SINCE February 2018, the people of Thoothukudi town and its nearby villages were up in arms demanding the immediate closure of Sterlite Industries operating since 1996 in violation of all rules of environmental bodies and suggestions given by the Madras High Court and the Supreme Court. Fed up with the long-winding legal fight during the last 25 years, the people of the town had decided to show their unity to the authorities of the state, while the present AIADMK government being a pawn in the hands of BJP at the centre, looked the other way.
May 22 being the 100th day of their struggle against Sterlite, the people had decided to take a rally to the district collectorate and place their demands before the collector. But following the footsteps of their masters, the district collector vanished away from the scene after promulgating Sec. 144 IPC in the town on that day. Unmindful of this order, the people marched on towards the collectorate resolutely, to meet the collector and reiterate their demand of closure of the factory which is creating havoc to the environment as well as on the lives of the people residing around it.
But the trigger-happy police were ready with their snipers to shoot down the innocent people whose only demand is to meet the collector to make him understand the wishes of the townspeople. Precious 11 lives including a woman and a 17 year old girl were lost in the firing, of which scores of videos are in circulation in the social media since May 22. The shooting was clearly in violation of all the regulations in the Police Standing Order with regard to such shooting by the police. Everyone killed in the shooting got shot above their waist, notably in their face, forehead and chest and not below the knee as per the PSO. It’s so shocking to see that a young girl was shot upon her mouth. The cruelty of the police in this action was beyond imagination.
The police were reeling off stories that the mob set fire to the vehicles in the collectorate and they have also on their way set fire to the vehicle in the housing colony of the Sterlite. But the video of various channels clearly shows that the vehicles in the collectorate were on fire even when the people were on the outside of the compound struggling to break open the police cordon. Similarly, while there was smoke bellowing in a housing colony afar, the people were marching in numbers without any show of agitation.
Even on May 23, when there was a hue and cry across the state, the police once again unleashed terror in various housing colonies in Thoothukudi town and in their shooting spree, killed one more dead and injured many others. The police have not even spared the injured and threatened them in the hospital unmindful of the stress they have created among the population.
This sort of justification of their cold blooded murderous action reminds one of the day the Chennai Police attacked the peaceful protesters on the Chennai Marina in January 2017 citing that the fishermen hutments were set on fire by the protesters and the police chased the miscreants. Then too the videos immediately circulated on the social media exposed the hands of the police in setting on fire many autos, destroying the living quarters of fishermen who were actually helping the people during that peaceful protest on the Marina against Jallikattu and various other issues affecting Tamil Nadu.
K Balakrishnan, CPI(M) Tamil Nadu state secretary rushed to Thoothukudi on May 22 itself and arranged for the urgent medical needs of more than hundreds of injured in the police action. He started indefinite fast unto death along with other leaders from May 22nd morning demanding action against the police personnel responsible for these killings as well as the closure of the Sterlite factory forthwith. He was arrested along with others and kept in a marriage hall where he is continuing his fast urging the state government to convene an all party meeting to discuss the whole incident, besides ordering a probe under a sitting High Court judge and a reasonable compensation to the family of the deceased.
Not in a mood to listen such sound advice, the state government has announced a probe under a retired High Court judge, who herself had doubtful credentials, as well as a solatium of Rs 10 lakhs to those killed in the police firing. An important point to be mentioned here is that those who were gunned down on May 22nd were actually coordinators of the people’s agitation all these 99 days. It seems they were singled out in this operation. It once again proved the theory of many in Tamil Nadu that since the congregation at Marina against Jallikattu, the government is not willing to allow any non-political, spontaneous struggle and upsurge of the people and to threaten them with the force of the state.
Protesting against this mindless shooting of the police, spontaneous protests were organised throughout Tamil Nadu by the Party units as well as by other political parties. On May 23 evening, most of the political leaders rushed to Thoothukudi to offer condolences to the bereaved families.