India: Stop Police Attacks on Peaceful Protesters in Orissa

15 May 2010

New Delhi

We, the undersigned, strongly condemn the unprovoked firing and arson carried out by the Orissa state police against a dharna of farmers and fisher folk opposed to the proposed POSCO steel project in Jagatsingpur district.

As per latest reports, today over 100 people have been injured and many shops and houses in Balitutha village, the site of the dharna, have been set on fire by the policemen.  Around 40 divisions of policemen were involved in the operation, which continues even now as we write this.  Hundreds of villagers belonging to the PPSS (POSCO Pratirodh Sangharsh Samiti) have been sitting in a peaceful dharna since 26 January 2010 to express their dissent against the proposed plant.

It is also outrageous to note that the atrocities and arson by the police at Balitutha at the moment is being led by the SP of the district while chief minister Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar is issuing statements like “We are for peaceful industrialization” to the media.  Naveen Patnaik is known for his ruthless manner in which he has dealt with democratic resistances in the past 10 years in the state, in which many innocent people have lost their lives to police firing and other forms of violence perpetrated by the state.

Prior to today’s police action, there was already an economic blockage imposed by the state administration of the villages earmarked for land acquisition and where resistance is the strongest.  There is a strong fear that any police raid on the villagers to oust them from their land will result in the loss of innocent lives in an area where thousands were already killed when the Orissa Super Cyclone hit the area just a decade ago.  Nevertheless, the area is endowed with rich natural resources and has a prosperous economy of its own, and the local communities — as they have expressed it over and over again — do not want to trade their resources, economy, and cultural identities for mere corporate greed.

We believe that to crush peaceful dissent in such a brutal manner can only serve to undermine Indian democracy and push large sections of the Indian population to the point of desperation.  At no point, in their struggle for over five years, have the anti-POSCO protestors indulged in any violent activities and have instead set an example to the rest of the country on how to carry out a democratic struggle based solely on the mass support of ordinary men and women.

We appeal to all Indian political parties and concerned citizens to oppose the Orissa government’s ill-considered and draconian action against the anti-POSCO protestors and demand the immediate withdrawal of police forces from the area.  It is only through peaceful negotiations that a resolution can be found and the common people’s crumbling faith in Indian democracy restored.

Yours sincerely,

1. Prashant Bhushan, Advocate, New Delhi
2. Medha Patkar, NAPM
3. Arundhati Roy, Writer and Activist, New Delhi
4. Sandeep Pandey, NAPM
5. B Ramakrishna Raju, NAPM
6. Praful Samantara, Lok Shakti Abhiyan, Orissa
7. Meher Engineer, Academic, Kolkata
8. Ashok Chaudhury, NFFPFW, New Delhi
9. Subrat Kumar Sahu, Independent Filmmaker, New Delhi
10. Sanjay Bosu Mallick, NFFPFW
11. Madhumita Dutta, Vettiverr Collective, Chennai
12. Nityanand Jayaraman, Journalist, Chennai
13. Shweta Narayan, Community Environmental Monitoring, Chennai
14. Dr Karen Coelho, Academic, Chennai
15. Shazia Nigar, Delhi University and NAPM, New Delhi
16. Soumitra Ghosh, NFFPFW — North Bengal Regional Committee, Siliguri, West Bengal
17. Mamata Dash, Researcher and Activist, NFFPFW, New Delhi
18. Amit Sengupta, Journalist, New Delhi
19. Satya Sivaraman, Journalist, New Delhi
20. Ravi Hemadri, the Other Media, New Delhi
21. Manshi Asher, Environment Research and Action Collective, Himachal Pradesh
22. Shalini Gera, Friends of South Asia, Delhi
23. Shibayan Raha, New Delhi
24. Madhu Sarin, Researcher and Activist, Chandigarh
25. Nandini Sundar, Professor of Sociology, Delhi University
26. Saswati Swetlana
27. Ashish Fernandes, Bangalore
28. Amar Kanwar, Independent Filmmaker, New Delhi
29. B Karthik Navayan, Advocate, Hyderabad
30. Amit Srivastava, India Resource Center
31. Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM
32. Maj Gen (Retd) S G Vombatkere
33. Rashida Bee, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
34. Champa Devi Shukla, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
35. Syed M Irfan, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
36. Rachna Dhingra, Bhopal Group for Information and Action
37. Satinath Sarangi, Bhopal Group for Information and Action
38. Safreen Khan, Children Against Dow Carbide
39. K P Sasi, Independent Filmmaker, Bangalore
40. Anivar Aravnd, Movingrepublic, Bangalore
41. Kanchi Kohli, Kalpavriksh, New Delhi
42. Latha Jishnu, Journalist, New Delhi
43. Chanda Asani, Academic, Jaipur

. . . and many more concerned citizens

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