Crippling Fear of Police Dampens Tuticorin’s Seething Anger
Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Cameraperson: Smitha TK
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.