May 22 still haunts families of Sterlite firing victims

May 22 still haunts families of Sterlite firing victims

Vanitha, Snowlin's mother, putting her grand daughter Jibansi to sleep at her house in Thoothukudi. (DH photo by ETB Sivapriyan)

“I feel like an orphan despite being surrounded by my husband and three children. I can’t get out of the memories of my youngest and only daughter Snowlin. There is a huge void in my life that can never be filled,” says 47-year-old Vanitha, unable to control her emotions.

Snowlin was the youngest victim of police firing that killed 12 other people besides the 17-year-old, during the anti-Sterlite protests that rocked this port city in Tamil Nadu on May 22, 2018. Snowlin, vociferous in her opposition to Sterlite Copper, was shot dead outside the District Collectorate in Thoothukudi.

The family, which depends on fishing, lived within their limited financial means – Vanitha’s elder son is married with two daughters. Two of her sons are yet to get married. 

With Thoothukudi set to vote on April 18, Sterlite Copper’s fate is being raked up by almost all political parties except the BJP. The DMK and AMMK led by T T V Dhinakaran are against re-opening of the plant, while a few fringe outfits like Naam Tamizhar and independent candidates have also promised the same.

“We have been flooded with visits by party men and journalists since March. We don’t want Sterlite Copper plant to be re-opened. The people of Thoothukudi strongly believe that the copper smelter is the cause for several people being diagnosed with cancer and lung-related diseases. We don’t want such killer plants,” Vanitha told DH at her house near the old harbour.

Politically-conscious now, Vanitha watches news channels to kill time after her daughter’s death. She says the present dispensation should not continue since it does not protect its citizens. “None from the government turned up to even offer condolences to us after the incident. We don’t want such people in power. I will certainly cast my vote,” the mother of four said.

Jesubalan, who is in his forties, hasn’t ventured into the sea after losing his wife Jhansi in the police firing. She had gone to meet her daughter. “If I go to the sea, who will take care of my girl children? I stay at home to ensure that they go to school on time and study after they come from the school,” he says. 

Jesubalan, Jhansi's husband, at his house in Thoothukudi (DH photo by ETB Sivapriyan)

Jhansi had gone to her daughter’s house on May 22 to meet her. “She never returned. She was shot in the head. The police killed her without any reason. There was no protest in the area where she was killed,” Jesubalan said.

Though he says he will vote, Jesubalan is sceptical that Sterlite Copper would be closed. “I don’t trust these politicians. They don’t do what they say. It is better to vote for NOTA,” he said.