On Tuesday evening, as Thoothukudi reeled under the violence which was unleashed on its streets by the police and anti-Sterlite protesters, Tamil TV channels started airing a video in which at least two policemen were seen getting on top of a van and taking aim at protesters to shoot them down. While even the visuals enraged activists and the public, the audio heard in the background is even more chilling.
As a policeman is on top of the van, a voice in the background can be heard saying, “At least one should die.”
The video was shot from the vicinity of the police officers, and one can see that mostly policemen are around the van. It is however not clear as to who exactly made that statement.
The audio seems to have exposed the intention of at least some of the policemen who were assembled there to control the protesters.
The rules of engagement for police officers in India make it very clear that the use of firearms to control a crowd is allowed only in extreme and exceptional circumstances, and as a preventive measure, not as a punitive measure.
In a Precis on Crowd Control written in 2016 for the Bureau of Police Research and Development, retired IPS officer PPS Sidhu points out that there are three principles for use of force to control a crowd –
1. No more force should be used than is necessary;
2. It should not be used as a punitive measure;
3. It must cease immediately the objective is gained.
Policemen on the ground in Thoothukudi could have violated at least one of the principles, if not all three. It is not clear if such force was necessary at that point in the video, since the crowd was some distance away from the police. It is also unclear if their objective of crowd control was achieved at the time. But to want “at least one person to die” seems not just punitive, but vengeful.
Sidhu also points out that while using firearms, “The aim should be kept low (at the legs to avoid injuries) and towards the most threatening part of the crowd. Fire should cease as soon as the crowd disperses.” Any intention to kill would have run contrary to this rule. Of the at least 11 dead in the firing, bullets seem to have hit several of them in their torso, which also questions the motive behind the firing.
A statement released by the Law and Order department of the police headquarters on Tuesday night said, “We were prepared for a peaceful gathering at a school ground as discussed during a peace committee meeting between protesters and Collectors. At 10 am on 22nd, protesters were attempting to enter the Collectorate, and attacked the police and broke barriers. Police then attempted to disperse using tear gas shells. But they assaulted the police in return and entered the collectorate. They even set fire to vehicles in the premises. The police then declared them as a lawless crowd and decided they would cause harm to people's lives and property."