Sterlite protests
17-year-old Snowlin was shot dead by the police in Thoothukudi as she protested against the Sterlite plant.

The bylanes of Sahayapuram, that seem to twist and turn endlessly, are cloaked in an eerie silence, which is broken by the occasional blaring TV that gives an anxious town news of their friends and family.

The silence gets thicker as we approach Snowlin’s house - the 17-year-old was killed in the police firing on Tuesday in Thoothukudi.

Under a thatched roof, her aunts, uncles and cousins sit, numbed by the tragedy.

An aspiring lawyer

Snowlin’s family remembers a girl who wanted to prove to the world that she could be the change she wished to see.

“She finished her 10th standard and she wanted to help people. So she studied nursing. She was also studying for her 12th standard exams through correspondence. She completed it with 846 marks. She wanted to become a lawyer and fight for us,” says her brother Godwin, as children from the neighbourhood gather around.

Jude, her uncle, says, “She has participated in several protests against Sterlite. She has seen her friends and their families die of cancer. She would come home and cry. She used to ask us to be more active. Would we keep quiet if we lost one of our own, she would ask us.”

‘We fought for everyone’s children, but they killed our daughter’

As prayers for the departed ring through the two-room house on Lionel Street, Vanitha cries inconsolably. “She usually wakes up late, but that day, I woke her up at 5.30 in the morning. We left for the protest together. I asked her to walk with me in the protest, but she kept marching ahead,” sobs Snowlin’s mother. “She told me she would make me proud. But I didn’t know it would end like this.”

Jaya, Snowlin’s aunt, was also at the protest that day.

“We were walking down the 10-km stretch along with our friends and family. Suddenly, a kaala maadu (bull) came out of nowhere. We were all scared and so we ran. As we had scattered by then, we couldn’t find each other. We then suddenly heard gunshots. We were there to fight for everyone. But they killed our daughter. She was just just 17. We had gone there to ask for justice, not to create chaos. People here are dying of cancer. If we don’t fight for ourselves, who will?”

“There was no ambulance to even take those who had been shot. We had to stop a differently abled man on the road and ask him to take her in his scooter to the hospital,” says Jude.

Some media reports had also mentioned that Snowlin was a coordinator of one of the groups that had participated in the protest, but her family firmly denied these claims.

‘Is this the cost of our lives?’

“This is a fight for our lives and our livelihood. Without food and water, how can we live? Everyone dies of some form of cancer here. Even the fish doesn’t want to drink our water. So our fishermen go near Colombo to fish, but they get shot there too. Even if we are in the sea for an entire day, we don’t find anything here. We don’t have a problem with industries, we are only objecting to the polluted air and water,” says Brutus, Snowlin’s neighbour.

As anger and grief wash over Snowlin’s family and the people of Thoothukudi, the wait for justice continues without an end in sight. With an inquiry ordered into the brutal police shooting, Snowlin’s family awaits for the post-mortem report by the government hospital.

“All she asked for was basic necessities. Now, her dreams lie shattered in a box. She wanted to help the society and her parents. We have lost her forever. The only thing we want now is that Sterlite be shut once and for all,” says Brutus.

Read: TN CM justifies Thoothukudi police firing as ‘natural’ reaction, says not pre-planned