Chennai: In the wee hours of Thursday, Thangamari was sleeping inside her house at Madathur in Thoothukudi with her mother-in-law and two sons—a seven-and-a-five-year-old—when police broke into her two-room house. Her husband who works as a driver was out, on duty.

“It was around 3am when a policeman entered the house by breaking open the lock and started searching for my husband. At least seven other policemen were standing outside. Even as I told them that my husband was not in the house, they opened the almirah and checked every corner of the house," recounted Thangamari, over the phone. She said that no women police personnel were present and the police went on to knock the doors of her neighbours.

Similar incidents have been occurring at Anna Nagar, Pandarampatti, Palivasal Street and other places across Thoothukudi over the last few days, said Poomai, a member of the All India Democratic Women’s Association—the women’s wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). She added that fearing detention, most of the men have fled these villages.

The people of Thoothukudi, where protests against Vedanta’s Sterlite Industries Ltd turned violent and 13 people were killed in police firing on 22 and 23 May, have been raising concerns over the midnight searches by the police over the last few weeks.

In the past four days, women and children have spent their nights sleeping on the streets fearing police action.

“My children are scared to sleep inside the house. Along with the others in the village, we have been spending the night in front of the temple," said Thangamari.

She also said that the people of the village Madathur have met the Superintendent of Police Murali Ramba and raised the issue.

Meanwhile, Murali Ramba said the police were arresting only those who were involved in rioting and arson on 22 and 23 May. Adding that Thoothukudi has returned to normalcy, he said women and children haven’t been harassed.

A total of 248 people have been arrested so far. Following 15.67 crore worth of damage to properties, including 331 government-owned properties, the Thoothukudi police have registered 243 cases, Ramba said.

Last week, six members of the Makkal Adhikaram organization were booked under the National Security Act.

Terming the detentions as illegal, Henry Tiphange, executive director of People’s Watch, said that he has visited Geneva with his team to submit a report to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights.

While hearing a plea regarding the illegal custody of those who protested against Sterlite, earlier this month, the Madurai bench of the Madras high court had directed the police to refrain from harassing those remanded for inquiry or their family members.

Meanwhile, addressing reporters on Sunday evening, the Thoothukudi district collector Sandeep Nanduri said following a report that there has been leakage in the stored containers kept inside the Sterlite Industries, a team of government officials, including those from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, inspected the plant and have detected Sulphuric acid leak. He added work on plugging the leakage will start on Monday.

In the last week of May, the Tamil Nadu government sealed the Sterlite Industries in Thoothukudi and cancelled the allotment of the 342.22 acres for the expansion of copper smelting plant.

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