‘Sterlite is the Reason They Died, Won’t Stop Till It’s Shut Down’
Video Editor: Ashutosh Bhardwaj
Cameraperson: Smitha TK
A long line of cars stood ahead and we patiently waited for the politician to leave the area. We were warned to stay away from Mini Sahaya Puram in Tuticorin district as tempers were quite fragile in this part of the town. An 18-year-old girl had been shot dead when she was protesting against Vedanta’s Sterlite plant on 22 May.
Snowlin had just finished school and wanted to become a lawyer. However, little did she know her dreams were going to be cut quite short.
When the agitation against the Sterlite plant in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin district entered its 100th day, things turned quite ugly.
On 22nd May, at around 9 am, people gathered from all over the district and began marching towards the collectorate. Chanting ‘Shut Down Sterlite!’, thousands of people continued their peaceful protest.
“When we reached the VVD signal, we saw two Jallikattu bulls standing there. They began chasing us and the crowd began running all over the place. The police were atrocious. They set vehicles on fire and put the blame on the public. To escape from this, people ran to safety. The police had already planned it all and were hiding to gun us down,” said Snowlin’s mother.
Crying uncontrollably and catching her breath in breaks, the mother narrated the line of events.
She said none of the protesters had any intention of starting a riot and it was not until the police provoked and began hurting civilians that some people began pelting stones.
As the crowd marched on, the police reacted by shooting teargas shells and then began firing.
Over 13 people were killed and at least 70 badly injured during the protests. However, the residents of Tuticorin said the actual figures were much higher.
Mini Sahaya Puram was not the only neighbourhood that was furious at the Tuticorin police.
We set off on the road to a fishing hamlet, Therespuram, where we came across several barricades made of cement, rocks and even broken branches, barring entry to the police. The hamlet was seething with anger.
Especially because of the death of Jhansi.
At around 2:45 pm on that fateful day, Jhansi was taking an afternoon stroll to meet her sister in the neighbouring street and give her fish. The police had come to Therespuram to pick up boys who had caused ‘the riot’ early that morning. Soon, it became a standoff between the police and the boys and a few gunshots were fired.
People living in the area said a gunshot was misfired and hit Jhansi, who was hiding behind a tree. She fell motionless on the ground with a bullet through her head. Her family members said they knew a woman had been shot but had no idea it was Jhansi.
A few onlookers said the police bundled her up and took her away. The family ran helter-skelter from the police station to the hospital wards but couldn’t find Jhansi. Finally, it was only when the hospital nurses showed them Jhansi’s jewels that they were able to confirm that it was indeed their kin who had been killed in the protests.
Was Jhansi involved in the Sterlite protests? No. She was never even a part of it. She was sitting at her home minding her business, selling fish.
The people of Tuticorin who have lost their loved ones in the protest, are demanding that justice be served. They want the state government to hold the concerned cops accountable for issuing orders of firing. They also want the government to take action against the cops who thrashed the public and shot a few in the head and chest.
But above all, they want the shutters of the Sterlite plant to be brought down immediately.