How a retired Indian professor took on a mining giant – and won (AlJazeera – January 7, 2021)

Thoothukudi, India – She spearheaded a decades-long campaign against a copper smelter over alleged environmental contamination in the south Indian seaside town of Thoothukudi.

Sterlite Copper, the Indian subsidiary of Vedanta Resources, a global mining and metals conglomerate, was forced to shut its plant in 2018, thanks to a sustained and spirited fight led by 67-year-old teacher-turned activist Fatima Babu.

The plant’s shuttering, said Fatima, “has boosted the morale of the townspeople, which is a very very big thing for us”. “But we would want Sterlite to pay for the damage it has done.”

On May 22, 2018, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Thoothukudi against a proposed expansion of Sterlite’s 400,000-tonne annual capacity smelter, but the police opened fire, killing at least 13 protesters. It was the deadliest environmental protest of the year in the country. The police justified their action saying the protesters pelted stones and burned their vehicles.

The victims were paid a compensation of 2 million rupees ($19,000) but the family members of those killed say the compensation is meagre, as several of them were the sole breadwinners. The UN condemned the “excessive and disproportionate” use of force by police against protesters and sought an inquiry.

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