Twenty-seven years ago, the stretch of Kamarajar Salai leading to the Marina Beach witnessed a month-long protest by fishermen, which ended up in police firing, leaving five of them dead. The protest was against an attempt to evict them in order to beautify the beach. Members of the fishing community, on Tuesday, commemorated the incident by paying tributes at the memorial site in Ayodhi Kuppam. The memorial was jointly organised by the South Indian Fishermen Welfare Association (SIFWA) and the Tamil Nadu Meenavar Makkal Sangam.
All those who paid their respects recounted how they won back their traditional rights to fish with catamarans. In the wee hours of November 4, 1985, the Chennai Corporation, with the help of the police, removed the catamarans, sparking the agitation. The fisherfolk hit the Beach Road and began protesting the move of the government from November 5. Annammal, a fisherwoman, fainted during a hunger strike the next day and died subsequently.
As the protests began gaining momentum, an attempt to besiege Fort St George was made on November 7, during which GA Kothandaraman of Ayodhi Kuppam, a young fisherman and a father of three, set himself ablaze in front of the Secretariat. He succumbed to burns a couple of days later at the GH.
The protests intensified and the government called representatives of the fishermen for talks on November 17. However, the talks failed. As the government continued to ignore them, the fisherfolk decided to end their protest with a final showdown. The police, who were aware of their actions, opened 17 rounds of fire, killing five persons and injuring 19, including a month-old baby.
Meanwhile, an interim directive from the Apex Court chided the State for the seizure of the catamarans.
Speaking to City Express, SIFWA president K Bharathi recalled the rampage by the policemen, who descended on the fishing hamlets along the beach. The victims – M Manoharan, M Thulukkanam, G Sekar, S Kullasekar and M Chinnapillai — were all from the age group of 20 -40 and were the sole breadwinners of the family.
The Apex Court, on December 10, gave an order to release the catamarans in the presence of the Madras High Court Registrar. The fisherfolk began venturing out into the sea by mid-December 1985.