Tamil Nadu orders closure of Thoothukudi Sterlite plant: Residents hope for best, but look back in anger

On Monday, Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami announced that the government had ordered the permanent closure of the Sterlite plant at Thoothukudi (also known as Tuticorin). The order came after 13 died and over a hundred were wounded in the months-long protest against the plant.

Greeshma Rai May 28, 2018 19:57:56 IST
Tamil Nadu orders closure of Thoothukudi Sterlite plant: Residents hope for best, but look back in anger

On Monday, Tamil Nadu chief minister K Palaniswami announced that the government had ordered the permanent closure of the Sterlite plant at Thoothukudi (also known as Tuticorin). The order came after 13 died and over a hundred were wounded in the months-long protest against the plant.

Tamil Nadu orders closure of Thoothukudi Sterlite plant Residents hope for best but look back in anger

Sumathi from neighbouring Pandarampatti village. Image courtesy: Greeshma Rai

Just hours earlier, Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam visited some of the injured in the police firing on 22 May. Among others, Panneerselvam met 18-year-old Raja Singh. Raja, who runs a mechanic shop behind the collector's office, and who suffered multiple gunshot wounds in the right leg, is scheduled to undergo surgery on Tuesday morning.

“I asked, why I was shot like this? How could the government do this to me when all I was trying to do was protect people of my city?" Raja said. "The deputy chief minister told me to be patient and that they were trying to shut down the plant. I will go for surgery happily knowing that Sterlite has been shown the door.”

For Mayil and others at Kumaratiyapuram village, this struggle has been on since 1995. Their village is just 100 metres away from the Copper Smelter plant. The 100-day protest which culminated with the death of 13 people and captured the attention of the country began here. Plagued by death after death due to various types of cancers and other respiratory ailments, the residents of this village decided to quit everything and protest until the plant was closed. “We will hold a candlelight vigil for the dead at 8 pm. I can’t say I am fully happy. I mainly think about those who died for us. We’ll pay tribute to them and then celebrate,” Mayil said.

“They’ve done this before. How are you saying they won’t go back on it again?” asks Sumathi from neighbouring Pandarampatti village. Sumathi doesn't seem entirely convinced by the government order. Though she said she is happy with the outcome, she added that the women of her village are fully prepared if the government changes its mind.

Throughout the protests, many transgender persons in Thoothukudi played a major role: From protecting people from police violence to contributing in whatever way they could. On 22 May, the transgender persons led the rally. “We have not been interacting too much with anybody since because we really fear for our lives. But this gives us hope that our efforts haven’t gone in vain,” said Reema.

Thracepuram saw maximum causalities, with more than 20 residents being hospitalised. After the firing at the collector's office, police forces entered the area and opened fire. Jhansi, 39, died in the firing. Her sister Rosamma, who witnessed this, said that she and her family would not claim the body until the government ordered Sterlite shut down.

Residents of Thracepuram were also reportedly beaten up on the day of the firing and the days that followed the incident. "I just hope this move by the government isn't to quieten down everything we've been made to go through these past few days," said Bhanu, whose son received multiple gunshot wounds and an injury to the head. "Couldn't they have done this before?"

While the hospital wards where the injured were taken erupted in celebrations, Infanta from Fathima Nagar seemed somewhat forlorn. Infanta quit her full-time job to be part of this struggle. “I’ve lost friends. Snowlin had a bright future ahead of her, she'd just written her Class 12 exams. We left hand in hand on 22 May, thinking this will be the last day of the struggle. I saw her being shot in front of my eyes. I’ve been sleepless since. I know we’ve won but the cost makes me sad. Our struggle won’t end until all those who’ve been killed receive justice."

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