While around 100 protesters were let out on bail on Monday, over 30 were admitted to hospitals with a range of injuries including major fractures.

Police beat us starved us didnt let us use toilet Protesters against Ernakulam IOC plant
news Controversy Tuesday, June 20, 2017 - 14:20

The Ernakulam police have come under a cloud of controversy, following allegations that they brutally assaulted people, including women, who were protesting against the IOC LPG terminal at Puthuvype.

On Monday, close to 100 protestors, including 69 women, were released on bail by the Njarackal First Class Magistrate court. However, over 30 protestors have been admitted to hospitals. They allege that they were injured not only in lathicharges by the police, but were also assaulted after they had been detained.

Trouble began when the agitation intensified on Friday, after work on the LPG terminal was restarted despite the government promising that it will be stopped until July 4. When nearly 300 people gathered to protest near the High Court on Friday, the police force led by Kochi DCP Yatish Chandra resorted to lathicharge to disperse the protesters. The police action invited controversy as video footage showed that they had even attacked men who were accompanied by children. 

The situation grew more tense on Sunday, when many people, including women, were injured when the police resorted to another lathicharge after protesters tried to enter the IOC terminal area.

Around 75 protestors were arrested by the police on Sunday, and were among those released on Monday evening at around 4pm.

However, the protestors allege that they were harassed for the two days they were kept at the Kalamassery AR Police camp. They allege that they were not provided any food for the entire period, and the women among them were not even allowed to use the toilet.

“We were not allowed to use the toilet, even though there were women who were on their period with us. When they did not allow us (to use the toilet) after repeated requests, we used a shawl to cover up, but they forcefully removed the shawl. Some of the police officers even shot videos and took photos of us while we urinated,” alleged Latha, one of the arrested protestors.

Ajay Ghosh, the Convenor of the LPG Terminal Virudha Janakeeya Samara Samithi told TNM after his release that all of the protesters were kept starving for two days and that they were not even given water to drink.

“When we reached the court, some of our friends had brought some rice to eat. Till then, we were starving. The arrest and assault was without any provocation. When we were protesting, stones were pelted at us and soon the lathi charge also began,” he alleged.

While 22 people had been admitted in the Ernakulam General Hospital and around 12 people in the Medical College Hospital, three people were discharged on Monday and a few more are expected to be discharged on Tuesday.

Rosily, one of the injured protesters, has suffered a fracture in her left leg and said that doctor have informed her that she will not be able to walk for many weeks.

Rosily alleged that when protesters were rounded up by the police, they were treated brutally. “One of the policemen beat me again and again using a lathi inside the police van. They were just throwing us inside,” she said.

Rosily alleged that when she was unable to walk or stand at the police camp, she was finally taken to the hospital for medical attention.

“First they took us to the General Hospital. Since there was no space there, they took us to the Medical College. Here they tried to escape after dumping us, without paying any money. We did not have any money either, but we protested in front of the police vehicle. So, they again took us back to the General Hospital as no money had to be paid there. Later we ourselves arranged for money and came back to the Medical College. By that time our condition had become worse,” Rosily said.

Another protester, Sheela Sebastian, who was injured in the face had similar allegations to make. "I was hit in my face with a lathi. We all were brought to the AR camp. In the police van, they were pushing and stamping us. By the time we reached the camp, we were exhausted. Many had received fractures and other injuries. Only after repeated requests they took us to the hospital."

At the Medical College hospital, another protester Xavier showed his fractured right hand, and said, “They hit my hand with a lathi, and later stamped on it with their boots. I was crying with pain but they were not ready to take me to hospital. After a lot of drama, they brought me here.”

Despite their injuries, the protesters said, they are determined not to back down and will continue their agitation till death, if necessary.

What the authorities say

On Monday, Ernakulam Rural SP AV George told the media that the police suspect that the Puthuvype protesters have terrorist links.

“We suspect that there are terror links with the people behind it. They make use of poor women and children. The leaders of the protest have got support from outside. I believe that it was not planned by those people there,” AV George told media.

Representatives of the protesters are further outraged at the officer’s comments. “The Kerala police have always carried out their brutalities, by bringing up a terror connection. Police brutalities at Muthanga and Chengara also had similar justifications. Rajan (an Engineering student who went missing and was presumably killed during the 1975-77 Emergency) was also a terrorist,” counters Ajay Ghosh bitterly.

What has added to the controversy is that the police action came just after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan declared at the inauguration of the Kochi Metro that the government will not encourage any people standing in the way of development. He added that no protests will be allowed to stop the government from moving ahead with development projects.

While the immediate context of the CM’s statement was with regard to land acquisition for the Metro project, many news reports also connected the CM’s words to the Puthuvype protest.

However, Minister for Fisheries, Harbour Engineering and Cashew Industry J Mercykutty Amma condemned the police action and said that assaulting protestors is not government policy.

“What the police did was not right. The Rural SP says that he has some doubts. If it is so, let them investigate. But the government doesn’t see it that way. The government cannot withdraw from the project. But people are anxious, and we will sort out their doubts,” the Minister said.

Those opposing the terminal say that their concerns regarding their safety have not been given sufficient consideration. The proposed IOCL LPG plant will have the capacity to store 15.47 TMT (thousand metric tonnes) of LPG, and residents question the wisdom of storing such large quantities of combustible material within a populated area.

“This is the only place in the world such a huge terminal that stores such a high amount of LPG comes up in a highly populated area, where almost 65,000 people live. This terminal is just 30 metres away from the houses here. This will result in a huge tragedy,” Ajay Ghosh had earlier told TNM.

Edited by Rakesh Mehar