the phrase outside Chennai, they are confused about what it means. The 'Route Thala' is one of the unique cultural characteristics of Chennai. If you know the song 'Ithu en area, ulle varade' [this is our area, don't dare step in] written by Na Muthukumar for the movie Puthupettu, we can understand the roots of the slang.
The phenomenon of gangs carving out their own jurisdictions is not new. Local dadas [rowdies] take control of an area and enforce their will on the residents through use of force and threat of violence. Their capital is the fear of the ordinary public.
The problem begins when there are two or three dadas in the same area. They have to fight it out; and who wins is a function of their police and political affiliations.
If one wants to evolve into a Dada or 'Thala', it will not happen in a day. Aren't tiger cubs required to get hunting training? And when we need to learn something, such as from colleges and universities, how can rowdyism be the exception? 'Route Thala' and 'Bus Day' violence are the training ground for anti-social elements. The stories of students attacking each other during 'Bus Day', and students traveling by train with sickles, are now common.
The 'route thala' is a student who takes control of a bus to a college at a certain time. He is the leader of a faction. The driver has to stop where he tells him to stop. The conductor cannot ask him anything. Nothing can be done if he is standing on the footboard and traveling. It's almost like having a bus hijacked for a certain amount of time every day. Women are afraid to board the bus, and the public will find it prudent to wait for another bus.
It is the city buses that serve as a training ground for a young, would-be Dada. The chances of him joining a political party, caste or religious organisation and growing bigger are bright.
It was in this state that students took to the streets to protest against Hindi. They forced tremendous political changes. They came to the streets for the Eelam Tamils. They rallied against Jallikattu. They are also fighting against various schemes of the central government that affect the environment.
But how many of today's youth are politicised on principle? Do they have anything to do with social activism? Are moral justice or social responsibility taught to them on campuses? Do teachers have any influence over those students? What is the socioeconomic background of the often violent arts college students? Seeing this as a mere law and order issue without any answers to these questions is no solution.
The process of removing politics from academic campuses began in the nineties. We have created the impression that it affects a student's education. But one cannot intervene in social problems without political consciousness. And political sentiment is a man's social identity. National, ethnic, and linguistic identities are all formed through political activity.
But identity politics takes many forms... fan club politics, caste politics, union politics. It often mutates into religious politics or rootless, empty of substance politics like the 'Route Thala'. Most of the mainstream political parties and student activists have grown weaker. But fundamentalist groups and the groups that have focused on violence have continued to strengthen. This political elimination was carried out in a systematic manner on college campuses. Previously, all parties would have a student body at their respective colleges and universities... not any more.
How many colleges now have a civil political environment? In Tamil Nadu, a student was removed from college for speaking in the classroom.
In our school, college and university campuses, there is no environment to promote art, social thought, political discussions, social responsibility, sports, or book reading. Our school and college campuses, on the one hand, produce the 'brain slaves' needed by big corporations, and on the other, they prepare them for anti-social groups. Uncertainty about the future is deeply ingrained in today's students. The educational and social environment is pushing the youth towards an uncertain future. The violence we have spoken about is another one of our social problems. It is quite easy for the police to threaten students who engage in violence. But the problem lies with the social and the academic environment that makes students violent, and that is what needs to be addressed.
(Manushya Puthiran is the pen name of the Tamil poet and writer Abdul Hameed]