Marking the 100th day of their anti-port agitation, fisherfolk led by the Thiruvananthapuram Latin Archdiocese massed in huge numbers along the coast under the blazing sun at Vizhinjam and Muthalapozhi on Thursday. According to police estimates, nearly 4,000 men and women had mobilised along the coast at Vizhinjam alone.
While men and women threw aside the police barricades, broke open the main lock and trooped into the project site at Mulloor near Vizhinjam, defying a High Court stricture against entering the port premises, nearly 100 boats that were launched from Vizhinjam in the south and Muthalapozhi in the north closed in on both sides of the half-complete port structure.
The Adani port was under complete siege. The message was clear: Until the port construction was abandoned, the agitation will continue. "Our agitation will take new and surprising forms in the coming days if the government refuses to heed our demands," Fr Eugene Preira, the convenor of the Action Council said.
Muthalapozhi, the other site of the siege and some 40 km north of the Vizhinjam port, fishing boats packed themselves together to create a wall, similar to the one formed by football players before a free kick, inside the mouth of the harbour preventing the movement of Adani's barges into the harbour.
Adani Ports has a docking yard on the eastern side of the Muthalapozhi harbour channel where rocks transported from various parts of the state for the construction of the port breakwater are stocked.
The police were deployed in large numbers. Though the men in khaki were present in forbidding numbers, nearly 1,500 personnel were posted at the protest venues, the agitators outnumbered them by a hilarious margin. Nonetheless, both the protesters and the law enforcers exercised commendable restraint.
Still, there were dramatic moments off the Vizhinjan coast where fishermen set alight old fishing boats. At Vizhinjam, from a distance, the sea resembled the war footage of a period war drama with a multitude of boats with flags fluttering on their brows, and some of them up in flames, moving towards the port site.
The 100th day show of strength seems like a sign that the agitators are getting more hawkish. If the slogans and the fervour of the agitators are anything to go by, they will not settle for anything less than the junking of the Adani port project. The government has already stated, in no uncertain terms, that this was impossible.
With both sides hardening their positions, it is not clear what form the agitation will take in future.
The fisherfolk began protesting against the Vizhinjam port raising seven major demands, including a construction freeze at the Adani port site.
If the protesters have decided to intensify their struggle, it is because they are not satisfied with the LDF government's response. In these 100 days, mutual suspicion has grown.
The agitating fisherfolk say the government is taking arbitrary decisions with the sole purpose of misleading the poor fisherfolk. In turn, the government continues to maintain that the strike is fuelled by “outside forces” out to destroy Kerala's development.
It is also clear that the government will not move an inch back from its firmly stated position that coastal erosion was not the fallout of port construction. Stopping construction work, the primary demand of the striking coastal folk, has been declared non-negotiable by the government.