It has been days since Chitra Helen from the village of Murugesan Nagar near Madhathur in Thoothukudi saw her husband Villa Rajan. He had fled the house days ago fearing arrests. That did not prevent the police from knocking her doors at odd hours. “It was past midnight last Thursday (June 14) when the police knocked at the gate. They searched the house completely, took a photograph of my husband and left the place. I don’t even know if he is still hiding or arrested.” With her one-year-old child, Helen finds it difficult to cope with her daily life. “My husband runs a small grocery shop in this area. Since he left, I have been running it and it’s been really difficult with my baby. But I have no other options. For most of us in this village, it is a hand-to-mouth existence.”
Rajalakshmi breaks down while talking of her son. “I did domestic work to bring him up. Arun Raj is my only son and his father passed away when he was seven years old. On June 13, he was among the first to be arrested. The police came home at around 3.30 am and picked him up. When he resisted they hit him. I was pushed around. His wife – who is seven months pregnant – was also pushed around. For one whole day, we dint know where he was kept. We kept running from pillar to post and after an entire day passed away, we got a call from SIPCOT police station. When I went there, I could see my son was so badly beaten up. I don’t know what cases have been foisted on him, but if and when he comes out, we will have to spend huge money on his medical expenses. That is also my worry now.”
Arun Raj’s wife Jeevalakshmi says she was not allowed to meet her husband. “The police were so indifferent; they told me I have not seen him only for a day and not to make an issue of it.”
For about a week now, these women have spent their nights at the streets, some at temple and some on platforms. “The policemen barge in, and search cupboards as if we will have our men hiding in them. We take refuge in the streets, under the skies. Those living close to the temple stay there. We spend the nights talking about the ill-fate that has befallen on us, and the first thing we see in the morning are the policemen who have come to check if our men have returned,” says Sumithra.
Kidher Bismi, Thamizhaga Vaazhvurimai Katchi’s Thoothukudi district secretary, says many men have been fleeing many villages in the district fearing arrests. “I was also picked up last Thursday but they left me in a day. The police said I was let off because I had also helped the policemen injured on May 22. But four to five cases are slapped on young men for merely taking part in the protests. In Madathur, the women have slept in temples for at least three days fearing midnight knocks. It is almost like Emergency here in Thoothukudi. Except in Threspuram and Fathima Nagar where women continue to resist any form of police excess, the police just go into any village and arrest any person.”
But the district administration rejects any idea of indiscrimination in arrests and subsequent action. In a press release a few days ago, Thoothukudi SP Murali Ramba has said only those who indulged in violence on May 22 have been arrested. “No woman or child has been arrested. They have not been harassed either”. The SP had also said that 243 cases have been filed and 248 persons arrested.
But sources say arrests have been indiscriminate and, in several occasions, those arrested were let off only after ‘producing sufficient proof’ that they had not participated in the protests.
“We know everyone who was killed on May 22. Some were relatives and some friends. We have lost everything on that day. We thought we had nothing more to lose, but the police are capable of making our men flee and making our women stay on the streets. What more do they want?” asks Sumithra.