THOOTHUKUDI: Every single time he hears a cycle bell, 29-year-old Jegadeeswaran rushes out thinking it’s his father K Kanthaiah returning home. Kanthaiah was one among those killed in the police firing last year, on the fateful day of May 22. But mentally challenged Jegadeeswaran is unable to comprehend the fact that his father will not return.
“My husband was the sole breadwinner of our family,” says Kanthaiah’s wife Selvamoni. “He was also the one who took care of our son, feeding him, helping him bathe, wear clothes, wash up after using the toilet... He wanted our son to live a dignified life.” With the father gone, attending to every need of Jegadeeswaran has fallen on the women in the house, Selvamoni and her sister.
Relatives say Kanthaiah quit his job at a spinning mill for retirement benefits of Rs 60,000. “He also sold a piece of land and used all the money for treatment and care of Jegadeeswaran,” says son-in-law R Yoganathan.
“He continued to work as a centering worker to meet the family’s expenses.” The family received some money as compensation. A government job was given to Kanthaiah’s brother’s son. But the void his untimely death has left on the family, especially Jegadeeswaran, is something none can fill. “He was a very peaceful boy, but now he gets agitated often. We think it’s because his misses his father,” says Selvamoni.
After offering ‘thithi’ to the departed, Kanthaiah’s family left to participate in a remembrance meeting held on May 12 for the families of the victims.
United Colours of Dissent
From anger to grief and solidarity, the remembrance meeting was a heavily emotional affair. The “slow pace” of investigation on the firing united the families as much as the despair of losing their loved ones. “Not a single day has passed in the last one year when I have not thought about Snowlin,” says her mother Vanitha.
Jeniston, who lost his father Glaston, is a Class-X dropout and works now as a crane operator. “He wanted to see me leave abroad for work,” he says. “My dreams have been shattered. But, my father died for a cause. We will not let that go in vain. We are all satisfied that all Thoothukudi residents are united in ensuring Sterlite Copper ends its operation here.”
The promised jobs and compensation were discussed at the meeting, but it did not matter as much for the families of the victims as the “complete closure” of the company would.
A bad job
Nineteen victims of the police firing were given jobs on ‘compassionate’ grounds, 17 of them as Village Assistants and two as noon-meal workers. The role of the assistant is to help the Village Administration Officer (VAO). The graduates among the beneficiaries feel betrayed, of being given a job that does not match their qualification.
M Maharajan, for instance, is a BBA graduate. “My qualification makes me eligible to become the VAO, or, at least a junior assistant. But, I have been given the Thalayari (Village Assistant) job,” he rues. C Roopkumar, who passed Class-VIII, however, is happy being a Thalayari.
The minimum qualification required for becoming a Thalayari is schooling till Class-VIII. Sister of Ranjith Kumar, who was killed in the firing, a B.Com graduate, has been given the Thalayari job in Srivaikuntam, a whopping 40 km from their place of residence.
“She was such a brilliant student. We were hoping she would clear bank exams and go that way. But now she is working here due to constraints and sentiments,” says her father SC Baskar.