A 6-km stir that ended in bloodshed

A 6-km stir that ended in bloodshed

Thoothukudi firing: Protesters were against doubling of plant capacity

A bus on fire is seen during a protest against the construction of a copper smelter by Vedanta Resources, in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu, on Wednesday. ANI via REUTERS

As the protest rally began its journey from near Our Lady of Snows Shrine Basilica (Pani Maya Madha Kovil in Tamil) at 10.30 am on Tuesday towards the district collectorate here, six km away, the situation was already tense.

Police tried stopping the anti-Sterlite protesters at the shrine but the sea of people were determined to march towards the collectorate against the proposed doubling of capacity of Sterlite Industries’ second copper smelter plant beside shutting down of the existing unit.

The protesters faced the second hurdle 2 km away at the VVD Junction, where barricades were erected to stop them from marching towards their destination. “We breached the barricades and marched past the VVD signal towards the collectorate and at this point police were nowhere to be seen and we thought it will be peaceful,” Abdul Majid, a 40-year-old resident of Thoothukudi, told DH.

But, Majid said, everyone was proved wrong as police surrounded them near the collectorate and refused entry. It was near the collectorate that the bloodshed began and spread to the superintendent of police’s office and near the bridge on the Madurai bypass road. “It looked as if police targeted the protesters and shot them. Most of the victims were shot from a close range. Somehow, I managed to escape,” Majid said with tears in his eyes.

Surya Anand, another resident who also took part in the protests, charged that the protesters began pelting stones only after the policemen provoked them by resorting to mild baton charge.

“Only after the provocation, people began pelting stones and attacking vehicles by ransacking them. The police chased people whom they suspected of having pelted stones for more than 250 metre and shot them,” Anand charged.

However, Majid admits that some protesters did indulge in violence without any provocation and that led to police taking the law into their hands. “What police did was completely inhuman and we ran for cover. They used rifles to shoot and they did not show any mercy,” Majid said.

On Wednesday, the collectorate looked like a ghost area with chappals strewn across the sprawling campus. Broken window pieces of cars, burnt jeeps and cars, remains of burnt two-wheelers, the scars of Tuesday’s violence were writ large at the campus, which is almost 4 km from the town.

Jerald, brother of Gladston, who was killed in the police firing, said his sibling had participated in the protest to show solidarity with the villagers who have been agitating for the past 100 days. “We never expected him to die. He was shot at point-blank range by the police and it is a cold-blooded murder. Police and the government should answer us,” he said.

Six kilometre away from the collectorate, Jhansi Rani of Thirespuram fishing hamlet was killed when she purportedly protested against police picking up “innocent youth.” “She was shot dead and her body was dragged from the spot and taken to the government hospital. It was only at the hospital that we found her body. Police deliberately shot innocent civilians,” Robert Villavarayar, her relative, said.