Uncertainty, fear grip four Chennai fishing hamlets as rumours of ‘police action’ fly thick

To sift fact from rumour, TNM visited the villages which were allegedly targeted by the police on Monday.
Uncertainty, fear grip four Chennai fishing hamlets as rumours of ‘police action’ fly thick
Uncertainty, fear grip four Chennai fishing hamlets as rumours of ‘police action’ fly thick

Two hundred metres ahead of Nadukuppam, a fishing village off the Marina beach, the air is heavy with black soot. The stench of dead fish greets you even before the remnants of stalls, which have been burnt to the ground are visible.

Looking ruefully at this reminder of alleged police arson are 15 women from the village, who have spent three sleepless nights in the fear that uniformed men would forcefully take away the men of their house, as they had reportedly threatened.

Nadukuppam is amongst the fishing villages that had allegedly been targeted by the police forces on Monday. Policemen reportedly barged into the houses of the fishermen, dragged them out to the streets and assaulted them. Following reports of police violence in the area, TNM set out to conduct an investigation.

We visited Nadukuppam, Mattan kuppam, Nachikuppam and Sivarajapuram to sift the fact from the rumours.

We set out at a time when social media was abuzz with rumours that several people had been picked up by the police. While the fear of police action was high among the residents, on the ground, no one knows anyone who was arrested on Tuesday night.

Kalamathi, a 36-year-old resident from Nadukuppam says, “We are scared to sleep because the police may come to arrest our sons and husbands at any time. We already saw how they abused us and broke into our houses on Monday. We are really afraid.”

Another woman, the anguish on her face visible, interrupts Kalamathi. She says, “We have sent our sons to different locations in the fear that the police will detain and beat them up.”

Sources tell TNM that the local inspector had met the fisher folk and assured them that there will be no unwarranted action against the men there. The villagers who spoke to us, however, were unaware of this development.

Two kilometres from here, adjacent to the lighthouse is Nachikuppam, lies another fishing hamlet. There is heavy police presence near the market and cops constantly monitor the area on bikes.

Fish vendors signal quietly and talk in whispers to the TNM team. “Policemen came to our temporary shelter behind Santhome Church last night,” says 40-year-old Latha (name changed on request).

“They said that they are under pressure to file cases against 500 people and that they would arrest one man from every house. We are terrified that they will charge our innocent sons. They are already calling all of us terrorists,” she added.

A fact-finding team headed by Vasanthi Devi, visited Nadukuppam following complaints of police brutality. The team found that several of the fisher folk were being pressurised by the police to make statements against the protesters who were present at Marina. Police reportedly demanded that villagers blame the protesters for the violence and damage to the hamlet.

In Mattan Kuppam and Sivarajapuram, the narrative was similar. The residents there who primarily depend on fishing for their daily bread and butter, were not allowed to venture out into the sea. The initial fear amongst the villagers had now turned into resentment and anger.

“Look at what they have done to him,” said the villagers, pointing out a young man with lathi marks on his back. 26-year-old Murali had reportedly just arrived from Pondicherry on Monday, when police dragged him out of his house and assaulted them.

“We are constantly on the edge,” says 50 year Banu. “The police may come and assault us again. We were already subjected to tear gas shells and police brutality.”

But despite the fear, Banu and the other women in the village are prepared to resist. As Banu announced, “If the police do come, they will have to arrest the women. We won’t let them anywhere near our sons and husbands.”

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