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Sterlite firing: Young men fear arrest, torture

Jun 04, 2018

A preliminary report of a People's Inquest provides an account on the violation of human rights of people protesting the Sterlite copper smelter plant. It notes that many people have been rounded up and beaten by police.

A People's Inquest organised by coalition of civil society organisations in Tamil Nadu, ‘Coordinating Committee for People’s Inquest into Thoothukudi Police Firing’ has recommended that the Sterlite plant be dismantled and the industry banned with immediate effect. The inquest has asked for the government to establish who ordered the shooting and killing and make them accountable as per the law and actions against those responsible for the killings, injuries and continuous unlawful search, assault and harassment of the people.

The preliminary report put in by the team comprising two high court retired judges, retired civil servants and police officers in addition to senior advocates, journalists, forensic experts and social workers on completion of its its 2-day inquest into the Thoothukudi police firing recorded witnesses saying that the weapon used in firing was a 7.62 Self Loading Rifle, which is not advisable to be used against unarmed people and should not have been used in crowd management.

According to the report, even the people using the SLR were plainclothed men and hence cannot be said to be policemen. "Law and order matter should not have plainclothed policemen, they should wear uniform, or else they are miscreants, the report says. The action of civil society leaders to conduct a People's Inquest follows firing on protesters in Tuticorin districts of the south-Indian state of Tamilnadu that resulted in 15 deaths.

The protesters, numbering over 100,000, were protesting against the excavation giant Vedanta's copper smelting units. They were protesting against the company for the pollution it was causing in its immediate environment and the health hazards the local people were living with.

The People's Inquest team took exception to accounts of witnesses who spoke of a massive, unwarranted door-to-door search in several localities. "The police personnel forcefully entered into the houses, damaging the properties. According to the people’s testimonies, mostly young men were targeted and were illegally arrested and taken into custody," the report reads. "Those who were picked up were neither taken to any police stations nor produced before Judicial Magistrates," it says.

All the testimonies corroborated that they have been beaten up mercilessly, tortured continuously, and were kept in the police hours hours for over 36 hours without providing food, water or any medical relief. "Some of the testimonies also stated these young men were then illegally detained at the Varusanadu Firing Range. 30 of them were later found to be minors."

The report that reads like an account on the violation of human rights, notes that many people have been rounded up and beaten by police. As late as on the night of May 31, three young men were picked up by policemen in plainclothes from the village of Meelavittan which has a history of relentless struggle against Sterlite, just 1.5 km away.

It says that many young men have been forced to leave their homes, as they fear for arrest and torture by police even though they were not part of the anti-Sterlite protests. Those who took part in the protests are apprehending arrest as police have filed open FIRs against thousands of unnamed persons.

The team has also heard of instances of families altogether fleeing from their homes fearing false cases by police. The People's Inquest team witnessed a huge presence of police personnel and observed people still living in terror.

According to the preliminary report, "testimonies also stated that the CCTV cameras in Thoothukudi South Police Station were covered with cloth when the persons illegally detained were taken to that police station."

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