UK-based South Asian Group stands in solidarity with Thoothukudi against Sterlite Copper
London (27 May 2018): A spokesperson from South Asia Solidarity Group said: 'We as South Asians in Britain express our horror at the murder of 13 protestors including a woman and a girl of 17, by sniper shooting in Thoothukudi, Tamil Nadu on 22 May and 23 May 2018. We note with outrage that these deliberate killings are part of the unquestioning support and facilitation provided by the Government of India and the Government of Tamil Nadu to a notorious British company — the mining giant Vedanta well-known for its corporate crimes all over the world and to its subsidiary Sterlite. We stand in solidarity with the anti-Sterlite campaign in their continued struggle against Sterlite Copper Smelter company .'
We urge the Indian government and the Tamil Nadu government
- To lift the police siege on Thoothukudi
- Halt all state violence against protesters
- Compensate the families of those who have been killed and those injured!
- Ban Vedanta's Sterlite Copper Smelter Factory in Thoothukudi Immediately!
We urge the UK Financial Conduct Authority to delist Vedanta, a company which has spread its tentacles all over the world and has been guilty, where ever it has gone, of numerous corporate crimes, such as serious breaches of local environmental and biosphere laws, laws protecting workers’ rights; it has indulged in criminal land seizures and the use of paramilitary violence against workers and protestors, destroying lives, blighting large areas of virgin lands, displacing whole communities, while reaping vast profits belonging to the Mining giant, Vedanta.
We deplore the use of police snipers in carrying out targeted and deliberate killings of unarmed protestors. We believe that it is no coincidence that four of the lead organisers of the protests including Thamilarasan and seventeen year old Snowlin were targeted and killed . It is chilling that the police were heard shouting, as they crawled to their positions, “One must die!”
We note with great disquiet that the killings have continued the following day on the 23rd and that the town is under a police siege and the people are living under the shadow of police brutality and surveillance . The latest news is of Police carrying out house- to-house searches not only in towns but in outlying villages and dragging women and children out of their homes and assaulting them.
POLICE BRUTALITY AGAINST PROTESTORS
The targeting of unarmed peaceful protestors in Gaza style police sniper attacks marks a new form of police brutality in Tamil Nadu. One of the members of the Police sniper team has proudly highlighted the fact he has worked in Israel, possibly trained by Israeli armed forces!
The protests began in March when thousands took to the streets. On 22nd May, the protestors had gathered peacefully in front of the district collectorate to demonstrate as they had received no response from the authorities for their continued demands against Vedanta/Sterlite. Reports make it clear that protestors were blocked from demonstrating and were brutally lathi charged and prevented from continuing their protest. As the protestors continued their protests in defiance of police violence against them and the indiscriminate lathi charges, trained snipers standing up on big police vehicles shot at selected targets. 11 people were shot dead on 22 May 2018 at the site of protests, one more died in hospital and the killings continued as the people returned to see the victims in hospitals on the 23rd when one more person was shot dead. We understand from reports that about another 40-50 have been injured but are in hiding without receiving treatment fearing police reprisals.
‘Enough is Enough’, say the people of Thoothukudi
We find it abhorrent that this city of nearly half a million people has been forced to live under conditions of such severe pollution and contamination for the past 25 years; that this historic port city famous for pearl diving has been rendered unfit for human habitation. People have been suffering from breathing disorders, skin diseases, heart conditions and cancer, and suffer daily from throat irritation, breathing difficulties and asthma, fits and severe wheezing. Many women are reported to be suffering from extreme pain during their periods. Thoothukudi is now known as the cancer capital of Tamil Nadu. Many newborn children and infants suffer from extreme respiratory problems. The lead and arsenic poisoning has contaminated the ground water tables in the city. In addition, Sterlite’s cavalier attitude towards safety has caused workers to be maimed or die, and noxious gas leaks due to faulty procedure have also killed off ordinary residents.
The protests reached a peak in March this year when thousands of local residents of Thoothukudi came together to demonstrate their opposition to the continued functioning of the Sterlite Copper Smelter Company that has blighted their lives. The protestors came from a broad spectrum of society, ranging from farmers, wage labourers, auto rickshaw drivers to teachers, health professionals, traders and businessmen. The city’s businesses had organised a shut down in protest Vedanta’s destructive practices. The recent killings have occurred at the100th day culmination of this protest.
