Two Years After Thoothukudi: Impunity on Gross Display

Amnesty International India
Bengaluru: 22 May 2020 5:42 pm

Two years since the brutal killings of 16 people in Thoothukudi, no action yet against any official.

Two years ago, on this very day, the residents of Thoothukudi peacefully gathered at the district collectorate to mark 100th day of their peaceful protests against the expansion of Vedanta’s Sterlite Copper Unit. While citizens exercised their fundamental right to free expression and assembly, trigger happy policemen, atop police vans, armed with snipers, shot at peaceful protestors. Authentic videos have captured these police actions. Eleven marchers were killed in this gruesome firing. Five others succumbed to death on the streets of Thoothukudi due to police brutality that followed the firing. The haunting image of a policeman in yellow shirt with a sniper on top of a vehicle shooting at protestors – has come to symbolise Thoothukudi – today a synonym for one of the most brutal and lethal State assaults on democratic freedoms.

In the immediate aftermath of the killings, civil society organisations and individuals formed a People’s Inquest Team that visited Thoothukudi to undertake a direct assessment of the situation. Their five-volume report strongly suggests that the brutal police actions on peaceful protestors were part of a planned state response in gross violation of every possible clause of the standard operating procedures.

Two years on investigations by judicial and quasi-judicial institutions of Tamil Nadu and India, have not gone further and have failed in holding the officials accountable but also in their duty to uphold constitutional obligations. Their delayed actions and inactions have only fostered a conducive climate for the State Impunity to flourish.

The Government of Tamil Nadu appointed Justice Aruna Jagadeesan Commission of Inquiry continues to be in operation (or is it in limbo?). Reports from the ground suggest that this commission still needs to examine over 500 witnesses. At the current pace it will take a minimum of 18 more months for this exercise alone to be completed. During the past two months of the nation-wide lockdown, it seems that no efforts were made to initiate an online mode of functioning by this commission. This raises the serious apprehension that lengthening delay will destroy the ability of the Commission to hold perpetrators to account and jeopardise the ability of victims to get compensation and justice for the harm they have suffered.

It is unfortunate that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) instead of providing fulsome assistance to the victims in the exercise of its powers vested in it under the Protection of Human Rights Act (PHRA) chose, after five months to leave the question of accountability of state agencies to the state-appointed judicial commission. The NHRC has not to this day acknowledged let alone acted upon the appeal petitions asking for a review of its arbitrary abnegation of jurisdiction.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is also investigating the matter after the August 14, 2018 Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court direction. Close to two years since the ‘investigation’ began, the CBI is yet to name even a single official in the FIRs.

While the Sterlite plant has not yet started functioning, as direct victims of the poisonous air and water pollution emitted from Sterlite, the people of Thoothukudi are undeterred in their demand to ban the Sterlite. They are also resolute in their demand for justice for the victims on May 22, 2018.

We believe any further delay will further erode trust in the rule of law. Such studied inaction by state institutions to hold individuals and institutions to account encourage impunity and demonstrate that citizens’ lives hold no value. We demand a court-monitored time-bound probe into the extra-judicial killings of innocent citizens of Thoothukudi who were only exercising a fundamental right that the constitution of India guarantees them.

  • Members of the People’s Inquest Team[1]

[1] Names of PI Team Members

Featured image credit: PTI

For more information please contact:

Nazia Erum
Email: [email protected]