'Take Criminal Action Against Police’: Families of Thoothukudi Shooting Victims

“No action can bring her back to life. At least justice must be done,” says the victim's mother.

Hindi Female

In the days following the leak of the Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Commission’s report on the Thoothukudi shooting that claimed 14 lives, TNM spoke to the families of victims and to survivors of the police firing. Justice is yet to be done, each of them firmly believes.

The commission, which was constituted to probe the shooting that also led to scores of wounded anti-Sterlite protestors, submitted its full report to the state government on 12 May this year.

Even three months later, the report has not been made public, but portions of it were published in Frontline earlier this week. The leaked portions reveal that the report is a damning indictment of 17 police officials and administrative figures such as the then district collector of Thoothukudi.

In the wake of this revelation, those affected by the firing want to see the full report made public, and legal action against all the involved police personnel.
In her report, Aruna Jagadeesan describes the police firing as unprovoked and “extrajudicial adventures”; and as a “demonstrable failure to organise police personnel properly.”

On 22 May 2018, marking the 100th day of agitations against Vedanta’s Sterlite copper smelting plant in Thoothukudi, protesters took out a massive rally. Police opened fire killing 14 people in total including 18-year-old Snowlin, who died from a bullet wound to her mouth.

“No action can bring her back to life. At least justice must be done,” says the victim's mother.

Snowlin, the youngest victim of the firing, was only 18 years old. She died on the spot after a bullet hit her mouth.

Photo Credit : TNM

Speaking to TNM, Snowlin’s mother Vanitha says, “We welcome the commission’s report, but now action needs to be taken. Chief Minister MK Stalin has to act on it with urgency. Otherwise, all that has come out through the report will just be forgotten. Shouldn’t there be some justice for all the blood and tears spilled?” Vanitha emphasises that the 17 police officials named in the report must face action.


“We have to spend the rest of our lives with grief over Snowlin’s death. No action can bring her back to life. At least justice must be done,” Vanitha says, adding that the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)-led state government needs to fulfil all its promises to those affected by the shooting.

“We lost a child. And then we lost our health, our mental well-being and our livelihoods,” Vanitha says, adding that the action taken against those responsible for these losses should serve as an example, and a deterrent to further such police abuses.

No one should have to suffer again what we as families or those who lost their lives did. The bullet tore through Snowlin’s mouth and throat. How much pain would that young girl have been in? What terror she must have felt before she died? These thoughts haunt me still, no one else should have to go through this again, ever.
Vanitha, Snowlin's mother

Muthulakshmi, the mother of Ranjith, another victim of the shooting, echoes Vanitha’s demands. She says that it is not only top police officials who need to face legal action, but even lower-ranking policemen at the constable level.

“Several of those constables who wounded people that day live in nearby neighbourhoods. Can you imagine what it feels like for us to see them walk free and unaffected? ” Muthulakshmi says.

“No action can bring her back to life. At least justice must be done,” says the victim's mother.

Ranjith would have been 26 years old this August, had he not been shot dead by the police, his mother Muthulakshmi says.

Photo Credit : TNM

"They know who we are, they don’t even look at us as human beings. There is so much derision in their eyes."
Muthulakshmi, Ranjith's mother

Ranjith would have turned 26 this month (August), had he not been shot dead, his mother tells TNM. “He was obsessed with boxing. He used to even teach the sport to school children,” Muthulakshmi recalls.

“His father is a daily-wage earner. At the time, he used to do concrete-laying work. Ranjith had completed a degree in electronic engineering and was looking for work. But he used to help his father out whenever he could. Even though we couldn’t give him much for petty-expenses, he didn’t let it bother him. He died with Rs 5 in his pocket,” she says.


It is not only the lives and future prospects of the 14 victims of the police violence that were lost. Princeton, one of the people grievously wounded in the firing, speaks to TNM of missed opportunities that he can never get back after he lost his leg.

“I was just 22 years old when it happened. I was at the beginning of my career. I had a job with Hyundai in Chennai. Now, I work as a junior assistant in the collector’s office,” Princeton says. His job is compensatory employment provided by the state government, but even getting this post has been a battle.

“The AIADMK-led government initially gave me a job assisting the Village Administrative Officer (VAO). It was field work. When I tried telling them I couldn’t do the job with only one leg, nobody cared. Initially, I didn’t even have prosthetics. Over three years, we made multiple demands. Prabu, an activist helping me, even tried to meet the then-Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami on my behalf. It was under Edappadi’s leadership that the shooting happened. He is responsible too. There is so much anger in me against him, but I was forced to go begging to the same man for a different job,” Princeton says.


Princeton says that after the DMK came to power in the state, he was finally given the desk-job he does now in the collector’s office. He, too, feels that the current state government needs to do more, as it had promised during the 2021 Legislative Assembly elections.

“Those police officials need be dismissed from their posts and tried for murder. If a civilian commits a murder, doesn’t the law take its course against them? Is there a different law for the police?” he asks.

Princeton demands that ex-Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami must face action as well. “He was responsible for the whole state, he must be held accountable,” he says. Princeton, like Muthulakshmi, also feels that policemen in the lower-ranks need to be made answerable too.

“When I was in hospital after I got shot, I heard stories from other protestors about constables openly boasting about the people they’d shot. I have to live with the consequences of what they did, but they don’t?”

Incidentally, the inquiry commission also singles out a constable named Sudalai Kannu whom it describes as an “ace-shooter”. Frontline reports that the commission found Sudalai Kannu to have “willingly and exuberantly carried a long-range Self Loading Rifle (SLR) across town in several locations where many were killed.” According to the commission, Sudalai Kannu opened 17 rounds of fire, Frontline further reports.

Jayakumar, the brother of another victim Selvasekar, is yet another family member demanding that Edappadi K Palaniswami be made accountable for the shooting. Further, while he too welcomes the commission’s report, he feels that it’s time for the DMK government to take action.

“They must bring out a white paper based on the report and clearly outline what actions they are going to take against those responsible,” he says.


One other aspect that stands out from the inquiry commission’s report is that it refutes the claims of the state government which was then led by the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), regarding violent protesters. The report says that there was no evidence of an imminent threat to the lives of policemen to justify opening fire into crowds.

Incidentally, this may contradict the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI) finding that there had been violence on part of the protesters prior to the shooting. Responding to this, Arujunan, the main complainant in the CBI investigation and the former CPI(M) district secretary for Thoothukudi, says that the commission’s finding gives credence to what protesters have been saying all along. “This report is a welcome development. Now the current state government has to make the report public and charge the officials responsible,” he says.

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