11 dead in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) Protests

Multi nationals are the same all over the world, exploitative.

10 persons were shot dead when police opened fire on a rally against a Sterlite copper plant.

As anger and resentment against Tuesday’s police action continued to smoulder, the Tamil Nadu government ordered several measures to control the unrest. Internet services were suspended in Thoothukudi and neighbouring districts of Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari .

Tuesday’s violence came on the 100th day of demonstrations against the plant, which environmentalists and residents claim is contaminating water sources — a charge the company (Vedanta Resources) denies.

The plant, one of India’s largest such facilities, has had a troubled history since it began operations in 1996. People have blamed it for their failing health and a major gas leak in 2013 led the Supreme Court imposing a Rs 100- crore fine. The plant has been closed down repeatedly in the past two decade, the last time by the Madras high court in 2013 over similar pollution concerns.



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I am 3/4ths Sri Lankan (Jaffna) Tamil, 1/8th Sinhalese and 1/8th Irish; a proper mutt. Maternal: Grandfather a Govt Surveyor married my grandmother of Sinhalese/Irish descent from the deep south, in the early 1900’s. They lived in the deep South, are generally considered Sinhalese and look Eurasian (common among upper class Sinhalese). They were Anglicans (Church of England), became Evangelical Christians (AOG) in 1940's, and built the first Evangelical church in the South. Paternal: Sri Lanka (Jaffna Tamil). Paternal ancestors converted to Catholicism during Portuguese rule (1500's), went back to being Hindu and then became Methodists (and Anglicans) around 1850 (ggfather). They were Administrators and translators to the British, poets and writers in Tamil and English. Grandfathers sister was the first female Tamil novelist of modern times I was brought up as an Evangelical even attending Bible study till about the age of 13. Agnostic and later atheist. I studied in Sinhala, did a Bachelor in Chemistry and Physics in Sri Lanka. Then did Oceanography graduate stuff and research in the US. I am about 60 years old, no kids, widower. Sri Lankan citizen (no dual) and been back in SL since 2012. Live in small village near a National Park, run a very small budget guest house and try to do some agriculture that can survive the Elephants, monkeys and wild boar incursions. I am not really anonymous, a little digging and you can find my identity.

32 thoughts on “11 dead in Thoothukudi (Tuticorin) Protests”

  1. Many industries in Tamilnadu are degrading the environment – this includes injecting chemicals in water, cutting forest lands for wood and make space for industries/living , removing sand from the riverbeds, coasts and any other place by thousands of tons which leaves the area vulnerable to even more degradation, mineral and other mining from coastal areas, etc. the list is long. All these commercial and industrial activities are done by bribing politicians and administration and these commercial interests are controlled by mafia or use mafia to enforce their will. Naturally all the laws, rules and regulations for environment, hygiene and health are flouted . For the last 30 years, this process has gathered pace.
    Instead of looking at a problem holistically and totally, the agitators have picked just on one industry Sterlite. The question is why the bark of the dog is very selective. If Sterlite is targeted due to the alleged ill effect on the environment , what about hundred other industries who are equally culpable ?

    1. I’d imagine that the intensity of the agitation requires local mobilization, so if indeed there are hundreds if not thousands of offending industries that are not being targeted elsewhere in the state, this movement is based on the awakening of local citizenry (almost certainly leveraging the assistance of some political outfits). And if the question is why the bark of the dog is selective, then even better questions are “who is this dog and why is it being shot at by police snipers?” , and if this dog barked at other transgressions would it be getting shot at?
      If you think the outrage might be motivated as antipathy to the central gov/BJP, Vedanta has known links to leading Congress figures like P Chidambaram as well. The realpolitik calculus in all of this may just be that environmental degradation is tolerable if the benefits accrue to the right stakeholders, of which the local populace are included. The employment opportunities are not sufficient.

      1. Chidambaram was on the board of Vedanta in till 2004 I think and was a paid director for many years, and it was during his ministership Vedanta got their licenses. Politicians of all hues turn a blind eye if the illegal benefits accrue to them.

  2. I would give it a week for this to turn into anti centre/ Hindi imposition/ State Gov’t being lacky of the BJP type of protest

    1. It is already anti-Modi protest at the fringes ; the state government has long been blamed as the lackey of BJP/Central govt. Any grievance real or imaginary, is laid at the door of central government and/or BJP . Something like water dispute with Karnataka where the decisions were made by a neighbor Congress government, are blamed as the deceit and betrayal by the central government /BJP. The Dravidian parties have specialized at this game for 60+ years , now they are joined by even more parochial parties .
      well, this blame game and politics of scapegoating has served them well for 60 years , so they think they can get some more mileage out of it.

      1. Didnt even take a week then, huh!

        West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have the same thing. Perpetual victim hood.

