Remember Thoothukudi: My fight for justice is under surveillance, says Snowlin's mother

17-year-old Snowlin was shot dead by the police in the firing during the anti-Sterlite agitations last year.
Remember Thoothukudi: My fight for justice is under surveillance, says Snowlin's mother
Remember Thoothukudi: My fight for justice is under surveillance, says Snowlin's mother
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The sky above the pink-tiled homes in Thoothukudi’s Lions Town smoulders with rage as the cemented ground below consumes splashing water within seconds. The winding lane is being swept clean by women as part of their morning chores. As the faded blue-green walls pull closer, Vanitha’s home reverberates with the sound of laughter. Her daughter-in-law Meryl, and her children are playing with their grandmother. Looming large over the living room is a golden-framed photograph of Snowlin, the 17-year-old protester who was gunned down by the police during the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi last year.

A fiery student orator who aspired to be a lawyer, Snowlin was also Vanitha’s only daughter. Her sudden death came as a huge blow to a family that adored her. “Snowlin used to argue with me, fight with me, but the very next moment, she would follow me everywhere. She would care for another person deeply. She would say, ‘We should not allow them to feel like they have nobody.’ She cared a lot,” remembers her 48-year-old mother. Her family says that Snowlin had friends who had allegedly been affected by the pollution caused by the Sterlite copper smelter, a cause which became close to her heart. She had also witnessed how the water contamination in the coastal town had caused members of the fishing community, to which she belonged, to set sail elsewhere for catch.

Snowlin was among the thousands of protesters who marched towards the district Collectorate on May 22 last year when she was shot dead by policemen in plainclothes— with a bullet piercing through the back of her neck, damaging parts of her upper spinal cord and exiting through her mouth. The postmortem report given to the family over a month after the shooting, is being used as evidence in her family's fight for justice. A fight that is likely to take years before any justice is delivered to the grieving families.

“Only a mother knows the pain. All the upbringing, joy, laughter, pain, sorrow and dreams have been buried with my daughter. This government did that. They have shot her mercilessly,” she alleges, looking up at her daughter’s photograph. The fight for justice over the past twelve months has taken a toll on her mental peace, she says.

‘They’re watching our movements’

With the CBI and the state government-appointed Aruna Jagadeesan inquiry commission probing into the deaths and the police action on the day, the road to justice is long. “Our only fear is how the final verdict will be since it is the state which has perpetrated the violence,” she alleges, adding that she does not trust the government.

Does she believe she will get justice though? With a wry smile, Vanitha pauses and says, “If you go and fight for justice for me, they slap dozens of cases on you. They are watching your movements wherever you go.”

Soon after the shooting, the government announced a solatium of Rs 20 lakh to the families of the deceased and a government job for one family member. However, most families have struggled to express their anguish at the nature of the compensation. “If we talk about money, they make it look like that’s what we are after. All the men who died were breadwinners mostly. If we point this out, they will say that we are not seeing the life of those who passed away, that we are seeing only the money. They will change it like that. If the government changes and decides to support us, let the government do that,” she alleges.

Among those who lost their loved ones in the firing, Vanitha has been vocal in her opposition to the copper plant. This, she alleges, has made her the subject of surveillance by state intelligence. Recalling the most recent incident, Vanitha says she has been printing cards for Snowlin's first death anniversary. "It’s my duty for my child, my last duty as a mother. I have to do it. I have invited all those who have shared our sorrow— from the time of her death to now. Whenever I go to give the card to anyone that they (the intelligence) perceive as being anti-Sterlite, I immediately get a phone call. They ask, ‘You have gone here, who took you there? How did you get there?’" However, Vanitha says the police had agreed that she can personally distribute the cards. "Nobody has the right to question me on this. Even the police agreed. But whoever comes to our house, a message will immediately go to them, especially if they are anti-Sterlite.” she alleges.

“But I don't fear anyone. What is the point of me living when my daughter who should live has died?” she asks. Vanitha says she draws her strength from the many people who have reached out to her over the last year. She is resolute in her belief that her daughter did not die in vain.

She says, “Snowlin’s death has become honourable for others. It is unspeakable sorrow for us but she did not die in vain. The goals with which she died are still alive,” adding, “All our people are together. No one instigated for their selfishness. I don’t think so. Everyone’s intention was that our future generations should live well.”

As the state mourns the death of the 13 lives on Wednesday, only a small-sized gathering has thus far been permitted by the district authorities, with restrictions. “They don’t allow gatherings anyway. The election is an excuse.” says Vanitha.

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