THOOTHUKUDI: Baskar’s and Muthulakshmi’s son B Ranjith Kumar was one among the 13 people shot dead by police during the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi four years ago. Time has not healed their wounds. The couple still at times stare at the house front yard imagining their son, who had left home on that protest day with a promise to return before dark, to turn up. Reluctant to believe that his life had ended, Baskar and Muthulakshmi decided to give birth to another child in memory of Ranjith. Sai Ranjini is now eight months old.
“Our son was just 22. He was a caring person, and was polite to everyone. Ranjith used to love boxing, and I still lose it while going past the ground where he used to practise daily,” Muthulakshmi tells TNIE.
The youth had completed his Diploma (EEE) and had just begun to assist his concrete contractor father when the Sterlite copper plant decided to increase its smelting capacity from 4,00,000 tonnes to 8,00,000 tonnes per year.
For decades, the residents had been saying that the plant was contaminating their air, water and soil. The plant’s decision to double its capacity was met with widespread oppression and an indefinite strike. On May 22, 2018, the 100th day of the indefinite strike, people from all over Tamil Nadu reached Thoothukudi and pledged their allegiance to the strike. The crowds grew large and police resorted to lathicharge at several sites.
A crowd of around 20,000 peaceful protesters led a march to the Collectorate and the police were not able to obstruct them. According to eyewitnesses and media reports, the police then opened fire at the protesters without any formal warning. The firing claimed 13 lives and their families’ cries shook TN’s conscience.
On compassionate grounds, the State government offered jobs to a member of the victims’ families. Ranjith’s sister Banu Priya, who is a graduate, was allotted that job and she now works as a junior assistant. However, no amount of compensation or jobs could even remotely assuage Banu Priya’s or her parents’ pain.
“Baskar had a despicable habit of smoking. Only because our son kept advising him, Baskar kicked the habit. He meant the world to us and it will remain so forever,” Muthulakshmi said. The years following the police excess were dreadful. Muthulakshmi began to have suicidal thoughts and each day was worse than the previous one. This was when the couple decided to have another child.
“We wanted Ranjith to be born again. Several visits to fertility centres went in vain as I had crossed child-bearing age. We spent over `20 lakh for the procedures and our fourth attempt was successful. On September 22 last year, the baby was born. Ranjith has returned to us in the form of a girl and we named her Ranjini,” the mother said with her eyes welling up.