Five days after the Tuticorin firing, Godwin was telling journalists from Inmathi that they should write such a powerful article that Sterlite should shut down. His sister’s death shouldn’t be in vain, he explained.
Eighteen-year-old Snolin was among those shot dead inside the Collectorate complex. “We will not accept my daughter’s body back until Sterlite is permanently closed,” said Vinitha, Snolin’s mother.
The Madras High Court had ordered that the bodies should be handed over only after re-postmortem. A group of lawyers had petitioned for this to ensure that a more comprehensive and accurate picture of the circumstances and nature of the victim’s death emerges. The state government issued a GO ordering the permanent closure of the Sterlite plant. On Sunday, 12 days after her death, Snolin’s body was handed over to her father Jackson after re-postmortem.
Snolin’s body was kept at her Mini Sahayapuram residence for 10 minutes, and then taken on a procession. Some 20 priests conducted a special prayer for her and thousands of people accompanied her body in the funeral procession. “We were keen on preventing the police from paying their respects. But some good-hearted policemen in civvies did come and pour sand into the coffin,” said Godwin.
Godwin who has studied up to Class 10 and got a diploma in catering now works in an oil and gas firm in Saudi Arabia. His father and younger brother go for fishing. Snolin would help out his wife, Merilda in sewing. She had passed Class 12 appearing as a private candidate. “We were like sisters, not sisters-in-law,” said Merilda.
“We were like sisters, not sisters-in-law” – Merilda, Snolin’s sister-in-law
Snolin was an enthusiastic participant in the anti-Sterlite agitations. “She would address the protesters during the protest meetings,” added Merilda.
On May 22, Snolin’s mother, Snolin and Merilda decided not to wake up Godwin early. They knew he would prevent them from going for the protest march if he was awake. They set out with two children, one just a baby, to the Our Lady of the Snow church.
During the protest march, while Vinitha fell behind, Snolin and Merilda were in the frontlines. Snolin kept shouting slogans against Sterlite. “The Tahsildar and the VAO called me to verify that the body was indeed Snolin’s and handed me a piece of paper to sign. The paper said I was receiving the body after postmortem. But I refused to do it and submitted a petition,” says Godwin.
A WhatsApp message was going around that Snolin had died of injuries from stone throwing. But doctors who examined Snolin told him during the first postmortem that they found injuries on her foot that may have come when she tripped and fell on the ground while running during the firing. There were bullet injuries on the forehead and on the back of her head from where a bullet had entered and left through her mouth. The re-postmortem confirmed these details, says Godwin.
There was a proposal to conduct the last rites of all the Tuticorin dead at one place and construct a memorial there. But the relatives of six of the dead had taken back the bodies, so Snolin’s family too decided to accept her body. There was no compulsion from the police or officials, said members of the family.
“If they restart Sterlite, we will start our protests again.” – Godwin, Snolin’s brother.
Godwin says the fish catch that was being obtained 10 nautical miles from the shore was now available only 50 nautical miles away, and he is convinced it is due to pollution from Sterlite and other factores. “If they restart Sterlite, we will start our protests again,” he says.