Friday, May 25, 2018

Slaughter in Tamil Nadu

Protests against the proposed expansion of Sterlite copper smelting plant, a mining subsidiary of the UK-based Vedanta Resources, has been happening for the past 100 days in Tuticorin. Police opened fire on a planned protest on Tuesday against the expansion of a copper smelter which, activists said, was already polluting air and water for local residents and fisheries, taking the death toll among demonstrators against a major mining operation up to 13.

In the wake of the violence, the high court in the state capital Chennai ordered Sterlite Copper, to halt its proposed expansion in Thoothukudi. But the court order represents only a temporary stay of action; it requires Vedanta to carry out a public consultation over its plan to double the smelter’s capacity, and for the local agency to make a new hearing on environmental impacts public.

The plant, one of India's biggest, had already been shut for more than 50 days and will remain closed until at least 6 June because the local pollution regulator has said the facility is not complying with environmental rules.  In March 2013, hundreds of people suffered breathing difficulty, nausea and throat infection following a gas leak from the plant. Though the plant was ordered to shut down following allegations of violating pollution control norms, the National Green Tribunal had ultimately allowed it to be reopened. The same year in another case spearheaded by MDMK chief Vaiko, the Supreme Court had slapped a 100 crore fine on the plant for polluting over the years.

When the protesters gathered in front of the collector office on May 22, 2018 the police resorted to violence. Civilians including women and children were brutally attacked by the hundreds of policemen who were deployed on the spot. In what appears to be a planned operation, tear gas was first used to disperse the crowd and they were herded into an open ground and then shot at. The Jallianwallabagh style operation was carried out using sophisticated weapons. Chilling videos of policemen in t-shirts, standing on top of the vans and aiming at the protesters to take a precise shot emerged in the media. Soon the media were also pressurized by the state to stop covering the police atrocities. Most of the media switched its narrative to “police taking actions to control the rioters”. Thousands of men, women and children gathered just months before, peacefully for their livelihood. They suddenly became rioters in the eyes of the state and its media.

TamilNadu has been seeing an increased number of police atrocities in recent years.  Be it the protests against the Koodankulam Nuclear power plant or ONGC oil exploration the state has responded to genuine people demands with mass state violence. The people in the Cauvery Delta region in TamilNadu have been protesting against the proposed methane extraction project. The Centre has responded with the deployment of around 2000 para-military forces in the region to quell the protests. Even lighting a candle in memory of the massacred Eelam Tamils is a crime.

Who gave the order to shoot at the peaceful protesters is still not known. Several times the question was raised to the police officers and none of them gave any reply to the question. The people’s protests were neither against the ruling government nor against any political party. Yet the state machinery has exposed itself as being a mere tool to the corporate looting.

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