For 24 years, Fatima Babu struggled to galvanise the citizens of Tuticorin in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu against the toxic threat posed by the Sterlite Copper smelter. Often working thanklessly and sometimes alone, she filed lawsuits, organised workshops and gave interviews to raise awareness.
The English professor-turned-activist hoped that people would eventually rally to the cause, but never in her wildest dreams did she imagine how quickly opinion could change or how violently the authorities would respond.
On 22 May this year, a crowd of about 20,000 took to the streets to oppose plans to double the size of the plant, which would have made it the second biggest copper smelter in the world.
The numbers completely overwhelmed the police who responded first with tear gas, then live rounds. It was the world’s deadliest environmental protest so far this year, with 13 people killed and dozens injured.