MUMBAI, India – An archbishop and over a dozen priests were charged by the police in relation to a protest over a port project in India.

Archbishop Thomas J Netto of the Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram has been spearheading the protest of the construction project at Vizhinjam port in Kerala state, claiming it is adversely affecting the lives of the local fishing communities.

The multibillion dollar project is being run by the Adani Group, one of the most powerful business conglomerates in the country.

The authorities claim protestors damaged police cars and injured 29 officers during demonstrations. Several protestors were arrested, and the clergy were later arrested at the police station when they joined a protest to free those who had been detained.

“What happened in Vizhinjam is a police atrocity,” claimed Father James Culas, Coordinator of Training at the Latin Archdiocese of Trivandrum.

“The police assaulted protestors, including women and the elderly, who had gathered at the police station demanding the release of those who were taken into custody following the clash at the protest site during the day. Many were injured in this assault. The situation in Vizhinjam became tense after BJP workers and a group in favour of the Adani port project pelted stones at the protestors three days ago,” the priest told Crux.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the Hindu nationalist party that rules India; the Adani Group has close ties the party.

Father Eugene H. Pereira, the Vicar General of Thiruvananthapuram, said the archdiocese is opposing the project because of the havoc created by port construction activities on the livelihood of the local communities, adverse ecological impact and potential for economic losses.

“There will be repercussions when stones are deposited on the sea for breakwater construction. The best example for this is Muthalapozhi. Thazhampally village near Muthalappozhi has totally vanished. Those who do fishing with kambavala [a type of net] on the shore cannot do it anymore because of coastal erosion. Around 40,000 fishermen lost their livelihood but not attempts have been made by the state to assess this. Many have been forced to go to other places for work. None of these issues have been taken seriously. Our fight is to live, to conserve the coast,” Pereira told Crux.

Culas said that on Saturday protestors had blocked the roads to stop the trucks carrying stone into the project site.

“On that occasion, the pro-project group and the hired goons of Adani who were camped nearby, tried to provoke the protestors by throwing stones at them and abusing them. This led to a clash between them and the protesting fisher folk, with the latter eventually chasing away the aggressors and removing the shed which they camped in,” the priest told Crux.

“Given the police support to the provocateurs, it was clear that the move was meant to deliberately provoke the protesting fisher folk and clergy who had conducted their agitation peacefully for 130 days. Nine cases were registered after the clash, of which eight were registered by the police on their own, without any complaint. Following the clashes on Saturday, the police registered a case naming Latin Diocese Archbishop Thomas J. Netto as the first accused. In addition, more than a hundred protesting fisher folk were charged with offences, and some were arrested. The trouble started with the arrest of Selton, a member of Vizhinjam parish. Parish council members Pushparajan, Muthappan, Leo Stanley, Shankey, who went to the police station to enquire about Selton’s arrest, were arrested by the police without any provocation. The arrest of these leaders created widespread disturbance in the local community, leading the people to gather at the station to protest the arrests,” Culas explained.