After a month of the police firing against anti-Sterlite protesters in Thoothukudi, the world outside will be flashed with images of a city getting back to business, news reports of the city’s small but steady steps towards ‘normalcy.’ In G Baskelin’s world, however, there is nothing ‘normal’.
Her only son, 22-year-old G Princeton, had his right leg amputated on May 23 after a gunshot injury during the protests. Princeton, she said, was not even a part of the protest. This was a man on his way to work at a Titanium dioxide manufacturing and export company, not far from Sterlite.
“When he regained consciousness completely after the surgery the next morning, he cried to me not because he lost his leg but because he believed he would not be employed anymore,” said Baskelin from her brother’s house in Therespuram.
Princeton was employed as a ‘process operator’, making Rs 9,000 a month after a diploma in mechanical engineering. His father Gladwin, the only other breadwinner in the family, is a cycle mechanic while his mother was a homemaker.
Sitting on his bed at the Government Hospital in Thoothukudi, Princeton for the past month, has tried his best to avoid making eye contact with anyone visiting him, except his mother and cousin. “People say that I should be grateful that I’m alive. I know that too, but it isn’t that simple,” he said, toying with the newspapers before him.
The remains of his own leg freshly bandaged, Princeton said, “There was another boy named Vijayakumar who was admitted to the bed near me. His injuries were visibly more gruesome than mine. They had to shift him to a private hospital, we don’t know how his family is managing now.”
When Express contacted him, Vijayakumar M said he had shifted to a private hospital in Thoothukudi since doctors at the GH told them private hospitals, especially in Chennai, would be better equipped to handle his injuries.
“Now, we spend up to Rs 1,500 a day. They are asking us to seek treatment in Chennai but we can’t go that far so we were thinking of going to Madurai,” he said. His mother is a conservancy worker in Thoothukudi.
“Doctors say they’ll be able to ascertain the condition of my leg only after three months,” he said.
He was on his way to his previous employer to apply for withdrawal of his Provident Fund when he was shot above the knee, he said. While all the families mentioned said they had received the compensation announced by the government— Rs 20 lakh for the kin of the deceased and Rs 5 lakh for the severely injured, they are set to carry the scars of the struggle for the rest of their lives.
K Kandiah, the 58-year-old who was shot dead when he was protesting for the closure of the Sterlite plant, had a name for his son that only he was allowed to call — ‘Singaram’. Not even his wife was allowed to call him by the name. ‘Singaram’, whose name is Jagadiswaran, is an intellectually-disabled 28-year-old. “When my husband enters the gate every evening, he would ring the bell on his bicycle and call out ‘Singaram’. Jagadis would then run to the gate to meet him,” said Kandiah’s wife Selvamani (48).
Kandiah was a daily wage labourer, a resident in one of the several houses built under Rajiv Gandhi Rural Housing Corporation (RGRHCL) in Ceylon colony, Thoothukudi. Selvamani first learned of his death from a news channel and then informed her relatives. “We could only bring back his cellphone, the `50 note that he had carried that morning and his bicycle,” she said.
Just a month ago, Kandiah had shared equal, or on some days, more than his share of responsibility, when it came to taking care of Jagadiswaran. Before leaving for work, he would wake Jagadis up, help him use the restroom, give him a bath and then get him dressed. “Everything, right up to applying talcum powder to his face,” Selvamani said, adding that he would repeat most these activities in the evening, after getting home.
Now, Selvarani, whose work was restricted to feeding Jagadiswaran and taking care of household chores, is left to learn the ropes afresh. “He is like a baby; he is used to a routine where his father takes care of him. I don’t know if he’ll ever be satisfied with me like he was with his father,” she said.
However, Jagadis is yet to comprehend his father’s passing. “For many, many years, the only type of slippers his dad would use was the ‘Paragon’ blue and white slippers. Jagadis comes from his room in the evenings and searches for his slippers. He did it even today,” said Selvamani’s sister, Papathi.
Fates sealed by bullets
Jasmine and Anistta are the youngest of Jhansi’s three daughters. Jhansi was killed in the violence when she went to deliver fish gravy to her oldest daughter living a few streets away from their house in Therespuram. It has been exactly ten days since the girls returned to school. Jasmine is in class X, and Anistta in class XI.
“They don’t speak much since then. They cry almost every evening after returning from school.”
A large decorated portrait of Jhansi sits on a table that occupies almost half of the family’s living room. “When she was alive, she kept asking me to let Anistta study after finishing twelfth. Now, I’ll get her married; there is no one to keep an eye on the girls, you see,” said Jesubalan, Jhansi’s husband.
Anistta, who had been listening to the conversation silently, rushes to the kitchen, her eyes welling up.
Ten minutes later, she comes out to ask her uncle feebly, “When mother was alive, you promised to let me study. You’re all planning to get me married now, aren’t you?”
She had scored 380 in her board exams last year.
Of a bike and a ‘Tiger’
Maheswari G, had just returned from Papanasam after performing the poojas on Friday, the 30th day of the death of her son Kaliappan. She said he was on his way to his office.
“For the last one month, everytime I think of him and cry, I suffer from respiratory problems and eventually, faint,” she said. She has since been admitted to a private hospital near their residence in Thalamuthu Nagar, on and off.
Kaliappan is known to both friends and family as ‘Raghu’— the reason perhaps, that the family didn’t think much when they heard the news of a certain ‘Kaliappan’ being killed in the violence.
“We first came to know when his uncle received a video clip of police taunting my son, asking him to stop acting and get on his feet when he was already very weak from the injury,” said an emotional Maheswari.
It was only in March that things had started looking up for Kalippan — his family had agreed to get him married to the girl he had been in love with for the last three years. “We went to meet their family in March and finalised everything. They were to get married after Deepavali,” she said.
Maheswari has found an unlikely companion in her grief — Kaliappan’s pet dog, ‘Tiger’. “I never really liked the dog,” Maheswari said.
“Now I want Tiger to accompany me wherever I go, he is my only comfort,” she added.
1,500 metric tonnes of sulphuric acid removed
The district administration on Saturday said that they have removed nearly 1500 metric tonnes of sulphuric acid from the Sterlite plant. Collector Sandeep Nandhuri said 85 tanker lorries were used to transport the acid
A poem penned by Snowlin, one of the victims of the firing...
Inamum Thoongathil Ezhundhavudan, En Ammavin Mugathil Kanvizhikka Asaipadugiren,
Enenil, Eppodhellam Thoonguvatharku mun Konjaneram en Ammavai Imaikamal Parthuvittuthan Kan Moodukiren,
Oruvelai, Thookatileye en Uyir pirinthalum, Naan Kadaisiyaga Parthathu, En Ammavin Mugamagathan irukka Vendum
Even now as soon as I rise from sleep I wish to see my mother’s face,
As, Before I sleep I gaze, unblinkingly, at my mother before closing my eye
If perchance, My life left me while I slept, I want my mother’s face to be what I saw last