The Big Story: Bullet holes
The Tamil Nadu government is still struggling to deal with the situation in Thoothukudi, where 12 people demanding the closure of a copper plant were killed in police firing. Eleven people were shot dead on Tuesday as thousands of protestors took to the streets against the planned expansion of the Sterlite plant. As the area continued to be tense on Wednesday, the police killed one more person. The Tamil Nadu government has suspended internet services in Thoothukudi, Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli districts for the next few days with the aim of preventing making it more difficult for further protests to be organised.
Questions loom about the actions of the Tamil Nadu police on Tuesday, when, in addition to the 11 deaths, hundreds were injured. The main point of contention: Why were police firing at the protestors in the first place? Videos from Tuesday purport to show one policeman taking aim at protestors from the top of the van, while another voice is heard to say, “At least one should die.”
Activists from the area say that most of those who died or were injured sustained bullet wounds on their faces or torsos. This suggests that standard crowd control protocols were violated. According to most police manuals, including the Tamil Nadu Police Standing Order book, crowd control must proceed with gradation. This means using the simplest techniques at first, such as asking the crowd to disperse. Firearms are only meant to be used as the last resort.
As former Tamil Nadu Director General of Police R Natraj explained to Scroll, “First we engage the agitators in dialogue and once the crowd knows we are firm, they disperse or facilitate them to achieve some success like meeting the authorities or giving some assurance. If that doesn’t work, warn them to disperse. Slowly use hierarchy of force like teargas water canon, that doesn’t work then lathi charge. Only If there is extreme violence and arson, police resort to firing, that too just injure. We have rubber bullets and buck shots with pellets which disperse causing injury but not kill. Also aim below the knee to save vital organs.”
In the case of Thoothukudi, while it is true that the protestors did get violent, pelting stones at the collectorate office in particular, some reports suggest that the crowds got more agitated because of the gunshots. The police did not seem to use the gradation of tactics strategy, such trying to control the crwod with water canons and then rubber bullets. They seemed to simply jump straight to firing bullets, and that too with an aim to kill.
The National Human Rights Commission taken suo motu cognisance of the incident, serving notice to both the Tamil Nadu government and the police. The government, after insisting that the deaths were “unavoidable” on Wednesday, announced that it was constituting a one-person commission to look into the police firing and the deaths. But considering India’s woeful history in holding the police responsible for the lives of protestors, it is incumbent upon the government as well as other institutions, including the judiciary, to ensure that some accountability is maintained in a case in which 11 lives seem to have been lost for no reason.
The Big Scroll
- Watch: Policemen surround dying man at anti-Sterlite protest, tell him to “stop acting”.
- “What crime did we commit?”: Vinita Govindarajan writes about the fear in Tuticorin as police kilk people protesting copper plant.
- Also read Vinita Govindarajan’s two-part series on the two-decade-old protests in Thoothukudi, including how Sterlite’s environmental clearances are suspect, and how the pollution from the plant is affecting the health of people in the area.
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- Gautam Bhatia, writing on the same topic in the Hindu, says, “If we want to put an end to the continuous misuse of the Raj Bhavan for partisan political ends in a manner that threatens both federalism and democracy, we have to rethink the role of the Governor in the constitutional scheme.”
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“‘I write to people who have received awards in music, sports, education, social service, art [and more],’ Chougule said. ‘My day starts with finding stories of hope and courage in the local Marathi newspapers. For this, I’ve subscribed to three Marathi dailies.’ After identifying inspirational stories in Mahasatta, Lokneta and Lokmat, he notes them down in a book and sets out to find the address of the achiever from friends and acquaintances.
Chougule writes out the postcards in Marathi using refills that he tucks into a piece of paper in his old diary. For birthday and anniversary wishes, he has a standard text but for achievers, he personalises each message, writing about their work and congratulating them. If the address is less than 6 km away, he cycles over to deliver the postcard personally.”