Published: 24th May 2018
Our parents are forcing us to stay home: Thoothukudi's young protestors shackled by emotional turmoil, net blackout and fear of being shot
After net blackout, Thoothukudi youth turn to apps like Firechat to get info about 'police atrocities' out to the public- in a bid to stop the police crackdown and violence there
After putting up a brave front over the last few years and especially in the last 100 days, the youth in Thoothukudi now say they are terrified of even stepping out of their houses. Even if they wish too, their families are begging them to stay back, scared they might not see them return home. With the internet shut down, many say they don't even have news about whether friends of their's are even safe.
Real number of deaths more than being reported
"The official number and the real number of citizens who have been killed is very different. The government and media are giving the world one number but we know that the numbers are much bigger. This is why the government has cut off our internet so that we stop sharing videos of these killings with the media," said Ramesh*, from Thoothukudi. Ramesh has lived in Thoothukudi all his life and said that this is the worst kind of violence he has ever witnessed.
Finding alternate ways to communicate
The people in the city have no way of accessing WhatsApp or Facebook but there are a lot of messages that are making the rounds about alternate ways in which the citizens in the area can keep in touch. "My friends and I are keeping in touch through the FireChat app but only a few know about the app. There are lots of others I have no idea about and I have no way of finding out because those areas are restricted because of 144," Ramesh said. Many links are being shared about apps that can be used instead of WhatsApp but most of their downloads can only be facilitated by the internet, but that hasn't stopped the young people from looking for new ways.
Police brutality: Tuesday marked the 100th day of the protest. Prior to this, no violence had ever occurred during a protest
Recalling the incidents of Tuesday, Ramesh said that they had not been given any warning before the firing started, "Like every other day, we were gathered there peacefully and suddenly shots started to go off, we didn't know where they were coming from, I could just see someone just collapsing, not knowing what hit them," he said. "Till now none of our leaders who led the protests have ever told us that we should hit the policemen or attack anyone else for that matter, not once has anyone said anything. And yet, the police are saying we tried to attack them and so they retaliated. Shouldn't they have at least issued a warning that they're going to shoot?" asked an upset Ramesh.
Residents struggling with food and water shortage
Suresh Pandi*, a student leader said that he has witnessed people getting pulled out of their houses and getting beaten up by the police, "Right in front of my eyes, my friends from the neighbouring houses are getting beaten up. I have no idea what the situation is like in other areas far away. Even food and water is becoming a problem. We're hoping someone will supply but with 144 everyone is scared to come out of the house, so what can we do but just wait in fear?" he said. While schools and colleges are closed, there are few students who are still going to college to write exams, "But our families are saying it's okay if we don't attend the exams. They are just scared we will get shot to death so most students are staying back home," Pandi added.
Even internet supplier outlets in the areas have been shut down, "We can only call each other but sometimes the police also snatch away phones from people's hands. So there are many people who we are completely cut off from," Pandi said. With no hope for internet the next four days, the young people in Thoothukudi all think that by not being able to connect with each other, the government is only trying to prevent crucial information from being shared.
"No one in my family has died till now but I know four people who have died of cancer in my area. It's just a few more years before my family is also destroyed the same way. This company is not even a government-owned one. I don't know how the government is choosing this company over our lives. Yesterday I was fuming with anger, today I'm just broken and helpless. We kept thinking something good will come out of our protests eventually, now 15 lives are lost and what is the point of it? It doesn't look like we'll get justice anymore. Looks like death is coming for all of us," the distraught young man said.
*name changed to protect identity