Villagers turn out in strength for Tabrez Sayekar's funeral

A tense calm descended on Sakhri Nate village on Wednesday as the funeral of Tabrez Sayekar took place in the afternoon. The entire village had turned out in strength and while women watched from their houses, the men formed a long double row from the mosque to the hillside kabrastan (burial ground) to pay homage to Tabrez who was killed in police firing on Monday.

The coffin covered with a shiny green “chaddar” passed through the row of people who touched it reverently before it was taken to its final resting place.

Ratnagiri city was back to normal on Wednesday and in the morning villagers from Sakhri Nate arrived at the civil hospital to collect the body. The post-mortem was completed on Tuesday evening, but the body was not claimed by the family which set certain conditions.

Wife's plea

Tabrez's wife Shireen submitted an application to Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan demanding that a judicial inquiry be conducted into the firing on April 18 and the guilty be punished. She also demanded that the Jaitapur nuclear power project be scrapped.

Ratnagiri Collector Madhukar Gaikwad had a meeting late on Tuesday night with the people from the village and replied in writing that the government had already announced a judicial inquiry into the incident and once it was completed, the guilty would be punished. Regarding the nuclear power plant, he said that the letter would be forwarded to the Chief Minister since it involved a policy decision.

He also appealed to the family to claim the body. Accordingly, Tabrez's body was taken in an ambulance to the village amid tight security.

Nate police station was spruced up but smashed computers, a television set and old torn documents were dumped in the front yard. A huge posse of policemen waited in readiness nearby but none of them entered the village on Wednesday. Shiv Sena leaders Dattaji Nalawade, and Vinayak Raut and the local party members attended the funeral. Shiv Sena sources said that the party gave the bereaved family Rs.2 lakh.

A father's agony

Abdul Sattar Sayekar, father of Tabrez, sat forlornly at the back of the house while the women grieved loudly inside. Mr. Sayekar, a fisherman like most people in the village does not own a boat. He repairs nets for Rs. 250 a day and his son also used to do that. Tabrez went fishing sometimes. “On that day my son had gone up to the police station and he came back for lunch. Then he went again after he ate. He was with other people,” his father recalled.

Tabrez went for meetings at Madban when Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray had come and earlier for the Chief Minister's public meeting. He was even arrested once for agitating against the nuclear power plant. But they let him off, Mr. Sayekar said.

Like most of the people in Sakhri Nate, Mr. Sayekar and his son too were opposed to the Jaitapur project. “We don't want this project. Is the government going to give us jobs? Now in my family at least there is no one to give a job to,” he rued.

Opposition to the nuclear power plant seems have hardened after Monday's incident. “Tabrez was a quiet young man, his father was ailing and the family was dependent on him. It's tragic that the police fired on him,” said a neighbour.

Women in Sakhri Nate who did not wish to be named said that events in Fukushima which they had closely followed on television had made up their minds against nuclear energy. Twelve people from this village had visited Tarapur a while ago and seen the effects of displacement. Fishing is their livelihood and in Tarapur, fisherfolk said the catch had reduced considerably after the nuclear power plant had come up in the area.

People also feel let down by Industry Minister Narayan Rane who is from the region. This village has always supported and voted for the Congress, said one woman. But now Mr. Rane is supporting the project. “What we saw in Japan is a warning for us. Our government instead of heeding those warnings is pressing for the nuclear plant,” she pointed out. All the women take active part in protests and they are upset with the police action.

There is also a reluctance to give out names while venting strong opinions for fear of retribution by the police. Young men said that the police were lying about bursting tear gas shells or firing plastic bullets before they opened fire on Monday. The police did not even fire in the air, they said.

Ratnagiri Superintendent of Police Pradip Raskar said everything was peaceful on Wednesday . No fresh arrests have been made and those arrested including Sena MLA Rajan Salvi and some 40 others, are in judicial custody till April 21. Mr. Raskar also refuted the villagers' claims that no warning was given. Everything would come out in the inquiry, he said.

Meanwhile, six injured people were discharged from hospital.