Police Violence against the Fisher People on the Kerala Coast: A People’s Account

Below, I share a write-up by Johnson Jament, an academic researcher from the coast of the Thiruvananthapuram district, where an intense struggle against the Adani Port Project has been unfolding. Arrayed on opposing sides are the fisher people who have inhabited the coast since the past 500 years (according to historical record) and more, whose livelihoods are at stake, and the Adani Port Project, supported by the combination of natural resource predators and the CPM-led government of Kerala. The leadership of the CPM (though not the ranks, or at least all of the ranks) can be quite fairly described as a ‘post-socialist oligarchy’, and hence their support of Adani Ports is pretty understandable. The battle has been equally one of wits too, with the Kerala government pulling out all their progressive aces, including the longtime literary-cultural acolytes of the CPM but also some of the (former) stars of Kerala’s oppositional civil society — notably, the poet and critic, K Satchidanandan! Questioned about his stance, this early teacher of Euro-Marxism of a whole generation claimed that the conflict was because of ‘binary thinking’ that supporters and opponents of the Port project both equally indulge in, forgetting notably, that something like ‘structural contradiction’ may be becoming evident in and through this struggle. Perceiving it, of course, is not indulging in binary thinking.

Such is the sorry state of our civil society. Sachidanandan enjoys high favour with the post-socialist oligarchy and presently heads the Kerala Sahitya Akademi. That statement which he signed was stuffed with lies; his co-signatories were definitely not representative of Kerala’s civil society; it was closer to the membership list of Thiruvananthapuram’s elite clubs and water-holes of the rich. I console myself thinking that I still bear within me the memory of Satchidanandan, the poet, though I am certain that this avatar, I will never recognise as that person, even.

—–

Police violence against protesting fishers in Kerala, India

On Sunday 27th November 2022, 126 seriously injured fishers were admitted to hospital after having been brutally attacked in Vizhinjam, Trivandrum (south Kerala) by Kerala police and a group of hired thugs.  At the time of the attack, the fishers were protesting against the controversial construction of a new container port in Vizhinjam.  Developed as “India’s first Mega Transshipment Container Terminal” by the Adani Group (https://www.adaniports.com/Ports-and-Terminals/Vizhinjam-Port), this infrastructure is displacing the local population, increasing coastal erosion in the area, damaging very sensitive underwater reef ecosystems and destroying the livelihood of fishers.  129 days ago, fishing communities have started a major protest, demanding, amongst other requests, the suspension of all building work until independent scientific studies have established the ecological and social consequences of the new port. 

Whilst the protest has now gathered the support of coastal communities across Kerala and beyond, the state and central government have so far refused to address the main demand of local fishing communities, that is the interim suspension of all building work at the new container terminal.  On the contrary, in recent days the Police, Kerala Government and the Adani Group have orchestrated a media campaign accusing protesting fishers of violence against police, thus justifying the latter’s harsh action against the protesters.  Indeed, Kerala Police has now issued statements denouncing “9 well known activists”—including Msgr Fr. Eugene H. Pereira, of the Trivandrum Diocese—as ring-leaders of the protest, and has declared to have initiated penal actions against “more than 1000” identified protesters.

Local fishing communities strongly deny any responsibility for the violence which marred the 27th November protest.  They argue their actions were a legitimate defensive response against a deliberate attack orchestrated by Kerala Police.  Indeed the incidents occurred after stones were hurled towards peaceful protesters from the roof of the Police station itself.  Against these false claims, the protesting fishers and their communities denounce police violence and fabrications, and, based on first person accounts, they highlight below the actual chain of events leading to the incidents

Saturday (26 November 2022):

  1. At around 9 am, 40 lorries carrying construction materials arrived at the port entrance, where the fishers’ protest site is located, with the intention of forcing their way through.  In front of a large contingent of policemen stationed there, a small group of protesting fishers stopped the approaching lorries to enquiry about what they transported.
  2. Learning of the attempt to break through the fishers’ blockade,  fisher people from nearby areas tried to join the protest site, but they were stopped from doing so by the police, as well as by a large group of miscreants known locally for their association both to ruling political parties (at national and state levels!!!) and to the Adani Group.
  3. After a long negotiation between the police and the protesters, the lorries were allowed to proceed, and tension faded away.  At that moment, the above miscreants started throwing stones towards the fishers at the protest site, and fishers took the same stones and returned them in the presence of a significant media presence, and the police force. The media and police reported the incident as a clash between two groups of people. Not only the police did not take any action to stop stone-throwing but accused, and later charged criminal cases against the protesting fishers who had been the victims of the attack!.
  4. Another group of fishers unconnected to the protest—they were going home after fishing from the nearby harbour area—were attacked with stone-pelting by the same group miscreants hiding behind the “Milk Society” building.  Many fishers suffered injuries, and had run to the protest site for safety and assistance.  Shocked by the site of fellow fishers nursing bleeding wounds, the protesters asked the police to intervene immediately to arrest the culprits.  Faced with total police indifference, fishers themselves set to search for and apprehend the attackers, but the latter had fled the scene.  Although fishers provided extensive evidences of the attack and identified some of the attackers, the police neither intervened nor investigated the potentially fatal attack. To date, only one charge has been moved against the assailants. 
  5. After the intervention and mediation of the Catholic priests, calm was eventually restored.

