'The police just stood there watching our people being attacked.'
It was on the 20th of July 2022 that the fishing community in coastal Thiruvananthapuram began their protest outside the secretariat against the Vizhinjam International Transhipment Deepwater Multipurpose Seaport being developed by the Adani group.
On the 16th of August, the group of protestors moved from the secretariat to the main entrance of the port.
On the 6th of December, the Vizhinjam protest committee led by the Latin Archdiocese decided to end the stir after the Kerala chief minister held talks with the archdiocese
On the 7th of December, the protestors dismantled the tent erected in front of the Vizhinjam port gate.
The Adani group resumed the construction of the port soon after.
Why did the committee headed by the Latin Archdiocese decide to end the stir?
Is it permanent or temporary? What were the assurances given by the chief minister?
"By giving communal colour to the agitation, they thought they could destroy the agitation," Father Eugene H Pereira, vicar general, archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier.
The first of a two-part interview:
Father, last time when we spoke, you had said that the Vizhinjam Adani port project was an environmental disaster, and it would affect the life and livelihood of thousands of people in the fishing community.
Then, why did you call off the agitation against the project that had been there for almost five months?
The main reason behind calling off the agitation was because the state government after joining hands with forces that include even communal elements to paint us as communal, and what we did as communal violence.
This is the new screenplay written by the government.
You mean, they are trying give a communal angle to the agitation because the church is involved?
Exactly. Can you believe some of the responsible ministers openly called the fishing community, anti-nationals and vandals?
All this is part of the new screenplay they are writing.
By giving communal colour to the agitation, they thought they could destroy the agitation.
What happened on the 26th of November was part of the plan.
In the morning, when a few members of the agitators including women came to assemble, they were first stopped by the police and the opposing forces.
Soon they started abusing the women followed by physical attacks.
It did not end there. When the vicars of Vizhinjam church, Poonthura church, and Cheriyathura church came out of the churches, they were surrounded by some hooligans who abused them in foul language. The police just stood there watching the tamasha.
You mean to say it was a planned move from the opposing side?
That's why I said, it was scripted well in advance, and they executed it perfectly well.
Till 1 in the afternoon, the drama went on without the police taking any action against the abusers.
It was then that some of our young men got provoked.
Was that when the violent confrontation happened?
On the 26th, there was no violence. Our people had to run away when chased by the attackers.
It happened three times, but the police just stood there watching our people being attacked.
Who was behind the attacks? The ruling party?
No doubt about that. Both the ruling party and also people from the BJP.
In the evening, the attacks continued. In fact, one of our young men came to the pandal with blood oozing from all over his body.
We did not counter attack, but send the injured in an ambulance to the hospital.
But what happened afterwards was, the police slapped Article 307 on all of us.
But reports say the agitators turned violent and attacked the police and the police station...
Yes, that's the story that was being spread. I looked at the FIRs filed and I could not find a single incident that deserved slapping of Section 307. But the police did.
It was a well-planned attack to put us on the defensive.
On the 27th, women from the fishing community had gathered outside the police station to find out about their men who were arrested.
That was when some hooligans started pelting stones at them.
This resulted in a tussle between the two groups.
I had reached there by 8:30 in the morning. When the commissioner of police wanted to meet me, I agreed as maintaining peace was what I also wanted.
But as I neared the police station, somebody first threw tear gas at me. Imagine it happened when I was there to meet the police commissioner.
Sensing violence, a couple of young men moved me and another father to a nearby shelter.
The violence and destruction that followed was orchestrated by the police and the others, and not us.
I told the commissioner that Section 307 was slapped not just on me, but the archbishop also, and all this was dramatically played out.
Till 6:30 pm, I was at the police station negotiating to take the arrested five young men out on bail.
Finally, four of them were released on bail. After this news was conveyed only, the crowd dissipated.
When I went back, it was 5 in the morning. The drama went on till then.
When did the meeting with the chief minister happen? What assurance did the chief minister give you for you to call off the agitation?
If you ask me about assurance, most of the problems stand as it is.
Regarding the resettlement plan, the flats that would be allotted to the displaced fishermen would be of 635 square feet and not 550 square feet as decided earlier.
They also assured us that they would provide an area to keep their boats and other fishing equipment.
They told us they had created a committee to study coastal erosion, but they were reluctant to include people from our side.
Then, why did you call off the agitation?
The decision to call off the agitation was mainly because the other side tried their best to make this a violent protest.
Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com