Crippling Fear of Police Dampens Tuticorin’s Seething Anger
Two months after the 22 May firing in Tuticorin, anger has been replaced by fear.
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Cameraperson: Smitha TK
(This article was originally published on 12 June 2018 and has been reposted on the anniversary of the shooting that took place in Thoothukudi during the anti-Sterlite protests.)
22 May 2018.
A day the people of Thoothukudi will never forget. On the 100th day of protests against Sterlite, thousands of people from Thoothukudi marched towards the Collectorate office to submit a petition asking for the company to be permanently shut down. Chaos broke out and the police opened fire. At least 13 were shot dead and many were badly injured. When I visited the people back then, I saw seething anger.
When I visited recently, two months since the incident, the anger had gone dormant but the people were now in crippling fear of the police.
People living in villages Kumarareddypuram, Therku Veerapandiya Puram, Sankaraperi, Pandaram Patti, all in a 5-kilometre radius from the Sterlite company, have alleged that police have been frequently arresting people.
They say that police have been knocking on their doors even during the wee hours of the night, and arresting men. When asked for the reason for the arrest, the police have said that they have been tracking people based on pictures and videos shown on media channels. These people were booked for causing arson and damaging public property.
The police came to our house at 1 in the night and took him away for enquiry. They gave us no reason and just took him away. They told her they would send my husband back in the morning, but he hasn’t returned in a month now.Raji (name changed), Resident of Kumarareddypuram
There are a few advocates in the district who have been helping residents get bail. Villagers allege that advocates and even prominent activists who have spearheaded the anti-Sterlite plant protests have been arrested or have been forced to hide from the clutches of the police.
For the last 10-15 days, there have been no men in our village. Many who were arrested still haven’t returned. They are hiding.Thayamma, Resident of Kumarareddypuram
The Quint spoke to the Collector Sandeep Nanduri who had taken charge in Tuticorin two days after the 22 May incident.
“My mandate was to restore normalcy as early as possible, to ensure that people feel safe again. So, the new SP and I have been meeting representatives of various organisations, religious leaders and local leaders to understand their concerns,” he said.
The Tuticorin DMK MLA assured that police atrocities have stopped after she initiated action.
I met the SP and told him to not do this. He immediately warned the cops who did it. He then visited villages and pacified people so that they no longer fear the police.Geetha Jeevan, Tuticorin DMK MLA
The Quint spoke to Murali Rambha, Superintendent of Police, who dismissed all these claims. He said that the police have been making arrests based on the 245 FIRs filed so far. “Everyone involved in the violence will be termed as accused. These are the villages that started the anti-Sterlite movement but we arrested only one or two from there,” he said.
But what the bureaucrats said was in stark contrast to the story being told on the ground.
Fathima Babu, one of the main leaders of the anti-Sterlite movement, said no amount of lathi-charge or court cases can make a dent in their strength.
People are scared to even come out. I’m sure this situation will change. People have realised that the lives of their children are more important than death threats to them.Fathima Babu, Activist
The people of Tuticorin are resolute that they won’t let the Sterlite factory reopen, but they are now living in the fear of being tracked and arrested.
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