Vedanta's crimes and the rise and fall of its share prices
Vedanta, the London based Indian multinational mining company has spread its tentacles far and wide globally and has established subsidiaries not only in India but also in India, Zambia, Namibia, South Africa, Liberia, Ireland and Australia. Everywhere it has gone it has been found to be guilty of numerous irregularities, such as serious breaches of local environmental and biosphere laws, laws protecting workers’ rights; it has indulged in criminal land seizures and the use of paramilitary violence against workers and protestors, destroying lives, blighting large areas of virgin lands, displacing whole communities, while reaping vast profits.
The rise and fall of Vedanta's share prices tell their own story. They fell to a record low in 2016 when the Government of India declared that it could go ahead with the multi-billion dollar mega-merger with Cairn India only after paying for the shares the Income Tax Department had attached following the Rs 10,247-crore tax dispute,
On the other hand, as attacks on the protesters at Thoothukodi went on through the day, the stock prices of Vedanta seem to have gradually gone up suggesting an abysmally unethical free market environment
Vedanta/Sterlite in Thoothukudi
Vedanta won the contract from the Tamil Nadu government in 1993, soon after its application to set up a similar company in Maharashtra was rejected. The construction of the company in Tamil Nadu went ahead despite strong local opposition, as Copper smelter companies are known to cause serious environmental damage through arsenic, lead poisoning and the emanating of acid gases, causing life threatening illnesses.
Within months of Sterlite’s establishment, in violation of statutory environmental and biosphere conditions, people working and living in this densely populated city of Thoothukudi, began to raise their voices about the whole town suffering from life threatening respiratory problems. Despite this the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, (TNCPB) and the Tamil Nadu Environment and Forestry Ministry had both given Vedanta/Sterlite a clean chit. The Thoothukudi residents’ appeals to the TNCPB and the Environmental and forests Ministry of the Tamil Nadu state government went unheeded. Betrayed by the state’s agencies responsible for their welfare the people took Vedanta to court. This became a tortuous legal battle where the Madras High court in 1998, first ruled in favour of the petitioners but a week later rescinded its decision in favour of Vedanta/Sterlite. Vedanta has bought sufficient influence to enlist the support of the TNCPB and Ministry of Environment and Forests against the people of Thoothukudi. Thus, despite short term stoppages Vedanta has been able to time and time again fend off a ban against its operations.
In 2013 the case against Sterlite reached the Supreme Court of India, which agreed with the people’s petition fully and underlined the serious damage to the environment and the people’s wellbeing and the illegal activities of Vedanta in its decision but paradoxically did not ban Sterlite as petitioned, simply because it felt Copper smelting was essential for defence and industrial activity in India! Not a penny of the 100 crores Vedanta was ordered to pay the victims of its actions has gone to the people.
Rogue company Vedanta and its bid for global domination
Vedanta’s bid for global domination in the mining industry has grown immensely under the current Modi government and chimes well with the regime’s commitment to build a neoliberal corporate India. The Tamil Nadu government has acted with total callousness towards its people by encouraging untrammeled capitalist development by monopolies like Vedanta. Despite the 25-year long opposition, culminating in city-wide protests, police brutality and deaths, the state government has given the go ahead to Vedanta to build another plant on the other side of the city of Thoothukudi so that it can become a global champion in Copper smelting output!
The ADMK government of Tamil Nadu is guilty of putting corporate interests before the welfare of its people as we have seen in the cases of Kaveri, Neduvasal, Kathiramalai and Koodankulam which are all about to turn Tamil Nadu into an environmentally devastated region. It has a long history of serving corporate interests by penetrating people’s movements against such rapacious capitalism through intense surveillance and police brutality.
South Asia Solidarity Group stands in solidarity with the people of Thoothukudi.
We support the unity and resolve of the movement against Vedanta/Sterlite and the Tamil Nadu government to claim their city back.
We salute those who have lost their lives in this important struggle.