A Statement issued by the Chennai Solidarity Group
For more than a year the people of Idinthakarai village, along with fellow citizens from nearby villages have been protesting the setting up of a nuclear power plant at Koodankulam in Southern Tamil Nadu. The protests have been peaceful and have included people from different strata of society. Women have been in the forefront of the struggle, and over the last year even children have learned about the perils of nuclear power plants and the need to look for alternative energy sources.
In spite of this being a peaceful citizens’ protest, the state has chosen to treat it as dangerous – and arrested hundreds of people, intimidated many others and have more than once treated Idinthakarai village and its environs as if it were ‘enemy’ territory. Sedition charges have been slapped against the protesters, along with other criminal charges. The legality of these measures has since been subject to questioning. A high level Public Hearing, presided over by Former Chief Justice A B Shah has in fact called attention to the manner in which the law has been misused in this instance, and in fact abused to harass and prevent ordinary citizens from exercising their right to protest, and defend their constitutionally guaranteed right to life and livelihood. In spite of all this, both the state and central governments have been indifferent to the protesters’ demand that they do not want a nuclear power plant in their immediate environment. Nor have the governments paid heed to the specific questions raised by the protesters with respect to the safety features of the plant and its effects on the environment. On the contrary the construction of the plant has gone ahead, and recently it was announced that fuel loading would commence.
The Events of September 9-10
In the wake of the developments, the people of Idinthakarai decided to march peacefully towards the plant with an intention to gain a hearing from the government – this began on September 9. Starting out from Idinthakarai, and braving a hot day, women, children, old people and men started moving along the seashore and towards the nuclear plant. On the way several others joined them. The protesters were unarmed, there was a large group of children amongst them, and women who had been in the forefront of the struggle lead the procession. Police had gathered in large numbers along the shore.
The day passed off peacefully. The protesters made it clear that they expected to be talked to – in fact they hoped the Chief Minister would pay heed to their demands and call them for a dialogue. However this did not happen, whereupon the protesters insisted on staying on the seashore through the night – they said that they would stay on until they were granted a hearing. They pointed out that they were there to demand that the fuel not be loaded. The protesters made their own arrangements for food, water and hygiene and were determined to stage a prolonged satyagraha.
While the night of September 9 passed off peacefully enough, the morning of September 10 began on a note of foreboding. More police had been brought in and it became clear that the protesters were being encircled. Around 11 am or so, it became clear that the police had a plan – they started lobbing teargas shells into the crowd. Lathi charging began simultaneously. It did not matter that these were unarmed people and they had done nothing to provoke this sort of police action. As the teargassing continued, the entire area began to resemble a battle ground. People were hurt, some were chased into the sea, and all around there was desperation and panic. Children were not spared any of this – they too faced teargas shells and felt the weight of the police lathi. Some of those injured in the melee have been admitted in local hospitals.
As the day progressed, people began to disperse. Some returned to Idinthakarai but did not feel safe to venture out onto the streets. Meanwhile, the police began to arrive at the village, and occupied the Church of Our Lady of Lourdes for a while, since this was where the Struggle Committee against the Nuclear Plant held its meetings. Later they cleared out. But they returned to the village thereafter: Reports from eyewitnesses at Idinthakarai noted – at around 5 pm on September 10 – that they were creating a scenario of ruin in Idinthakarai, arranging for miscreants to throw stones at house, with the intention of blaming all these acts of destruction on the protesting villagers. There were also reports that police were breaking into people’s homes, ostensibly looking for the members of the Struggle Committee, especially Mr S P Udaya Kumar and Mr Pushparayan.
Meanwhile, fishers in adjoining villages refrained from going to sea and instead waged solidarity protests. In the course of one such protest, police shot at the protesters in Manapaadu, killing one man. In another village, it is believed that a child died on account of the troubles. We are yet to get the complete details of this tragic event.
As we write this report, we continue to hear of random and intimidating police firing and we have received unconfirmed reports of more deaths. As the day ends, we in Chennai and elsewhere and the people of Idinthakarai and other villages wait in anxiety for yet another long night of trauma and fear to pass.