The police firing in Thoothukudi that left 13 dead has raised several questions on the police action, most of which is based on certain video footage available in public domain.
Two persons, who are seen taking aim with the expertise of snipers to shoot at the protesters from atop a riot control vehicle, are in civilian clothes.
“Why should police hide their identity. Those in mufti were not there to mingle with the crowd and gather intelligence. A police person using a weapon in uniform and mufti makes a lot of difference. Preliminary information reveals that the sharp shooters were members of the Striking Force,” a senior police officer told The Hindu on Thursday.
He felt lack of assessment, planning and deployment of manpower, and leadership were the reasons for the police firing. “It appears that police opened fire more in self defence than to disperse the crowd. One shot and one death is enough to chase away any unruly mob. I wonder what is the justification to gun down more than a dozen people,” he said.
Going by the Supreme Court guidelines on investigation into police encounters, the case should be handed over to the CB-CID or any other police station headed by an officer at least one level above the officer who led or was in-charge of the firing. The police should surrender the weapons used for firing for forensic and ballistic analysis. Three days after the incident, there was no clarity on who gave permission for the police firing that occurred at different places.
Eyewitnesses discounted the theory that the two snipers had not gunned down anyone but had only fired randomly. The two had opened fire at Four Lane close to the District Collectorate. Many of the bodies were found only there. One body was found in front of the Thoothukudi Government Polytechnic but there is no explanation as to who opened the firing there.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties general secretary V. Suresh said the tactics adopted by the police and the government leading to the unconscionable and unconstitutional firing aimed to kill protesters was deplorable. It was public knowledge that the anti-Sterlite Movement had called upon people to gather on May 22, the 100th day of the protests, and march to the Collector’s Office, he added.
Knowing fully well that local sentiments were against the continuation of the Sterlite plant, the district administration and the police ought to have taken steps to defuse the situation by engaging in dialogues.
“People say that they heard more than 40 to 50 rounds of gunfire. Yet the number of dead is only 13. What we are worried about is whether the injured people are hiding because of fear of police brutality and reprisal. It is important that the administration take the assistance of credible eminent people who enjoy the confidence of locals to reach out with offer of assistance and help,” Mr Suresh said.
(With P. Sudhakar in Thoothukudi)