The rivalry among arts colleges in Chennai has been existing for a long time. Pachaiyappa’s College, Nandanam Arts College and Presidency College have always enjoyed a fight for notoriety. Pachaiyappa’s College, Chetpet, has a reputation of being one of the oldest colleges of the city. Recently, two groups of students were seen chasing and taking a violent jab at each other with sickles, brandishing machetes and terrifying commuters who were seated inside the metropolitan transport corporation bus. The fuss was over the post of ‘route thala’ or the leader of that bus route. Around seven students were involved in this brawl of which two were injured during the fight.
The police later tracked down the young men from the video and took them into custody. Four students were arrested and two of them have been suspended from the college. Photos of two students with their broken arms in a cast were then released, and later the ‘route thalas’ were taken into custody briefly and asked to give a written letter that swore them to a pact to keep away from arms.
Aside from just reprimanding them the police department is trying to hold counselling sessions for students identified as violent or those who’ve gotten into trouble continuously. Assistant Commissioner, Nungambakkam, Muthuvel Pandi, shares, “Under the strict instructions of our police head DGP Tripathy and our Chennai Commissioner AK Viswanathan, we are working with students and vulnerable youth to curb violent streaks via integrated programs that involve counselling and educational workshops. But for serious offenders who walk around with arms, we have no tolerance for this and we charge them with cases that are relevant.”
First of all where does this culture of rivalry come from? The students of Pachaiyappa’s and Loyola say that this hatred between colleges isn’t something new. “This is to show that our college is gethu” (Gethu meaning cool) said Prabhu Ravikumar, a student of Pachaiyappas college. He says, “The ‘route thala’ is the man who heads a particular bus route and is unanimously selected by the students travelling in the bus based on popularity. This person takes care of that specific route and ensures safety and orders the gang mates in case of rivalry.” He adds, “Our police team members also blend in with students and are in mufti at campuses with heightened turbulence.”
“Usually the fight is started by the college whose students form a majority in a bus. When we see the opponent bus clearly less crowded than usual we engage in a fight with them. This is for entertainment and to show that we are superior” said Prabhu.
“The different bus routes have different songs and the route thala along with the gang mates sing and rap until the final stop is reached. The route thala even follows a dress code to differentiate him from others. The get up should also be gethu or cool in order for him to establish a distinguished identity among his contemporaries,” says Lawrence, a student of a popular college in the same route.
The students of Loyola say that this sort of rivalry has completely reduced as the management has started taking strict action. “There are gangs functioning within the college but we don’t engage in any violent fights which will lead to injuries. When we meet the students of rival college anywhere we would quarrel with each other but that wouldn’t at any point lead to a serious fight,” said Prakash Swaminathan, a former student of Loyola who now looks at the emerging gang culture as taking a “dangerous, violent turn”.
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