“PUCL strongly condemns the cold blooded and targeted killing by Tamil Nadu police of over 13 persons on May 22nd, 2018 in Tuticorin (aka Thoothukudi) in South Tamil Nadu,” a statement issued by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, stated. “Many of those killed were part of a continuing unarmed, democratic protest by thousands of local people in and around the Sterlite plant on the outskirts of Tuticorin town, demanding the closure of the severely polluting and environmentally hazardous Sterlite copper smelting plant, part of the Vedanta group, and one of the largest such plants in the world,” PUCL explained.
Eleven people were killed when police opened fire on thousands protesting a multimillion-dollar copper-processing plant which they claim pollutes their environment and drinking water last week in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. Dozens of others are battling for lives in local hospitals, after police shot at peaceful protesters, who had gathered at the plant owned by London-based Vedanta in the coastal district of Tuticorin. Vedanta’s subsidiary Sterlite Copper has operated a smelter in the area for 25 years with an annual capacity of 400,000 tonnes and is seeking renewal of its license, which expires this year.
Bishop Yvon Ambroise of Tuticorin told the media that firing was indiscriminate. There was an effort to claim the protest was instigated by the church but it is was a people’s protest because they were seriously affected by it, he said. Father Norbert Thomas, chancellor of Tuticorin Diocese, said, police fired indiscriminately to disperse the crowd after it turned violent on the 100th day of a protest.
The polluting plant operates within the city limits and people have been adversely affected by toxic fumes. In recent years, the area has reported increased cases of cancer. The plant comes under the area of a parish and affects 19 parishes in the city, which together caters to about 100,000 Catholics. “It is natural for the very traditional Catholics here to come to the church and consult in the parish when they face social issues,” Father Thomas said. “However, the protest has nothing to do with religion. It is a people’s protest.”
State Fisheries Minister D. Jayakumar told media that police resorted to firing when the crowd went on a rampage near the office of the district collector, the highest state official. Police had imposed prohibition orders near the office and protesters had no permission to organize the march. “The use of force by the police was unavoidable” to disperse the crowd, Jayakumar said.
People have been protesting for the past three months and on the 100th day they organized a march to the office of the district collector, said a statement from the bishop. The protest followed the non-violent principle of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation, and the five-kilometer march was also peaceful, the statement said.
Police baton-charged people near the office and some responded by throwing rocks at police, which led to police firing shots and the deaths of innocent people, the statement said. “The whole thing started after police action,” said Father Thomas, adding that firing was “so brutal” that several women and children were also injured. One bullet passed through the mouth of a 17-year-old girl student, killing her on the spot.
The PUCL s, while deploring the tactics adopted by the Tamil Nadu police and the Government leading to the unconscionable and unconstitutional firing aimed to kill protestors, pointed out that the Anti-Sterlite Movement, spearheading the People’s campaign against the Sterlite copper plant, had called upon people to gather on 22nd May, the 100th day of the protests, and march to the Tuticorin Collector’s Office demanding immediate closure of all construction activities undertaken to expand the Sterlite Plant and to close down the plant itself.
“What however occurred on 22nd May, 2018, was a complete travesty of constitutional rule and a total breakdown of the rule of law and orderly governance. The authorities allowed the gathering of thousands of people outside the Collector’s Office. It is reported that the police resorted to severe and unprovoked lathi charge on the unarmed gathering without giving any prior warning. This is said to have provoked reaction from some sections of the gathering resulting in stone throwing. Without giving the statutory warning of the possibility of shooting, and violating the Police Standing Orders and Guidelines to handle situations of mob agitations, the Police instead fired into the crowd, aiming to kill. The guidelines state that the police should first shoot warning shots in the air, and then only below the knees, were brazenly flouted,” PUCL said.
“Numerous video recordings as also eye witness accounts state that the Police used professional Police Sharpshooters, standing atop police vehicles, in mufti, to shoot directly at people leading the march, aiming to kill them. The Tamil Nadu Police could not have committed such acts without the tacit or unspoken permission from the TN State Government. The police shooting reminds us of the Jalianwala Bagh massacre during the independence struggle. It’s a shame that in independent India too such police killings is allowed to take place.”
The incidents in Tamil Nadu have their repucurssion around the world. An angry protest took place at the Indian High Commission in London. The people were condemning the police firing which killed at least 13 unarmed protesters at an environmental demonstration against British company Vedanta Resources’ copper smelter in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu. The protesters demanded of the need to delist Vedanta from the London Stock Exchange. “We call on the British government to launch an inquiry into the multiple legal, environmental and human rights violations by Vedanta Resources, and consider de-listing the company from the London Stock Exchange.”
The London protest was called by Foil Vedanta (1), Tamil People in UK, Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle, South Asia Solidarity Group, Tamil Solidarity, Parai Voice of Freedom and Veera Tamilar Munnani.
John McDonnell MP Shadow Chancellor said: “The news from Tamil Nadu that 13 protestors against Vedanta have been killed is shocking and demands action. This is a major multinational company that for years has operated illegal mining concerns, trashing the environment and forcibly evicting local people. After the massacre of the protestors this week, regulators must now take action. Vedanta must be immediately delisted from the London Stock Exchange to remove its cloak of respectability, restore confidence in the governance of the Stock Exchange, and prevent further reputational damage to London’s financial markets from this rogue corporation.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44256552)
See images footage from the protest here: https://www.facebook.com/FoilVedanta/posts/1912393518822266 & here https://www.facebook.com/FoilVedanta/videos/1912382025490082/