Vizhinjam Port Protest: Cry of the Oppressed

Vincent Perappaden Vincent Perappaden
05 Dec 2022
According to reports, the police registered 165 criminal cases against the fishers’ community leaders.

Why the 135-day-old fisher people’s protest movement for their coastal-life-survival at Vizhinjam in Kerala has suddenly been termed a foreign-funded anti-national activity by the Communist-led government in the State? Why the peaceful protestors have been brutally assaulted by a ruthless police force? Why a communal conglomerate headed by the BJP engaged their mob in provoking and assaulting the peaceful protestors? 

The answers are simple. First, it is Adani, the global corporate giant, nurtured by the Modi government, on the opposite of the oppressed. Second, it is the BJP and its communal allies, who crave for fishing in the murky waters of communal polarization in Kerala, playing the dirty politics. And third, it is the corporatized government led by Pinarayi Vijayan that has hands-in-glove with Adani at the cost of Kerala’s people and wealth, exposing its inhuman face. 

Thus, a people’s movement for justice and survival has suddenly been renamed anti-national and foreign-funded. Anyone in India now knows that those two terms are two dangerous weapons with a government to target, demonize, and demoralize any citizen or movement and justify any terror against people. The Vizhinjam protest movement is the last in such a series.

Assault on Protesters

Eruption of the brutal attack on protestors around Vizhinjam police station and at the protest site in front of the Adani International Transshipment Port under construction on November 26 and 27 were apparently preplanned and orchestrated by the government, the police, and the BJP-led pro-port campaigners. While the protesting fish workers were totally unprepared for and unaware of any attack, they were intentionally provoked, abused, and physically assaulted by the pro-port campaigners and the police facilitated the violence with complete inaction. At the same time, five members of the protesting community were kept under police custody for no reason and a crowd that gathered demanding their release was suddenly attacked, stoned, and hit by the police using batons. 
An elderly woman who broke her hand in the police action told a TV channel that she could never guess the police would suddenly turn violent against the peaceful protestors. She explained that she heard a wireless gadget with one of the officers, who stood close to her, announcing, “they have reached behind, therefore start charging.” “Suddenly, rocks started pelting from behind us,” she continued. 

“Surely, the stone-pelting was not by the protestors. Instead, the rocks and bricks came flying from behind where the pro-port campaigners stood. The police, who stood close to us, instantly turned violent and started torturing us with their batons and terrifying us with grenades and explosives. In a lightning moment, the site turned into a war zone. The terror-stricken women and men were scattered around with loud cries. Police severely hit the people including me, an elderly woman. I lost my balance and fell on the ground,” she added.

The anti-dam protestors were unarmed and unprepared for an attack. According to the protocol followed before any police action, there should have been warnings through loudspeakers to disperse the crowd. While they were peacefully conducting their protest, the police who were deployed in huge numbers suddenly started charging the people and shouting abusive and derogative words. Then the police resorted to water cannons. It was a sudden orchestrated and ruthless police action apparently executed under higher orders.
Later came the statements from the state’s political leadership that the protestors were suspected to be anti-nationals. Some of the leaders alleged foreign nexus behind the protest. The next day, media carried that official version portraying the defenseless victims and the oppressed fisher folk as anti-national elements who try to overturn the state’s development project. However, an overview of the sequence of events and the discourses that followed from the political leadership expose the government’s hidden agenda. The victims are demonized and portrayed as anti-national elements, creating the specter of a terror group.

According to reports, the police registered 165 criminal cases against the fishers’ community leaders. Archbishop Dr. Thomas J. Netto is the prime accused in five cases attaching even non-bailable sections. On the other hand, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, through his harsh words against the victimized community, continues to double down his loyalty to Adani’s corporate interests. From the reports it emerges that the fisher people’s cry for their survival will be confronted by the hardened government stance using its brutal police force and communally divisive politics. 
A Massive Movement

The story of the Vizhinjam protest movement visibly began when less than 10 activists launched a Satyagraha at the Adani-owned Trivandrum International Airport’s Terminal 1 on June 5. It was inaugurated by the Kudamkulam protest leader Mr. S.P. Udaykumar. However, a silent but deep research and campaign coordinated by Lok Munch, a collective of social activist organizations, in association with Trivandrum Social Service Society, was effectively spreading awareness in the fishers’ villages about the unscientific port construction and its consequent land erosion and attrition impacts. 

Meanwhile, the miserably unhygienic and criminally unattended situation of about 70 families languishing in a cement storage at Valiyathura was brought to light by the activists. They were temporarily accommodated when the Okhi cyclone hit the shore and took away their houses and lands. The government had done nothing in four years to rehabilitate those families. This criminal negligence and insensitivity toward the victims’ miseries was corroborated with the port victims’ fears of continued coastal land erosion and the terrible consequences. Several mass petitions and study reports were submitted to the authorities concerned, but they ended up in ‘dead files’. 

Consequently, the fisher community leaders alerted the social organizations and their religious leadership on the dangers posed by unscientific port construction and its life-threatening consequences. Thus, a collective protest front was formed under the leadership of the Federation of Independent Fish Workers of Kerala and the National Farmers Federation networking with several similar organizations. After many multi-level consultations and discernments, the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum entered the protest movement. 
The protest movement highlighted seven demands before the government. The most prominent among them was a decent and adequate rehabilitation package for the present and future victims of land deletion/erosion. They further demanded reinstating the kerosene subsidy for fish workers. Their legitimate right for financial support when they couldn’t go fishing due to unfavorable weather condition was another demand. The community also asked for a scientific study by a commission that includes the traditional fish workers on the consequences of the port construction. The last demand was inclusion of a clause that the port construction should be stopped until the study is over. 

However, the government overtly and covertly went on bragging that all demands except the last one to stop the port construction was met. According to the protesting communities, the government’s claim is a blatant lie as nothing has taken place on ground towards executing any of the assurances. They were only lip services to appease the public in favour of the oppressing corporate giant. Ironically, since a democratic protest movement was not found quite newsworthy by the corporate-led media, the government-sponsored corporate discourses made headlines.

“Will Continue Our Protest”

“We have no choice other than continuing our fight for survival,” says Monsignor Eugene H. Pereira who leads the protest from front. It is the struggle of a people who have been denied of their right to live like humans. Though their livelihood of fishing is made impossible with the ongoing port construction and its consequent impacts, the government and the corporate house have done nothing tangible to rehabilitate the victims. Instead, the elected government, taking the side of the corporate house, is ordering the people to run away from their land. This inhuman stance exposes a conspiracy of betrayal of the fishing community. The Centre, the State and the corporate house collectively push the emotionally volatile fishing community to an explosive situation, portraying them as terrorists who disrupt Kerala’s peace and harmony. 

The obvious irony is the Communists’ anti-democratic stance in Kerala. While they resist across the world capitalism’s terror of development agenda, Kerala’s subservient Communist government serves the capitalist’s interest at the behest of the right-wing forces. The marginalized and the oppressed are left with no choices for their survival. Therefore, the fishing communities’ cry for survival aligns with the roaring of the seas: “we will continue our protest.”

Vizhinjam Port Protest fisher people’s protest movement Vizhinjam Kerala Gautam Adani Adani International Transshipment Port Pinarayi Vijayan Archbishop Dr. Thomas J. Netto Trivandrum Social Service Society fishing community Issue 50 2022 Indian Currents

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