London: Campaigners protest over Thoothukudu Vedanta massacre


Campaigners gathered outside the Indian High Commission in London on Saturday, to protest over the killing of at least 13 unarmed people, including four Catholics, by police in India on Tuesday, who had been demonstrating against British company Vedanta Resources' copper smelter in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), Tamil Nadu. A further 20 people, including a Catholic priest, are being treated in hospital for their injuries.

There were strong calls from all groups present to delist Vedanta from the London Stock Exchange. Speakers shared new information such as Sterlite's donations to the Police control room in Thoothukudi and highlighted the parallels and called for solidarity with Gaza, Marikana and Kalinganagar massacres.

The London protest was called by Foil Vedanta, Tamil People in UK, Periyar Ambedkar Study Circle, South Asia Solidarity Group, Tamil Solidarity, Parai Voice of Freedom and Veera Tamilar Munnani.

See images footage from the protest here:
www.facebook.com/FoilVedanta/posts/1912393518822266 & here www.facebook.com/FoilVedanta/videos/1912382025490082/

The protests in London came a day after an entire statewide bandh (shutdown of businesses and services) in Tamil Nadu, and parallel global protests condemn the Tamil Nadu state government's collusion in this corporate massacre (www.facebook.com/paraidrum/videos/981874005309120/).

In India the authorities resorted to blocking the internet in Thoothukudi and the neighbouring districts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari for five days until May 27 (www.thenewsminute.com/article/thoothukudi-simmers-tn-asks-internet-providers-cut-data-services-3-districts-81813). Arbitrary arrests and house to house arrests continue in Tuticorin under a heavy security clampdown while free information flow heavily curtailed.

On 22nd May tens of thousands of people democratically organised and thronged the streets of Tuticorin for the 100th consecutive day of protest against Vedanta subsidiary Sterlite's copper smelter. The protest, as it was being organised was targeted by 17th May by Vedanta requesting the High Court to invoke the draconian Section 144, a curfew order against 'Unlawful Assembly'.

Vedanta's request was to cover up to one kilometre around the smelter as a 'no protest zone'. The top district administrator, District Collector N. Venkatesh imposed Section 144 as the protest decided to march on the Collectorate to demand answers and action.

When the rally reached the Collector's office, police opened fire killing several protestors. Exact details of events especially as to who gave the order to shoot to kill remain unaddressed and there are now strong local demands seeking justice. The Section 144 is being abused even now to prevent legal support for victims.

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."

Samarendra Das from Foil Vedanta said: "For 15 years since Vedanta's London listing we have been warning the British government that this criminal company is undermining democracy across India and in Zambia whilst gaining a 'cloak of respectability' from London. This corporate massacre on a peaceful environmental movement must be the last straw. The UK government must now investigate and de-list this company."

Karthik Kamalakannan from Tamil People in UK said: "It is disgusting to learn that a British company has put its profits above human cries for safe air to breathe and water to drink. We are hugely shocked that sniper style shooters were employed to save this criminal company. The leaders of this peaceful environmental movement have been targeted by snipers, which is no surprise knowing reputation of Vedanta against any uprising against them. The internet blackout in Tuticorin destroys all semblance of democracy. This is a sad time for Tamil people."

Prominent Thoothukudi Prof Fatima Babu said on Thursday: "The Madurai High court has delivered a favourable Verdict in a case that I had filed, but I am unable to savour the verdict. Thirteen declared dead and 102 injured. And this might not be the complete list. Is this a sacrifice the rulers want the people to make to drive out a single private corporate company? My heart is really heavy. Really heavy."

British company Vedanta Resources' subsidiary Sterlite Copper has begun construction of a new four million tonne/year smelter on the edge of the town of Tuticorin, almost doubling their capacity, but residents argue the existing smelter has continuously polluted their water and air since it was established in 1996, causing respiratory and skin problems, fainting and other illness, especially among children. Activists also claim that Sterlite obtained its Environmental Clearance illegally by falsifying information to statutory authorities, while the existing plant is regularly found to be dumping toxic waste in the town, and operating without proper licenses (3). The plant releases its waste into the sensitive Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve, an area of coral reefs and mangrove forests.

Vedanta's only other copper smelter in Chingola, Zambia, is the subject of a precedent UK damages case on behalf of 2000 farmers who have been polluted by the plant since 2004.

Sterlite was the first company set up by British Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal in India before he launched Vedanta Resources on the London Stock Exchange in 2003, where it is now a multi-national FTSE 250 company with operations across India and Africa. The company even had operations in military-ruled Myanmar in the 1990s (4). Vedanta, which was named the 'world's most hated company' by the Independent newspaper in 2010, has received considerable support from the British government, including the direct assistance of former Prime Minister David Cameron in buying out Indian oil company Cairn India in 2011

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