The State police have told the judicial commission inquiring into the police firing at Cheriathura last year that the “police resorted to firing to disperse the violent mob in accordance with law and procedure.”
Six persons were killed and 30 injured in the police firing in the locality on May 17, 2009. District Judge K. Ramakrishnan heads the inquiry.
City Police Commissioner M.R. Ajith Kumar stated before the commission that Cheriathura, Beemapally, Poonthura and Vizhinjam were densely populated coastal areas with distinctive demographic character and socio-economic problems. Various communities in these areas tend to live in separate localities with “limited intermingling.”
Mr. Ajith Kumar stated that in these areas expressions like “no man's land” are used to indicate borders which separated the different communities. Cheriathura itself has got one such “line of control.” Poverty and illiteracy combined with harsh living conditions have made at least a section of local residents prone to highly volatile and aggressive behaviour.
The past history of the area showed that even on the slightest provocation people mobilised themselves on communal lines and indulged in violence. The area is widely known for its criminal activities such as trade in smuggled goods, pirated CDs and DVDs, pornographic materials, contraband liquor and narcotics.
The Commissioner stated that the area also provided a fertile ground for organisations and groups with fundamentalist and extremist ideologies.
He said May 16, 2009 was the day of the counting of votes of the Lok Sabha election. The entire police force in the city was deployed for poll duty, which included providing security at counting centres, guarding ballot boxes, preventing clashes between activists of opposing political fronts and escorting victory marches.
At about 5 p.m., the police control room received information that there was a law and order situation involving Muslims and Christians at Cheriathura. The police intervened and brought the situation under control. At 9 p.m., a group of Christians from the nearby fishermen's colony reached Cheriathura in an aggressive mood. A large number of Muslims also gathered. The two groups assembled on communal lines and indulged in violence. The police accompanied by the District Collector reached the spot. The police averted a direct clash between the communities.
However, the mob damaged property by indulging in arson and bomb-throwing. The police and Fire and Rescue Services personnel sustained injuries in the violence.
The police registered eight cases in connection with the incidents of violence on May 16. They opened a special control room at Cheriathura junction and posted pickets in sensitive spots, including the coastal locality separating Christian and Muslim neighbourhoods.
On May 17 afternoon, the police got information that a group of Christians were intermittently obstructing vehicles, mostly of weekend shoppers, proceeding towards Beemapally. The group was demanding the arrest of those responsible for the violence on May 16 evening. The police diverted traffic towards Beemapally through an alternate route.
Mr. Ajith Kumar said that at 3 p.m., “an aggressive Muslim mob crashed over to the Christian area indulging in violent activities, including throwing of bombs towards the Cheriathura Assumption Church.”
He stated that this was followed by large-scale mobilisation of Christians and Muslims on communal lines “leading to major communal confrontation between them.” The mobs were threatening to attack each other's places of worship.
The police had to deal with a highly surcharged and extremely violent situation. The efforts of the police to bring the situation under control using non-lethal weapons proved futile. Tear gas shells, stinger grenades, stun lack grenades, etc., proved to be ineffective in the windy conditions. He stated that it was in these circumstances the police resorted to opening fire.
The Commissioner requested the judicial commission to permit him to submit further statements if necessary after other parties have filed their statements.