Environmental protest

‘What crime did we commit?’: Fear in Tuticorin as police kill nine protesting copper plant

Tamil Nadu government claims that use of force was unavoidable.

At least nine people were killed and many more were injured in the coastal town of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu on Tuesday when a protest by local residents against the expansion of the Vedanta Group’s Sterlite Copper plant in the area turned violent, prompting the police to open fire. Residents claim that the factory is contaminating the region’s air and water resources.

On Tuesday evening, the Tamil Nadu government released a list of nine people who were killed. But in a condolence message, state Governor Banwarilal Purohit expressed grief at the death of 11 people.

Thousands of local residents participated in Tuesday’s protests, which turned violent after the police barricaded the route to the Collector’s office. Video footage broadcast by regional television channels show police shooters firing into the distance from atop police vans.

According to PTI, a statement issued by the E Palanisamy-led state government said that the police had no choice but to use force against the protesters. “The mob resorted to violence, set on fire police vehicles and those parked at the Collectorate and pelted stones at the collector’s office,” it said. “To bring the violence under control, under unavoidable circumstances, police had to take action.”

At the end of the day, several protestors had gone into hiding in the town. “What crime did we do to be shot at?” asked Selva Raj, one of the protestors. “Does a private company really need to be given such protection?”

Pollution concerns

Tuesday marked the 100th day of a protest that started in February. Residents are demanding that the copper smelter be shut down because of pollution concerns. The plant, set up in 1996, lies at the edge of Tuticorin town, near Kumareddyarpuram village. It has the capacity to produce 1,200 tonnes of copper anodes per day. Sterlite – the copper unit of Vedanta, one of the world’s largest mining and metals conglomerates – plans to nearly double the plant’s existing capacity. If it goes through, the plant will spill over into a densely populated area.

According to the project’s Environment Impact Assessment report from 2015, over 4.6 lakh people live in eight towns and 27 villages within a 10-km radius of the plant . Its main pollutants are sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, said the report.

For over two decades now, local residents and activists have complained that the plant has been contaminating the air and water in the area, and has violated environmental laws. Villagers say that they did not realise the effects of these pollutants for several years and began to view the copper smelter as the cause of several of their ailments only recently. “In every household of our village, at least a couple of people are suffering from some kind of illness,” Selva Raj had told Scroll.in last month. “Children are the worst affected.”

Planned protest

The protests began when the residents of Kumareddyarpuram village first found out about Sterlite’s ambitious expansion plan. Their small-scale demonstrations soon grew into a massive protest. On March 24, thousands of residents thronged the streets of Tuticorin, demanding that the plant be closed.

Around a month ago, the protestors announced their intention to surround the Collector’s office to press for their demand. “We did not want any violence,” said Selva Raj, who is from Kumareddyarpuram village. “We just wanted to meet the Collector.”

In response, the Collector announced a peace meeting that was held with a section of protesters on May 20. “But we did not want any peace meeting,” said Sundaramoorthy, also from Kumareddyarpuram village. “We just wanted the company to be shut.”

Despite Sunday’s meeting, the protestors decided to go ahead with a massive protest they had planned for Tuesday. They were given permission to assemble on a ground next to the old bus stand in Tuticorin between 9 am and 5 pm, according to local residents.

On Monday, the Collector reportedly announced that prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure – which bans the assembly of more than four people in an area – had been imposed in the regions that fall under the jurisdiction of the town’s SIPCOT police station and the South Police Station. But that did not stop the protestors from heading out to participate in Tuesday’s protest.

“For at least 10 km from the Collectorate, the road was packed with people, even children,” said Jude V, a resident of Tuticorin who has been objecting to the plant for several years.

The police set up barricades at several points to prevented the protesters from heading towards the Collectorate. “At one point, we had all gathered behind the barriers, and the police let loose a cow into our midst,” said Jude. “This was when people started to get angry, pushed the barricades and started throwing stones at the police.” A police van was overturned and several vehicles were also set on fire.

As the angry crowd moved closer to the Collectorate, the police fired a round of bullets, said the protesters. Four men and one woman died in the first round of firing, said Sundaramoorthy. Photographs of the victims circulated on social media seemed to show that the victims had been shot above the abdomen. Video footage broadcast by Tamil television channel Puthiya Thalaimurai showed police commandos shooting at targets from the top of a police van.

Fear in Tuticorin

Officials at the Tuticorin police headquarters said they were “too busy” to confirm any details about the violence. Senior police officers and the Collector were also unavailable for comment.

After the firing, the protesters scattered and several of them are now hiding in the homes of their friends. People said that there is heavy police presence in each street. “We are scared to step out now, what if the cops shoot at us?” said Selva Raj. “We are hearing that the police is still shooting at people.”

In the evening, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Palanisamy said a retired High Court judge would investigate the incident. A solatium of Rs 10 lakh was announced for the families of the dead.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.