Information on the Massacre of May 22nd, 2018, in Thoothukudi, India
On May 22nd, 2018, a company of non-uniformed policemen opened fire with assault rifles on a crowd of unarmed civilian protestors in the Indian city of Thoothukudi. Thirteen protestors were killed and many more were wounded.
The police, according to witness statements, aimed to kill, placing their shots on the torso or the head rather than the legs, arms, or feet.
The order to shoot was given by a junior officer who only had the authority to issue that order during the time his senior officer was absent. Normally this individual would not have had the authority to issue this command.
The dispute was over a copper smelter in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
For four months the townsfolk of Thoothukudi had been protesting against a copper smelter owned and operated by Sterlite Copper, a subsidiary company of Indian mining firm Vedanta, which itself is a subsidiary of the U.K.-based Vedanta Resources. Citizens and protestors insisted that the smelter was causing rapid, dramatic, and irreversible environmental damages, and that its operation had an adverse effect on their health. Government officials in the state of Tamil Nadu agreed. They formally requested that the copper smelter be closed.
Instead, company representatives dismissed government requests, ignored protestor demands, and called upon the police to put down any dissent or insurrection against the mining and processing operation in Thoothukudi.
The protests continued for months without progress or results, but also without violence or casualties—until the end of May when non-uniformed police opened fire.
The massacre has prompted international outrage. The United Nations demanded that India’s federal government investigate the crime and hold the perpetrators accountable. Powerful politicians in the U.K. have vowed to delist Vedanta Resources from the London Stock Exchange. And Sterlite Copper was forced to close its Thoothukudi operations under a federal order.
But Vedanta Resources confirmed it has no plans to close the smelter permanently. In the days after the massacre, the company reaffirmed its no-negotiations policy. Tamil Nadu shut down the site following the deaths of thirteen protestors on May 28th, but Vedanta Resources plans to re-open the smelter and continue operations as soon as the order expires, against government requests, civilian protests, and international condemnation.
One day after the shooting, the Madras High Court ruled that Sterlite-Vedanta had acted against the EPA Act of 1986, and ordered the closure of a new expansion site which had been under construction at the time. They also stated that they would be willing to allow the re-opening of the original facility, or of a newer facility, if the company was able to send in a formal proposal which passes the 1986 EPA standards.
Police statements one week after the event alleged that protestors had been carrying deadly weapons, had threatened the lives of company and police officials, and had posed a threat to public safety. Eyewitness testimonies refuted these allegations. Protestors insisted that not a single one among them had a weapon, that no such threats were made, and that the police opened fire on the crowd without any legal justifications for doing so. CCTV security camera footage supports the protestors’ narrative of events and finds no evidence of any of the allegations made by the police.
At the time of writing, organizers have been trying to put together subsequent protest demonstrations. Witnesses say that police have been going door-to-door and arresting organizers so that no future demonstrations can take place.
Sources and Further Reading
Compiled with Eyewitness Statements