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India's Hindu nationalists join port fray

Right-wing Hindu group marches in support of the controversial megaproject in southern Kerala state

Fisher people protesting against a port project which they say will destroy their lives and livelihood near Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala state

Fisher people protesting against a port project which they say will destroy their lives and livelihood near Thiruvananthapuram, the capital of the southern Indian state of Kerala state. (Photo: supplied)

Published: December 01, 2022 12:06 PM GMT

Updated: December 02, 2022 08:12 AM GMT

A Catholic archdiocese-led fishermen’s protest against a multi-billion dollar international mega seaport in India’s Kerala state has turned communal after a right-wing Hindu group marched in support of the project.

The Hindu Aikya Vedi (Hindu United Front), a Hindu nationalist organization, staged a march in support of the megaproject on Nov. 30, openly defying a police restriction against any such march in and around the port protest venue.

The agitated members of the nationalist Hindu organization who took part in the march shouted slogans in support of the Adani Vizhinjam Seaport, promoted by Gautam Adani, India’s richest man who has very strong support from the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

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Their demands include completion of the port construction at the earliest and actions against those behind the violent attack on the Vihinjam police station on Nov. 27 night in which 90 protesters and 36 police personnel were wounded.

Close to 800 police personnel deployed to ensure security did not allow them to enter the protest site in front of the main gate of the port project at Vizhinjam, Thiruvananthapuram district, Kerala state.

“There are attempts from different quarters to give a communal color to our protest meant for ensuring the life and livelihood of fisherfolk and their family members, roughly around 200,000 people who will be hit by the port project once it is completed,” Father Michael Thomas, one of the convenors of the protest, told UCA News on Dec. 1.

Catholic Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum under its bishops and priests has been spearheading this protest since July 20 after their repeated pleas for rehabilitation and resettlement of close to 500 fishermen who lost their houses, land and other belongings went unheeded by the Communist-led provincial government.

The Adani Group started construction in 2015 of what is tipped to be India’s first mega transshipment container terminal at an estimated cost of 75 billion rupees.

“Our protest has been peaceful. We never indulged in any violence,” he said recalling the violence unleashed against the protesters on Nov. 26 by a group claiming themselves supporters of the project in the presence of police when the protesters objected to the entry of trucks loaded with construction materials.

This, according to the priest, was part of a conspiracy to destabilize the peaceful protest and subsequent police detention of five protesters.

“It is natural that the protesters went to the police station demanding their release on Nov. 27 and as per the pre-planned script someone lobbed stones at the police which led to violence leading to injuries and damage to government property,” he said.

“Now the Hindu nationalist group is coming forward expressing support for the port project and demanding action against those involved in the police station attack to give the impression that we instigated violence at the police station.”

The priest also said leaders from the ruling Communist Party in the state had shared the stage with Hindu nationalist groups and now both are targeting them with their communal agenda as the protest is led by Catholic bishops and priests and most of the fishermen are Latin Catholics.

Leaders from the Muslim community also have come out against the fishermen’s protest and demanded action against those who attacked the police station. Many in the Muslim community had earlier pledged their support.

Meanwhile, the state government has formed a special team of police officials to initiate action against those behind the police station attack.  The team, a senior official told the media, would identify those involved in the crime and arrest them.

Police have registered a case against 3,000 persons including women and children in connection with the violence.

Until now the police have been slow in proceeding with the probe as they feared any further arrests would lead to more violence.

The state government has also tightened security around the protest venue to avoid any further clashes.

The protesters, however, vowed to continue their agitation as they have no option left saying they do not mind giving up their life.

“If we call off our protest without achieving our genuine demands we will die of hunger and disease as we have nowhere to go as the project is gradually submerging our houses and taking away our seashore and thereby our jobs as well,” said one protester. 

However, they maintain that if an impartial social impact assessment proves their claim wrong, they would call off the protest unconditionally.

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