These are moments when spaces like Kafila become so important.
On the 19th of March, news came in that Tamilnadu Police men of six districts led by the ADGP for Crime of the Tamilnadu Police, Mr. O.S.George were sent to Kudankulam. This meant 6000 armed police men, 3 DIGs and 20 SPs were in Kudankulam. The TV reports, when they were still possible, showed police violence and extensive police presence in the village. We also saw women from Kudankulam, the backbone of the movement, declaring that there will be a strong people’s response to this violence and that they cannot be taken peaceful protest cannot be taken for granted. The first project taken up by the police seems to have bee to block off the village from any outsiders. Nearby villagers who tried to approach the villages by sea were also arrested by the police. As of now, all roads to the village have been blocked. Communication systems have been tampered with.
All this was on day one. The English media was still reporting. The Tamil media, not as loudly as they should be, reported to some extent. Jayalalitha’s timing for this operation of course is impeccable. With the focus on the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka, the by-polls in Sankarankoil district and the ongoing and upcoming cricket matches, where is the space on the TV screen or the newspapers, especially since the first pages of most English newspapers are reserved for Ads nowadays. The English newspapers in Tamilnadu have practically gone silent on this siege on Kudankulam as of this morning. Some them in fact went on to extensively provide space for persons working in the Plant on how to ‘make up for lost time’. The Tamil media is trying to cover it as much as they can.
Let’s rewind back to the beginnings of the struggle in Kudankulam. The Plant that was thought of and announced in 1988 has seen protests since its very inception. The early protests spear headed by activists and intellectuals in Chennai and Kanyakumari regions saw many protests, human chains, press conferences and hall meetings. Progressive movements wrote extensively on the ills of the nuclear plant. At that time, there was an overwhelming focus on environmental issues and the language was not s much about the welfare of the people. Around 1990, the protests became quieter with the lull, the fatigue and disillusionment that had hit due to various reasons, local and international among left voices in India and elsewhere. This was further heightened by the newly emerging neo-liberal policies of the Indian state.
Some versions of the history claim that these early struggles did not have much impact or support among the people of Kudankulam. In fact, the local dynamics between the upper caste Nadar community and the fisher people and the fissures within are seen as significant reasons for the lack of support. These fissures, it is argued were encouraged by various actions of successive governments in Tamilnadu. The issues seem to have had another period of focus from anti-nuclear protesters in 2001-02 when talk of the plant came up again. The protests gained ground among the people of Kudankulam after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Ironically, a new life was given to the Anti-Nuclear protests after this disaster. Further, the job opportunities that were promised to the local people did not come to any fruition even after 22 years since the announcement of the plant and it became clear to the people that this plant will not be any good for their lives and livelihoods.
In the midst of this, in the late 90s, Udayakumar, one of the leaders of the struggle at present returned from study and work abroad. He and his wife began a school in Kudankulam and continued to work tirelessly on the struggle against the Nuclear Plant. This phase of the protests has been rather visible. Many progressive groups have come together to protest the nuclear plant. These unlikely alliances have given strength and visibility to the movement. Most importantly, the people of Kudankulam, particularly the fisherwomen have left a lasting impression on so many in Tamilnadu with their stunningly calm, composed, clear and passionate speeches on why they do not what the Nuclear plant.
This is what has happened over the last few days. After the police went in, the paramilitary have been brought in from different parts of the country. Section 144 has been declared in the area. Around a 1000 people have been arrested, mostly common people, under an array of charges including Sedition and inciting Communal Violence. It is being suspected that these people might have been taken to Kadalur or Madurai jails. The police themselves are spreading news about the torture of these people taken under remand in order to spread fear among the people.
As of now the picture is this: Udayakumar and other major leaders of the struggle are on an indefinite hunger strike. Around 6000-8000 women and children from the village have surrounded this small group of people. These women are surrounded by Tamilnadu Women Police around who are the paramilitary forces. The police men brought in on the first day have been spread out all around the area to block entry or exit from the area. The Tamilnadu police have requested that the people hand over leaders Udayakumar and Pushparayan in return for all the security personnel being removed from their village. The people have declared that if they want to arrest, they should arrest each and every one of them and charge them all with Sedition if that is going to be the charge on their leaders.
In the mean time, two separate pieces of news have come from sources around the village. Last night, the school run by Udayakumar and Meera Udayakumar was burnt to cinders. This school that has around 250 students had a well equipped library which has now been burnt to ashes. The hand of the local right wing group, Hindu Munnani and some Congress goons are suspected. It has also come to my knowledge that a few members from within the community are being turned against the struggling people and have been made to threaten the fisher people and Udayakumar’s family with dire consequences if they proceed with the struggle.
This replaying of an old game is incredibly sinister and sadistic at this given stage. While struggling people are confident that the people are strong enough to withstand these attempts at dividing them, they are worried to even leave the vicinity of their homes on the beach in the fear that the paramilitary and police will burn down their homes.
The urgent need is for journalists to pour into the village and cover as many of the layers of violence and the struggle of the people to withstand and oppose it.
While the Tamilnadu government flexes its muscles and is attempting to show the state, the country and the world that they will go to any length to complete a project that is blatantly harmful and proven to be unsustainable and unnecessary; the people of Kudankulam and everyone who is standing by them at this moment are telling the world in no uncertain terms that they will fight no matter what.
As I write this parents of children who were to appear for their 12th standard board exams from Kudankulam are worried for their future. The people are worried about the increasing patrolling of the coast which was their only possible exit out of the area so far. They fear that it will be a blockade with no food or any other essentials being able to enter the area. News has come in that a woman who is in labour pain in Idinthakarai is not being allowed by the police to leave in order to get to a hospital. News has come in of a dead body being disposed off in the ocean as the people of the village could not perform the last rites due to the siege on the village. Very little news is coming out in the mainstream media and the violence is only mounting manifold with ever passing moment.
A moment in the history of state repression and the strength of people’s movements is being created as you read this piece. The question for all the readers is: Which side of history do you want to be on?
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Long live the Struggle Against Nuclear Power Plants!
Long live the struggle of the People of Kudankulam!