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'We are not anti-nationals'

By SHOBHA WARRIER
December 16, 2022 11:39 IST
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'We know a day will come very soon when people will realise our fight was for the environment and not against the nation.'

IMAGE: Father Eugene H Pereira, vicar general, archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram, speaks to the media about the protest against the Vizhinjam port project. Photograph: Kind courtesy Father Eugene H Pereira

It was on the 20th of July 2022 that the fishing community in coastal Thiruvananthapuram began their protest outside the secretariat against the Vizhinjam port 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?

"Do you know when ISRO was being built, it was this community that sacrificed their life and livelihood for the sake of the nation? They gave away their places of worship and even the cemetery for the space programme and the airport?" Father Eugene H Pereira, vicar general, archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram, tells Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier in the concluding segment of a two-part interview:

 

IMAGE: Fishermen burn their boats during a protest against the Vizhinjam port project at Mulloor, Thiruvananthapuram, October 27, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

Did they want to portray the agitators as violent?

Not just as violent people, but they wanted to portray us as communalists and ant-nationals.

Just like the farmers' protest, every protest needs a break so that it can be restarted more effectively at a later date.

The farmers also had to end their protests although their main demand of fixing MSP was not implemented.

We felt we needed more time to plan certain things and also gather more information through a scientific study on the impact of such a port on the environment.

The study committee was set up in November and by January, the report will be ready which will give more strength to our words.

Do you plan to present it in front of the public?

We will present it in front of the government and also the general public.

Does that mean you have withdrawn the agitation only temporarily?

Exactly. The case we have filed with the help of people like Prashant Bhushan has already come in the high court for hearing.

It means, we are looking at not just the scientific report, but the rule of law also.

We are happy that we were able to tell the national and international community what kind of environmental disaster this port is going to be.

Even the general public is now aware of the negative impact it would have on the environment.

IMAGE: Members of Kochi churches form a human chain as they extend their support to fishermen protesting against the Adani port project in Kochi, September 11, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo

But don't you think you do not have the support of the general public as this agitation has been given a communal colour and perceived as one initiated by the church?

The leader of the Hindu fishing community, Dheevara, had visited our protest pandal and participated in the awareness yatra. Several Muslim leaders also have supported us.

Nobody has any doubts about the kind of negative impact the port will have on environment.

Is it not true that the agitation does not have the support of other political parties?

It was the UDF (the Congress-led United Democratic Front) that signed the agreement with the Adani group. Naturally, they cannot support the agitation wholeheartedly.

Now, the LDF (the Communist Party of India-Marxist-led Left Democratic Front)has become the biggest supporter of the port project.

I do not agree with the opinion that everybody is against the agitation. Environmental activists are with us. So also human rights activists.

Many other organisations are also with us. In all the districts, there were protest marches against the project.

IMAGE: A Protest against the Adani port project. Photograph: PTI Photo

Some newspaper reports paint this as a protest organised by the Christian community and they say a majority of the people of Kerala are against the agitation because of the religious colour...

I don't agree with this. I feel the agitation of the fishing community is as historic as the farmers' agitation.

Nobody expected the fishing community to continue their protest for 140 long days.

We would have continued the agitation if the situation had not turned out to be like this.

Even some ministers called the agitators desha drohi -- anti-nationals.

When the Vallarpadam port was being constructed also, they had declared that it was going to be the biggest development plan Kerala had seen. What happened to the Vallparpadam port?

Shutting their eyes on the realities, some of these people portray this as a dream project, but the fact is, it is going to be a nightmare for a whole lot of people and environment.

We are not anti-nationals or anti-development; we are for preserving our environment.

Do you know when ISRO was being built, it was this community that sacrificed their life and livelihood for the sake of the nation? They gave away their places of worship and even the cemetery for the space programme and the airport.

IMAGE: Private security guards stand near an entrance of the proposed Vizhinjam port in Kerala. Photograph: Munsif Vengattil/Reuters

When you started the agitation, did you expect to be called anti-national?

Never. Never. They never expected us to be this strong and patient in our fight.

We are not going to sit idle. Once the environmental study is ready, we will put in front of not just the people of Kerala but the entire world.

Then, they will realise what kind of disaster this port is going to cause.

If you destroy nature, nature will not remain silent; it will destroy you.

We know a day will come very soon when people will realise our fight was for the environment and not against the nation.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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