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Indian Catholics condemn police brutality after protesters shot

Catholics join rallies in Tamil Nadu expressing anger over what is seen as abuse of power over opposition to copper plant

Tejaswi Ravinder, Hyderabad

Tejaswi Ravinder, Hyderabad

Updated: May 28, 2018 11:18 AM GMT
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Indian Catholics condemn police brutality after protesters shot

Indian Catholics from a parish in Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese protest on May 27 against police officers' decision to fire on those who were rallying in opposition to a local copper plant five days earlier. The crackdown resulted in 13 deaths, including four Catholics. (Photo provided)

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Thousands of Catholics marched in solidarity with those protesting a multi-million-dollar copper-processing unit in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu on May 27 after an earlier showdown with police left 13 dead.

The demonstrators' clashes with security officials on May 22 resulted in officers opening fire. At least four Catholics were killed, according to media reports. One Catholic priest was also injured. 

Some five days later all of the parishes belonging to Madras-Mylapore Archdiocese, which covers the state capital of Chennai, conducted meetings and marches in their areas condemning the police brutality in the port town of Tuticorin, a Christian center in coastal Tamil Nadu.

"As citizens of India, a nation governed by a participatory democratic system, we deem it our duty and right to condemn the shooting" of people who were protesting against the copper plant, Archbishop George Antonysamy of Madras-Mylapore told ucanews.com.

Those who attended the bloody rally claim the plant, owned by London-based Vedanta, has been polluting their environment and water sources, causing a spike in cancer cases.

Church leaders said rumors they have been acting as instigators in the rallies are pure fiction. (Photo provided)

 

For the last three months people have been protesting against the company's plan to expand its operations in the area.

The plant is located in a central urban district close to a Catholic parish but local church officials claim it affects 19 parishes in the city, which caters to about 100,000 Catholics

Archbishop Antonysamy said the protesting Catholics have "drawn inspiration" from Pope Francis's Encyclical Letter "Laudato Si," which insists that "the church should return to its mission of ministering to the poor and marginalized, advancing the cause of the environment for those who most depend on it."

"The church stands in support of the protesters, who are struggling to provide for their families and [are fighting on behalf of] future generations," he told ucanews.com

Archbishop Antonysamy has also led a demonstration for the same cause at St. Andrew's Church in Chennai.

He said he wished to express his "solidarity with the cause of the protesters" and offered prayers for those who were killed. He described the police action of resorting to the use of firearms as "unjustifiable murder."

 

The church's decision to involve itself in such controversial affairs of state has given rise to rumors on social media that parishes have been playing the role of provocateurs.

Archbishop Antonysamy said such speculation was ridiculous and "a deliberate attempt to malign the just cause" of the protest and polarize those involved in the rallies along religious lines.

Bishop Yvon Ambroise of Tuticorin told ucanews.com soon after the police action that the bullets were fired "indiscriminately" as police also shot at innocent people "without provocation."

"It was a people's protest," he said, playing down talk of the church acting as an instigator.

State officials told the media afterwards that police took what they considered to be the appropriate action when faced with an unruly mob, adding there were fears the demonstrators might attack a local district official's residence.

But rights groups maintain the officers should first have resorted to other crowd-control methods such as using batons, tear gas and rubber bullets. 

Critics contend the officers also fired at people's heads and bodies, which would violate regulations citing this as a last resort.

According to the rules of police conduct in Tamil Nadu, officers should first exhaust non-lethal means of crowd response and then aim their bullets below the knee in order to incapacitate but not kill their targets, in such situations.

Others claim there has been a campaign of violence and harassment against Christians in the state.

"The church will continue to support the constitutional rights of the people of this region to protest against anything that threatens their lives and the local ecosystem," Archbishop Antonysamy said. 

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