The Modi-led BJP has returned to power. There is deafening applause and cheer from the majority that brought them back. Lost in the jubilant cacophony are some voices that must haunt those voters. May 22, the day before the election results were to be announced, marked the first anniversary of the police firing on anti-Sterlite protestors in Thoothukudi that killed 13 people, including 17-year-old Snowlin. In the eyes of the law, she was still a minor. She was protesting because the copper smelting unit was poisoning the water and the air where she lived. The state killed her for it.
On the same date, a year later, Arivu and Ofro, who call themselves Arivu X Ofro, released “Snowlin”, the second song from their Tamil music album, “Therukural”. As a voice from the grave (or the afterlife), Arivu speaks for the dead. “This is Snowlin speaking, can anyone hear me?” he asks. The eight-year-old girl from Kathua – “her little sister” is also with her, says Snowlin.
By 2018, the environmental hazards and the health risks due to Sterlite’s copper smelting unit, a subsidiary of Vedanta, London, had become so critical that there were protests every day starting February. As reported by The News Minute, Iron content in the groundwater was 17-20 times higher than permissible levels prescribed by the Bureau of Indian Standards for drinking water. Respiratory diseases were at 13.9 percent. Higher number of menstrual disorders were being reported. On May 22, 2018, the 100th day of the protests, police opened fire. The youngest to die from a bullet through her head was Snowlin. Questions have been raised as to whether these killings were premeditated, given the nature of the wounds, the type of guns used and the way they were used. The people of Thoothukudi also believed that orders for such extreme police brutality came to the AIADMK-led state government from the BJP at the Centre. Apart from the fact that Modi was more inclined to tweet about a fitness challenge than condemn the shootings, this was a reasonable suspicion to hold based on corporate donations made to the BJP. Bhadram Janhit Shalika Trust, which donated rupees 30 crore to the BJP, was known as Sterlite Industries Limited (SIL) Employees Welfare Trust, as reported by Newsclick. According to an article published in the Business Standard, the Vedanta Group was the second largest contributor to the BJP for the Financial Year 2013-2014. Their analysis was based on the list of donors and contributions released by the saffron party themselves. While the AIADMK and the BJP were not in alliance for the 2014 General Elections, the two parties made it increasingly clear in the last year that they would fight the 2019 Elections together. The DMK-Congress+ alliance has won in the state. BJP State President Tamilisai Soundararajan who stood from Thoothukudi, lost by a margin of 3.37 lakh votes to DMK leader, Rajya Sabha MP and Women’s Wing Secretary, Kanimozhi. One year hence, Thoothukudi and the rest of Tamil Nadu is still simmering with resentment.
Another child-victim made the news last year, in January. An eight-year-old from Kathua, in Jammu and Kashmir was held prisoner in a temple, gang-raped and murdered. Why? To intimidate and drive away the nomadic Muslim Gujjar Bakarwal community that lived in a Hindu-dominated area. There was a protest rally held in “solidarity”, but not for the child or her family. The Hindu Ekta Manch and the BJP state-secretary and other leaders from the party demanded the release of a Special Police Officer (SPO) who was one of the accused. While initially the BJP leaders were made to resign, two of them were elevated to State-cabinet posts in the following weeks. They were Rajiv Jasrotia, who took part in the rally, and Kavinder Gupta, who dismissed the rape and murder as a “small incident that shouldn’t be given much weight”.
Those who shoot down the citizens they are meant to protect and those who defend the men who sexually prey on children, are whom India has voted back to power. Arivu released the song so that the people who have chosen to conveniently forget have to listen to the dead through him. “You shot me down, you left my mother to grieve. You touched my body, you kissed it after I died … was my crime that I was born a girl? Maybe if I’d be born a cow, this country would have fought for me?” “Snowlin” wonders. As Arivu’s voice takes over, he lashes out in grief and rage asking “In the pitch dark, what happened before that god?”The child from Kathua was kept captive in a temple. “Bullets pierce Snowlin. She screams in agony. Her life is draining away. In the gloom, a beast laughs out loud” Set inside a derelict church, a statue of Christ drips with blood.
Arivu is the lyricist and singer. The music is by Ofro. The music video is produced by Director Pa.Ranjith and the members of The Casteless Collective. It ends on a harrowing note: “The [Kathua child] and Snowlin, the future of this country succumbed to communal terror and state violence. Their voices might have been silenced by bullets and knives, but their memories will live on in every pulse of this nation. This letter comes in the form of a song and carries the thoughts of two people. She was from Kashmir. I was from Thoothukudi. How did we meet each other? How did she become my sister? The state divided us when we were alive, but united us in death. Because for the state, a voice of dissent, whether it is that of a child, adult or a young person, must be stifled. A voice of dissent must be killed. This is a letter from two souls that were murdered by this state. One by a gun another by apathy.”
What will survive the next five years? The guns and the apathy? Or those for whom silence is not an option?