What started out as a peaceful protest ended in arrest.
That’s the scene that played out in the early morning hours of May 8, stunning the activists and supporters of Greenpeace India and Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) worldwide. Four activists -- Akshay Gupta, Vinit Gupta, Bechan Lal, and Vijay Shankar Singh -- were arrested just after midnight following a peaceful protest against coal mining activities in the forests of Mahan, India.
The activists had been protesting mining by the Essar and Hindalco corporations in an effort to protect over five million trees and the local people at risk of displacement. Over 14,000 people currently rely on the forest for their homes and livelihoods, and the mining operations threaten to completely destroy their way of life.
But following weeks of peaceful protests, the police intervened and arrested the four activists -- two from Greenpeace and two from MSS -- without explanation, according to the account of one protester at the scene, Vivek Goyal.
Following their arrest, all four activists were detained for over 40 hours, and three have currently been granted bail. According to Greenpeace India, the activists face charges of “assault or criminal force to deter public servants from doing their duty,” “obstructing a public servant in discharge of public functions,” “punishment for robbery,” and “refusing to sign a confession.”
Greenpeace India plans to appeal the charges in the Indian High Court, but this won’t deter the activists from continuing their fight in Mahan.
“None of us, including those who are in jail right now, want the company to prevail over people in Mahan,” Goyal wrote in his account of the incident. “The stakes are too high for us to give-up now or ever. So we stand together growing stronger everyday, determined to protect forests, people, rights and ultimately this planet.”
Sadly, this is not a unique circumstance for anti-coal activists in India. One of this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize winners, Ramesh Agrawal, was shot and left for dead after actively opposing mine expansion that was devastating local communities in Chhattishgarh, India.
Luckily, Ramesh survived and has continued to work toward making a coal-free world for our future generations. But others have not been quite so lucky. It's time the Indian government ended these attacks on peaceful activists or risk leaving a dark stain on the shining image it seeks to portray on the international stage.
--Justin Guay, Associate Director, International Climate Program