      2. If it serves the purpose of political autonomy, then it may not be a bad thing. The tensions of a multi-national state must be relieved somehow, and it looks to maintain a bend-not-break relationship with the centre.

          1. You might make a better argument that these caste complexes are the nations, but its hard to accept that India is a simple nation or a unitary state comprising “regions” like Tamil Nadu. Perhaps you come from a more cosmopolitan family context , but in my observation of vernacular south india, the state might as well be a country. BTW, this is also why the united south india concept is a bit far-fetched, we are so provincial that even that is a bridge to far. This all works in favour of the central gov of course, there are very few credible political frameworks to compete with, and one might even say this is the best case for the legitimacy of the federated state.

          2. Kabir, i think the social/cultural unity of south india is more salient from afar. In practice, we aren’t the best of neighbours. Without denigrating the category, Dravidianism isn’t mainstream at this point outside of Tamil Nadu, and even there it has mutated into something highly opportunistic that’s eroded its potential to be seen as politically transformative.
            Personally, I do see the south as having some cultural coherence, but I don’t see that shared by enough people on the ground (the narcissism of small differences and all that). In the end, we are either too provincial or too cosmopolitan e.g. extreme sub-regional pride or longing to belong to a larger whole. We have yet to even see a serious regional political party in the south have crossover success in a neighboring state, so in 2018 this is just fanciful chatter (in English of course) in a Bangalore craft brewery.

          3. girmit,

            Hmmm. But as India becomes more “Hindi Hindu Hindustan” wouldn’t there be a reason for the Southern states (South of the Vindhyas if I’m not mistaken) to make common cause? As far as I am aware, no Southern state likes the imposition of Hindi.

            I feel like your culture is just so different from ours (North Indian and Pakistani) that you may as well be a different country. Carnatic and Hindustani are totally different for example. I guess if the Republic of India is working for the South that’s fine. But if the South comes to feel it is subsidizing the illiterate masses of UP, perhaps discussion of separating from the North would take on more seriousness. Catalonia came to feel that it was subsidizing poorer parts of Spain and then the historical narrative of being different was built up around that.

          4. Also remember Indian nationalism benefits from that fusion with Hinduism.

            India becomes a goddess of sorts; especially as Hinduism becomes less and less interesting.

            It’s the same for secular Jews; the religion may be ritualistic but when fused with geographic and cultural nationalism it becomes a powerful force.

            The later the religion the more universalistic and less geographic it’s focus. Bahai faith and Islam are good examples..

          5. Zack,

            I agree with all your points, but there is still no logical reason that India south of the Vindhyas couldn’t have become its own country. If the people of those areas don’t want that, that is a different matter.

          6. Yes, i think where religion divides a common culture in the north, it binds the south to the idea of India. The huge corpus of Sanskrit and Prakrit literature, although elite cultural products, shape the institutional memory of the past disproportionately. I expect that to change in the long run because research in regional literature and traditions has deepened incredibly, but it takes generations for it to impact mainstream culture.
            The upper parts of the south, immediately bellow the Vindhyas, are not linguistically dravidian anyways. Maharashtra is not considered south in the way it might have been considered a few generations ago, and I don’t think they aspire to be considered southern either. Also consider the non-trivial urdu deccani culture. Muslim urdu speakers are highly represented in urban clusters all over the deccan, often >30%, and being prominent in the trades, the overall effect (coupled with the marwari diaspora) is that the broader urban population is conversant in colloquial hindustani to some degree. Because of this, such people have assimilated the national imagination emanating from the north (to some extent). So the “real” south starts much deeper down the peninsula. It becomes clear that Tamils are a distinct plurality of that deep south region that had rather tenuous connections to the Gangetic plain historically. To what extent the people of Kerala and southern Andhra/Karnataka want to be part of a Tamil dominated polity will make for an interesting topic, and will bring back reminiscences from the old Madras presidency. Although I am not one of them,my guess is some people would rather be oppressed from afar than from near. Future generations may feel differently.

          7. girmit

            I would argue as time has passed South has got comparatively more integrated irrespective of further research in regional literature.
            The more i go to the south i feel that more and more people now talk about North Indian issues than they used to in the 90s , at least in the tier 1 and tier 2 cities. Things like hindutva , North Indian nationalism, Hindi movies, North Indian marriage rituals (Recently i went to “sangeet” of a Kannadiga girl) , north Indian festivals etc have registered an impact. I feel there is a rise of elite across India who share similar taste rather than the older generation of their own state.

            The politics of course still mirrors the old times, but i feel both these contradictory trends (of people voting for their regional party as well as accepting of more and more NI stuff subconsciously ) are happening simultaneously.

