INDIA IS the scene of a major battle between the Coca-Cola corporation and farmers who live in the areas that surround their bottling plants.
It is a battle in which those who protest can now expect to be beaten up and arrested.
Recently over 1,000 people marched to demand the closure of the Coca-Cola factory in Mehdiganj, near the north Indian city of Varanasi.
Many had marched all the way from the Ballia Coca-Cola plant over 250 kilometres away.
Waste products from the Coca-Cola plant are poisoning the land around Mehdiganj.
Communities living near the plants are facing severe water shortages, while their land and ground water that is drawn from wells is being polluted.
In a country where over 70 percent of the population makes a living from agriculture and related industries, stealing the water and poisoning the water and soil is a recipe for disaster.
Furthermore, tests have shown that Coca-Cola products in India contain high levels of pesticides, including DDT.
In some cases we are exposed to more than 30 times the level of dangerous chemicals that is tolerated in Europe or the US.
According to the University of Exeter, a waste product that the company distributes as fertiliser for local farmers also contains toxic chemicals.
Dangerous levels of cadmium, a known carcinogen, have been found in the sludge produced from a Coca-Cola plant in the southern state of Kerala.
Among other things, cadmium causes kidney failure.
Our lively and colourful march recently included many women and young people.
Yet when we reached the plant we were met with police carrying guns, riot gear and batons.
At the rally speaker after speaker denounced Coca-Cola’s illegal practices and pointed out how they impact on farmers all across India.
Towards the end of the rally we decided to march the 100 metres to the factory gates. The police reacted violently and without warning.
They launched a vicious lathi (baton) charge on all the marchers.
Women in particular became the target of male police officers, who beat them incessantly.
They chased after farmers as they ran into surrounding fields to carry on beating them.
Over 350 marchers were arrested, and over 100 of us sustained injuries.
They held all those arrested overnight, and did not start to charge people until the following day.
Nandlal Master, who helped to organise the march, says, “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. We do not accept this. Our struggle will prevail.”
For more go to www.indiaresource.org