Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Opposition parties in Tamil Nadu condemned the police violence in the Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) which left nine people dead on Tuesday, 22 May. Kamal Haasan and superstar Rajinikanth, too, strongly objected to the police action.
The police initially tried to control the protesters with tear gas and baton charges but as hundreds of protesters defied prohibitory orders on the 100th day of their agitation and allegedly attacked the District Collectorate, the police resorted to firing.
Reacting to the incident, DMK working president MK Stalin accused the Tamil Nadu police of committing atrocities.
In the wake of the deaths, Stalin cancelled his scheduled attendance of Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing in ceremony on Wednesday.
“I am not going to attend Karnataka CM HD Kumaraswamy’s swearing in ceremony tomorrow. I am going to Thoothukudi tomorrow to meet those who are affected due to and are protesting against the Sterlite plant,” he told reporters in the evening today.
Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter calling the incident “state sponsored terrorism” and “murder”.
“The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the #SterliteProtest in Tamil Nadu, is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured,” he wrote.
The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the #SterliteProtest in Tamil Nadu, is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 22, 2018
Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) chief Kamal Haasan said that the expansion of the Sterlite Copper plant should not be allowed adding that there was no point in putting up a plant near residential and agricultural zone.
In a statement, Haasan’s party accused the ruling AIADMK government for the unfortunate incidents in Thoothukudi.
“The peaceful protest by the people of Tuticorin against Sterlite demanding justice was ignored by the governments. Negligence of the governments is the reason for all the unfortunate incidents. Citizens are not criminals. They are ones who lose their lives; earlier due to Sterlite and now due to the government’s orders,” the statement read as it appealed for peace.
Haasan had himself joined the protestors on 1 April, on the 49th day of the agitation. He had previously stated that the expansion of the Sterlite plant, if allowed, might lead to “a Bhopal-like tragedy” in Thoothukudi.
Superstar Rajinikanth, who, too, has announced his political plans, took to Twitter to condemn the government’s action.
Expressing his grief at the deaths, the 67-year-old Tamil cine icon accused the government of not respecting the sentiments of the people holding it responsible for the deaths.
He, too, has been among those who have stood with the protesters in the past. A day before Haasan’s Thoothukudi visit in April, Rajinikanth had slammed the AIADMK government for acting as a mute spectator and not listening to protestors.
Meanwhile, around 60 people have been left injured in the violence. The injured include policemen, who were also brought in from neighbouring districts of Madurai and Virudhunagar. Many of those injured were admitted to hospitals for treatment.
Protesters were seen pelting stones at the police. Vehicles were set on fire and many others were damaged.
This is the first incident of police firing on anti-Sterlite protesters, who have been agitating against the expansion plans of the Vedanta Group-run company for the last 100 days.
Sterlite Copper, the company at the centre of the controversy, currently operates a 400,000-tonne per annum unit in the city.
Thousands of protesters, especially from Kumarettiyapuram, have been up against the plant’s proposed expansion plans citing the threat it poses to the people in neighbouring villages. They claim that copper plant contaminated the groundwater and caused respiratory problems.
The state government led by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy asked people to maintain peace and assured that the government will take all legal steps in the matter.
Palanisamy also announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each for those killed during protest and Rs 3 lakh each for the injured, besides offering government jobs for the family members of the deceased.
The protesters alleged that police had used force without provocation on the peaceful gathering.