“நாங்க காலம்காலமா இந்த குப்பத்திலே இருக்கோம். நாங்க இன்னிக்கி திடீர்ன்னு பயங்கரவாதிகளா ஆயிட்டோமா? அடிபட்டு, ரத்தம் சிந்த ஓடிவந்த கொழந்தைங்க, அவங்க பயங்கரவாதிங்களா? அவங்களும் எங்கள மாதிரி தமிழங்கதானே? எங்க கொழந்தைங்க மாதிரிதானே? தமிழனுக்குத் தமிழன்தானே ஆதரவு தரனும்? அவங்கள காப்பாத்துறது எங்க கடமை இல்லையா? அதுக்கா எங்கள இப்படி அடிச்சு நோறுக்குனாங்க?”
– Woman resident, Nadukuppam. As told to Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi.
An all-women fact-finding team consisting of Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi, former chair State Commission on Women, Prof. Anandhi Shanmugasundaram, Adv. Poongkhulali Balasubramanian, and Chandrika Radhakrishnan from Thozilalar Koodam visited Nadukuppam between 2 and 5 p.m. on 24 January to file the following fact-finding report. Considering the urgency of the situation and the threat of destruction of valuable evidence at Nadukuppam, the Fact finding team has decided to release this report immediately.
The Fact-finding team was overwhelmed by the consistency in the testimonies of hundreds of people who came forward to speak – sometimes all at once – about the goings on of 23 January, 2017. What is clear is that after their initial hot pursuit of bleeding and terrified youngsters from the beach, the police returned at least two more times armed with stones, bottles, petrol bombs, rubber bullets, tear gas and incendiary material. It is established quite clearly that:
a) The police had badly beaten the young men and women who came running into the village in the early hours with injuries, clothes in a disarray and in a state of incoherent terror.
b) The police repeatedly referred to the youngsters as “theeviravadhigal” (terrorists) to justify their violent behaviour. By accusing the villagers of harbouring terrorists, they justified their violence and destruction of property.
c) Policewomen were as abusive – physically and verbally – as the policemen. They have used sexist, demeaning words, entered homes, destroyed furniture, dragged innocent men, women and children out on the street and beaten them up in public view.
d) Policewomen set fire to the fishmarket using some inflammable powder like substance. Several other vehicles and hand carts and shops were also systematically targetted. Some police women also looted the fish, especially the high-priced fish.
e) Policemen later came and tried to pressurise residents to sign a testimony declaring that the protestors had indulged in arson and violence, and promised them compensation in return. The residents refused.
f) Just as the fisherfolk were recovering from Vardah, the police have destroyed the single most important livelihood asset of more than 250 women in Nadukuppam. This will have a devastating impact on the domestic economies of the families, and the schooling and future of their children at a time when exams are around the corner.
g) The mental trauma – anger and helplessness mixed with a sense of betrayal – can have lasting effects on the minds of the women and children who were witness to and victims of police atrocities.
a) Convene a high-level independent probe to verify the findings of this report and the allegations of the residents of Nadukuppam.
b) Immediately offer an ex-gratia compensation to all households in Nadukuppam with an extra amount to the fisherwomen who have lost their assets in the arson attack on the fishmarket.
c) Enquire into the complicity of higher officials in the police department, and take appropriate action.
d) Do a detailed valuation of the lost property, damaged assets in terms of livelihood assets, household goods, houses, furniture and vehicles, and arrange for compensation by the Chennai City Police.
e) Conduct a thorough investigation and pin penal liability on police personnel that participated in the attacks of 23 January, and their seniors who ordered the attack. Depute an independent forensic expert of high repute and expertise to look into the huge volume of electronic evidence regarding the incident and also survey the entire area.
f) The State and National Commission on Women should take particular note of this attack, and commission an enquiry for necessary corrective action.
g) Police should publish their standard operating procedure for crowd control and evicting protestors, and compliance to the SOP should be verified for this specific instance.
h) Selection of police personnel and police officers should include thorough pyschological screening to ensure that the personnel possess the sensitivity to handle situations like these that require a high degree of restraint and respect for human dignity.
i) A permanent judicial ombudsman be constituted to adjudicate on police measures that affect civil rights in order to increase transparency and accountability of senior police officers.
Members of the Fact Finding Team:
- Dr. V. Vasanthi Devi, former Vice Chancellor, Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, chairperson, State Women’s Commission.
- Dr. Anandhi Shanmugasundaram, Assoc. Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies.
- Poongkhulali Balasubramanian, Advocate, Madras High Court
- Chandrika Ramanujam, Thozilalar Koodam and TN Labour Blog
Photographs: Amirtharaj Stephen, Praveen and Steve Rodriquez