Chinese farmers hurl the red flag

Additional image:: 

In a violent uprising against industrial pollution, thousands of farmers in eastern China's Huaxi village clashed with nearly 3,000 police personnel before dawn on April 10, 2005, when the latter tried to remove blockades that had closed down chemical plants in the vicinity. Unconfirmed reports said two elderly protestors were killed in the fighting. Many were injured.

Farmers of the area complain that 13 chemical plants in Zhejiang that produce fertilisers, dyes and pesticides and have been operational since 2002 have poisoned the water of their wells and destroyed their crops. They say the plants regularly release clouds of harmful gas and instances of stillbirths and birth defects have increased in the area due to the factories' harmful effluents. They also resent the fact that these factories have been constructed over their farms. As testimonies to the clash, the local old people's association showed police identity cards and machetes and scissors used by them.

Villagers had set up roadblocks since March 24, 2005 to stop the movement of materials to and from the chemical plants. On the fateful night, the police stormed the village to remove the blockades. In the ensuing clash, villagers destroyed over 40 buses and many cars. Many police personnel were injured. Media reports said the over 30,000 residents of the village, especially the elderly, proudly celebrated their success in driving the police away. The factories remain closed, their employees too frightened to go to work. In another incident of industrial pollution, over 80 workers of a chemical plant and many residents of eastern China's Jiangsu province suffered chlorine gas leakage from the plant on April 12, 2005.

Chinese farmers don't own their land. The state gives it to them on 30-year leases and so can use it for industrial purposes without their consent. Farmers are compensated but say it isn't enough: "It's not compensation...we don't want these plants beside us,' asserts Wang Weikang, a villager. "I tried to grow cauliflower last year, but the plant didn't grow bigger than a walnut before it died.' Land rights is a major source of discontent of the rural poor in China; government says it is working for bridging the gap between the rural poor and the urban rich.