          8. Saurav, yes agree. The same Manyavar sherwani can be spotted in Mysore and Indore. There is an emergent national culture that includes urban southern india, and trickles down even further. And unlike hindi as a mandatory subject in schools, many hindustani/punjabi cultural practices are seen as refreshingly different but relatable, and perhaps even aspirational. Thank Bollywood softpower for that. Tagore is a national icon, not just in Bengal. There have been many generations of common participation in important institutions like the civil service, defence, national banks, and iconic businesses like the Tata group. Vikram has made quite a few posts explaining that phenomenon well. That said, ethnic cultures are endlessly reinterpreted and identities reconfigured (will dalits find dravidian nationalism empowering? ). The centrifugal/centripetal tension in south asian political history over millenia is a well worn theme, what looks like a coming together might just be a smaller phenomena that gets superseded by the gathering forces of ethnic nationalism. I’d imagine all of this gets further complicated by the age of information and interconnectedness, so it won’t play out in a cultural silo, the crosscurrents of global youth culture and economic challenges can create many possibilities.

        1. Girmit

          If i may ask what do you mean by “gathering forces of ethnic nationalism.” Is it whole rich south subsidizing north/ return of hindi imposition rhetoric? I would say the north has actually learnt its lesson on to how to go about the whole hindi-hindu-hindustani business. Unlike the 60s you can see how the north leaders back off /stay silent as soon as they are caught doing this thing. They will keep on pushing the envelope but not let it boil over.

          Thats why you see no/little reaction from north leaders to this rhetoric even though southern leaders want to confront the centre on the economic issue. As much as the southern leaders would want that fight i feel north has wisened up and will let time do what they couldnt do in the 60s. Even in the ongoing Tuticorin protest i guess the centre will remain silent to the goading of the DMK -Congress to confront them.

          1. regd ethnic nationalism i’m talking about the long run, that it can’t be ruled out. In the near term, lets say next 10 years , what you’ve described seems to be the case (let time pass and assimilation continue). I don’t actually think the current dissatisfaction with the central gov will lead to anything, but it may keep the faintest flame alive, it will keep the idea alive that may be seized upon by a later generation. I know that can be said of anything, but no speaks of Odiya or Gujarati separatism (that i know of).

  3. Didnt even take a week then, huh!

    West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have the same thing. Perpetual victim hood.

  4. It will be a tragedy and an injustice if this issue is seen through the ‘anti-national’ etc lens. Would anyone here say that if Gujaratis in South Mumbai or Punjabi Hindus in Delhi were the ones protesting ?

    And to be quite honest, with our current attitudes, the ‘nation’ only ruthlessly dispossesses and poisons those who stand in the way of the modernity the Delhi-Mumbai-Bengaluru complex aspire for.

    Having worked with organization like SIPCOT-CEM (Cuddalore, TN) and Kalpavriksh in Delhi, I can tell you without equivocation that the Indian state’s attitude towards the environment is absolutely criminal. Most positions in pollution and environment boards are unfilled, the government is constantly trying to push through nonsense like ‘self monitoring for industries’, state attorneys appearing to defend foreign mining corporations, automatic clearance if terms of reference (which are now proposed by the investors) are not evaluated in a short period of time and so on.

    I am not saying that there arent cases where panic isnt created for purely idealogical or political reasons (Kundakulam for example). But even here, the root cause is the mistrust between the state and the citizens, who know they cant rely on the government to protect their ecosystems and livelihoods.

    1. The last line ‘root cause is the mistrust between the state and the citizens’ is very true. That shows the weakness of democracy in India . The government or the ruling parties don’t make it a point to inform the citizens as much as possible about industries and their environmental and other impacts . Democracy has been reduced to capturing power by hook or crook

      1. Yes, the fundamental driver of politics is ‘get my caste in power’ and everything else is collateral.

  5. “I feel there is a rise of elite across India who share similar taste rather than the older generation of their own state.”

    If this is indeed the case, it is a disaster.

    I would like to reiterate here that my arguments regarding pan-Indian ‘feeling’ emphasized political values, institutions and processes arising from the acceptance of a standard narrative of the freedom struggle.

    Unlike Hindi subservients, Kannadigas have a literary tradition going back more than a millinea.

    Would also like to reiterate that this post was about 11 people getting shot for environmental protests, not the political anxieties of Hindi subservients and their lackeys across India.

  6. In Tamilnadu, there have been other protests in Kudankulam and other places. They have been mainly along the coastal areas. A ‘Hidden hand’ behind all this protests is the Catholic Church. CC at the local level has been solidly behind all this, exhorting the church goers to take part in the protests and giving as much moral and even physical support to the protests . I am sure local church could not be doing all this without a nod from higher ups in India .

    1. Whats the deeper motivation there? How does the CC or Gandhi family or whoever have a a strategic goal of undermining these projects?

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