Sunday (27 November 2022):

  1. The day begun with the Kerala Police Department releasing a list of names of fishers and religious leaders who had been allegedly identified as responsible for the disturbances which took place in the previous days, and against whom criminal charges had been filed.  Several media platforms published such a list of names [including photo IDs], a list which did not include the real culprit of the violence, that is the hired goons who attacked fishers’ peaceful protest.
  2. Around 10am, in Vizhinjam a fisherman named Sheldon, whose name was not included in the published list, went to the local police station to register the loss of his boat and fishing gear due to an accident at sea which had occurred the previous day offshore from the container port.  Sheldon was accompanied by the local ward councillor, before they entered into the police station, they were both arrested on the order of plain-clothes policemen, before they could even explain the reasons for their visit.  The councillor was eventually released, but Sheldon was transferred to an unknown location.
  3. As Sheldon was missing, his family members went to the local Catholic parish to seek support for finding what had happened and were he had been taken. The Parish Committee sent four representatives to the police station to enquire about Sheldon’s whereabouts, but they too were immediately arrested by the police and taken to an “unknown location”, which was later identified as the Armed Reserve Unit camp in the city, far away from the fishing village.   
  4. The news about the arrest and disappearance of Sheldon and the four Parish Committee representatives spread quickly in the nearby villages.  Family members together with a group of local women went to the Vizhinjam police station to enquire about the whereabout of the five arrested men.  Not only the police refused to answer questions concerning the arrested men, but also threatened the family members and women with arrest and criminal charges. At this time, there were no female police officers present who could interact and mediate with the village women.
  5. As the news of the arrests spread to nearby areas, fishers from neighbouring villages decided to head for the Vizhinjam police station to offer their support, but they were prevented by the police to do so.
  6. By 6.30pm the police had not provided any answers to the lawful and legitimate enquiries of the families and relatives of the arrested.  As darkness begun to fell, stones were hurled from people on the roof of the police station against those who had assembled peacefully outside the police station for long hours. A group of masked young men, could be Adani’s goons, started to attack the police jeeps and other vehicles including a KSRTC bus. It was followed by lathi-charges against the assembled women and relatives of the arrested, alongside the deployment of teargas and stun-grenades.  
  7. As the result of the police unprovoked attack, many of the women were injured, and the fishers had no option but to defend themselves as best as they could.  As a result, some police jeeps and policemen were attacked. According to the Government, 40 policemen were injured and 85 lakhs rupees worth of damage was suffered. These unconfirmed Police statements were reported extensively by popular media. Little or no mention was made of the extensive injuries suffered by fishermen and women, a large number of whom had to receive hospital care. Likewise, the attacks suffered by fishers at the hands of both hired goons and police were not reported anywhere.

Friday, 02 December 2022

  1. Media reports that more than 1000 fishers have been identified as “culprits” in the incidents outside Vizhinjam police station. They are under police investigation and criminal charges against them are expected.
  2. It is no coincidence that the incidents on 27th November resulting from unprovoked attacks against protesting fishers had been planned to provoke tension and violence in advance of the Kerala High Court hearing in which the Adani Group sought an order to remove all protesters from the port gates, and asked for the deployment of Central Police Force in Vizhinjam.  Until then, the 129 days protest had been largely peaceful
  3. New provocations against fishers are expected in anticipation of further High Court hearings  on the case against fishers initiated by the Adani Group, which will take place in the coming days.  The Kerala government will use once more these provocations as an excuse to crush once and for all the legitimate protest of those same fishers who selflessly intervened to save thousands of lives during the 2018 floods. 

Solidarity Appeal:

The fishers of south Kerala need your support and solidarity to force the Kerala Government to meet all their demands, including suspension of all building work in the container port until independent scientific studies are conducted to ascertain the environmental and social consequences of this infrastructure.

The fishers of south Kerala demand the removal of all police cases and criminal charges against innocent fishermen and women, and request immediate intervention to bring to justice all hired goons and policemen involved in the violent attacks against fishermen and women

The fishers of south Kerala demand the immediate establishment of an independent judicial commission to investigate the circumstances of the violent incidents in connection with the Vizhinjam protests.  

The fishers of south Kerala demand the Kerala Government to take immediate steps to stop all unproven allegations and derogatory comments against fishers.  They also request the media to refrain reporting unproven or false news on the fishers and their protest

The fishers of south Kerala request Kerala Government and Police to work to create a peaceful environment conducive to a satisfactory negotiation and the resolution of the ongoing protest.

Stop the victimization of Kerala Fishers! Support the struggle of Kerala Fishers! 

One thought on “Police Violence against the Fisher People on the Kerala Coast: A People’s Account”

  1. The Kerala and central governments are the C 21st iteration of the conniving, murderous, plundering and exploitative Christopher Columbus and the Jesuits and company that decimated the people and the land of North America. These dictators were not and are not vested in partnerships: they were/are insatiably capricious. Unfortunately, there are enough leeches living off of these self-absorbed and self-serving Naked Emperors that make the atrocities against those hapless just another day at the office: meaning, don’t expect anything even remotely resembling the guts that the Iranian women and children are showcasing in the cause of Mahsa Amini, in Vizhinjam.

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