A day after police brutality snatched away the lives of 11 anti-Sterlite protesters, the coastal town of Thoothukudi is shrouded in angry silence. With shops shut and empty roads, even the grey skies grieve with the town.
Outside the Government General Hospital, men, women and children wait anxiously as loved ones injured in the carnage are being treated. With 11 protesters dead and many more critical, the residents are under close watch of the police.
Over the two decades of agitations and shared illnesses, protesting strangers have become friends and family.
Selvan, 29, who lost his sister to cancer asks:
"Every fourth person next to me was dropping dead. They were shooting indiscriminately. We didn't know in which direction the bullets were flying. Even when we started fleeing towards the ambulance, they were chasing us. Why will we set fire to an ambulance that saves lives? Shouldn't they protect us? Why is there so much protection for a private company? Chief Minister Palaniswami is saying we burnt cars so they started firing us. If a car is burnt, we can buy it. Can they give us a life back? I'm asking Palaniswami, does he know the value of a life? I've lost my sister to cancer. That's why I took part in the protest. And they are killing us. Now they are saying they will give us Rs 10 lakhs. We will add 1 lakh to it. Will the collector give his life?"
Malarmuthu, another protester slams the state government, observing, "Their 10 lakhs is not going to make up for the invaluable lives lost. Sterlite has to be shut down once and for all. That is the only solution.” Accusing the police of knowingly firing at the crowd, Malarmuthu says no warning was given. “They have done this knowingly. If they didn’t want people to get hurt, they should have used water cannons. Without giving any warning, they started firing,” he alleges.
Another resident asks, “Are people who were shot, terrorists? Are we terrorists? For 100 days we have been protesting peacefully. We have been protesting for our own welfare.”
‘We won't take the bodies back’
Villagers from Threspuram, from where many of the protesters hail, refuse to take the bodies back. They accuse the government, the police and the media of playing with their life. "Let the Sterlite plant shut down forever, then we will stop the protest. Let the police who killed our people bury the dead bodies. Everything is run by money. How is it that someone who argues for justice is termed as a protester? Soon, they will call everyone a terrorist. Sterlite should shut down forever then only the dead will get peace."
Their anger, however extends to the media who they feel have not covered the 100-day protests prior to the deaths.
“Only now the media has come. Where were they when the protest was going on for 99 days? Now the media has come to increase the their TRP ratings,” says one protestor.
It was widely alleged that the state government-owned Arasu cable had pulled the plug on Tamil news television channels that had live streamed the protests.
MDMK chief Vaiko who visited the injured at the hospital lashed out at the ruling AIADMK asking, "People were shot in their head, throat and mouth. Was the government not aware that the protest was happening? People resorted to the protest as many of them were affected with cancer.They have made Tamil Nadu a hotbed of violence. It's not enough if the officers are dismissed from service. They should be persecuted.”
Watch voices from Thoothuudi speak to TNM’s Manasa Rao: