Tamil Nadu government accused of ‘state-sponsored terrorism’ as police gun down 11 anti-Sterlite protesters including a girl

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The killings of 11 people including a girl in police firing in Tamil Nadu as the ongoing anti-Sterlite protests turned violent have sent shockwaves across India. Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday caleld it a ‘state-sponsored terrorism,’ while West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called the development ‘shocking.’

Sterlite
Photo: PTI

Taking to Twitter, Gandhi wrote, “The gunning down by the police of 9 people in the #SterliteProtest in Tamil Nadu, is a brutal example of state sponsored terrorism. These citizens were murdered for protesting against injustice. My thoughts & prayers are with the families of these martyrs and the injured.”

Banerjee, who arrived in Bengaluru for to attend the swearing in ceremony of the new government in Karnataka, wrote, “I just landed in Bengaluru to the shocking news about incident near the Sterlite Tuticorin plant. My thoughts and prayers with the people of Tamil Nadu at this hour of grief. My deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives and hope the injured recover soon.”

The CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury called the police action ‘criminal’ adding that ‘the state government’s response has worked to make things worse.” He said, “The manner in which state police has shot at and killed protestors in Tamil Nadu is criminal. The state government’s response has worked to make things worse: Just trying to deflect attention and avoid responsibility.”

Earlier on Tuesday, hundreds of protesters from nearby areas had allegedly attacked the District Collectorate in Toothukudi in Tamil Nadu demanding closure of the Vedanta Group-run company.

The cops first fired teargas shells and carried out baton charges to bring the protesters under control but passions were high forcing the cops to begin firing as hundreds of people gathered in defiance of prohibitory orders on the 100th day of their agitation ever since the company announced the expansion plans of the four lakh tonne per annum Sterlite Copper project and attacked the Collectorate.

A report by IANS said that the area around the Collectorate resembled a battle-zone with the protesters setting vehicles afire and attacking policemen with stones. Plumes of black smoke emanated from the protest site. Police retaliated in a bid to bring the situation under control.

Among those who died were identified as Antony Selvaraj, Kandiah, Gladson, Jayaram, Maniraj, Tamilarasan, Shanmugham and Venista. At least 60 people, including policemen, were injured in the clashes. Many of them were admitted to hospitals for treatment.

In a statement, the state government said it would respect the wishes of the people in the matter. It said around 20,000 people took out a rally against the company and became violent by attacking police and burning police vehicles while storming the Collector’s office. As police could not control the crow, they resorted to a few actions, it said.

The statement said the government will take all legal steps in the matter and asked the people to maintain peace. Police from neighbouring districts of Madurai and Virudhunagar was rushed to Thoothukudi to bring the situation under control.

“The mob resorted to violence, set on fire police vehicles and those parked at the collectorate and pelted stones at the collectors office. To bring the violence under control, under unavoidable circumstances, police had to take action. To maintain law and order additional police personnel have been sent to Tuticorin,” the statement said.

Tracing the history of Sterlite Industries India Ltd, a Vedanta Group unit, it said the plant was in operation in Meelavitan in Tuticorin for the past 20 years. Following a gas leak in March 2013 in the plant, the then chief minister, the late J Jayalalithaa, ordered its closure, following which the company moved the National Green Tribunal against the state government, the statement recalled.

The statement further added that with the tribunal overturning the Government Order, the state moved the Supreme Court against it, and the petition was now pending there.

Contrary to the state government’s clarification, several videos have emerged that showing how the police action was premeditated.

The fact that the state police were armed with self loading rifles (SLRs) and AK-47 showed that they had no intention to control the mob, but their real motive was to shoot to kill.

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