A Riot of Our Own


Didn't like the recent anti-globalist, anti-capitalist street actions in Seattle and Washington, D.C.? Then maybe you should have caught New Delhi's riots last November. India's capital was shut down even tighter than the American cities; crowds of rock throwers targeted policemen, not just fast-food restaurants. But the angry New Delhi protesters were neither Greens nor environmentalists, neither anarchists nor even wielders of giant puppets. They were industrial workers, and they were mad because stringent new pollution controls were shutting down their mostly small workplaces.

These workers of the developing world united—with nothing to lose but their jobs—under the banner of the Small Industries Action Front. The specter that was haunting Delhi was an order by India's Supreme Court immediately to shut down factories located in residential areas. An estimated 50,000 workplaces were covered by the order, suggesting two conclusions: that Delhi had been pretty lax in its zoning enforcement for a very long time, and that the court's decision to put matters right overnight was going to lead to considerable disruption for everyone involved.

"We are protecting our basic rights to earn a living," Dinesh Goel, president of the Mahipalpur Industries Association, explained to Reuters. "They are sealing all factories whether they are polluting or not."

After the first protests disrupted New Delhi traffic on November 19, the city government appealed to the court to allow it to shut down the factories gradually. The court rejected the request. The result was several days of chaos. Industrial workers took to the streets throughout New Delhi, blocking traffic and setting fires. The city was forced to close its schools along with its factories, because students were unable to get to classes. Airline passengers had to abandon their cars and walk to the airport, carrying their luggage, because the airport road was blocked. Police were stoned, answering with tear gas and, at close range, their clubs. The worst violence occurred on the first day of demonstrations, when 75 people—half of them police—were injured, and one person was killed.