Police Attack Coca-Cola Protest, Over 350 Arrested

For Immediate Release
November 25, 2004

Arundhati Dhuru +91 94150 22772
Mukesh +91 542 263 2433 (Hindi only)
Amit Srivastava +91 98103 46161 Email: amit(AT)IndiaResource.org

Varanasi, India (November 25, 2004): Over a thousand community members adversely affected by Coca-Cola marched to the Coca-Cola factory premises in Mehdiganj, near the holy city of Varanasi in India on November 24, demanding that the factory shut down. The march in Mehdiganj was the end of a 10 day, 250 km march from Ballia, the site of another Coca-Cola bottling facility, to Mehdiganj, bringing attention to Coca-Cola's negative impacts on communities across India.

Communities living around Coca-Cola's bottling plants across India are facing severe water shortages, and the groundwater and soil have also been polluted, directly as a result of Coca-Cola's bottling operations in the area. The Coca-Cola company has also illegally occupied land in the area. Furthermore, tests have confirmed that Coca-Cola products in India contain high levels of pesticides, including DDT, sometimes higher than 30 times those allowed by US or EU standards. Coca-Cola was also distributing toxic waste from its plant to farmers in India, including Mehdiganj, under the guise of "fertilizer".

The march, with more than half women and youth, was festive, colorful and peaceful. Marchers were met at the bottling facility by armed police (with guns, riot gear and batons). Speaker after speaker denounced Coca-Cola's illegal practices in the area and nationally, and spoke of the immense damages being inflicted on the communities as a result of water shortages, pollution and loss of land. Particularly impacted are the farmers in the area and all across India.
Coke Rally at Mehdiganj
Rally at Mehdiganj Photo: Amit Srivastava/India Resource Center

Towards the end of the rally, the marchers decided to march to the factory gates, about a hundred meters from the site of the rally. The armed police reacted violently and swiftly, with no warnings. The armed police launched a vicious lathi (baton) charge on all the marchers, and many women, in particular, became the target of male police officers who beat them incessantly. The police also chased after community members in the surrounding fields to beat them, many of whom were escaping the site of the violent police action. A Budhist monk was also attacked by the police, who showed no regard whatsoever for any one present in the area. The police attacks were ordered by Mr. Tahir Iqbal, ADM in Varanasi.

Over 350 of the marchers were arrested, with close to 100 with injuries, and they were held without being booked overnight. The booking process only started the next day, and they all remain in jail.

"Coca-Cola is stealing our water, our land and getting away with it legally. And they are calling our struggle for our livelihoods, our existence, illegal," said Nandlal Master, one of the organizers from Lok Samiti and the National Alliance of People's Movements. "We do not accept this, and our struggle with prevail," continued Master.
Sit-In at Mehdiganj
Sit-in Outside Mehdiganj Plant Photo: Amit Srivastava/India Resource Center

The violent suppression of the march and rally in Mehdiganj is not new- protesters were violently attacked in September 2003 by armed police. Other struggles against Coca-Cola in India are also increasingly being met with violent suppression.

Condemnation of the violent police actions are coming in fast. "While shocking, the violent attack on the peaceful demonstration against Coca-Cola is not surprising. Coca-Cola operates with impunity, and violence is an inherent part of how Coca-Cola does business the world over," said Amit Srivastava of the India Resource Center who was also at the rally. Srivastava was referring to the international campaign to hold Coca-Cola accountable, in which Indian local struggles challenging Coca-Cola's abusive practices have joined forces with the Colombian union, Sinaltrainal, to hold Coca-Cola accountable. The United Steelworkers of America, on behalf of Sinaltrainal, have filed a lawsuit in the United States charging Coca-Cola with complicity in the murder, torture and intimidation of trade union organizers at Coca-Cola bottling facilities.

For more information, visit www.IndiaResource.org

Images and film from the rally also available by contacting info@IndiaResource.org


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