S. G. VOMBATKERE
The protests by children at Kudankulam against the nuclear plant demonstrate the power of peaceful resistance, in contrast to the hardened, anti-people, anti-democratic stance of those in power
The ongoing peaceful protest against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant (KKNPP), which began in the early 1980s intensified after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The protests revolve around fears over public safety and health arising from the existence and operation of the nuclear facility.
The protesters, the men, women and children of Idinthakarai and surrounding villages, have consistently demanded transparency and honest public consultation. They do not need high educational qualifications to see through the doublespeak of governments especially by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), its stonewalling and deliberate economy with the truth. The children are as aware as their elders of the detailed reasons for the protests. It requires only a sense of fair play and justice to understand, for example, that the Site Evaluation Report based upon which KKNPP was constructed, is a sloppy non-document that the Central Information Commissioner forced into the open, or that the Safety Analysis Report is being kept secret on specious grounds.
Recently the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) accorded clearance to the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL) to load the reactor pressure vessel (RPV) with real fuel rods, even though this is a compromise on safety because of the vulnerable weld in the body of the RPV. The RPV should have been supplied without any weld. There are several more questions on very serious issues which NPCIL and governments have been stonewalling. But it is not the intention of this article to enumerate them, because its focus is on the role of children participating in the protests. Suffice it to say that children understand injustice, falsehood and prevarication by NPCIL and governments no less than adults.
According to a news report in The Hindu, (“School children raise voice against nuke plant,”August 14, 2012), around 250 schoolchildren accompanied by some mothers, visited the Tirunelveli District Collectorate on August 13, 2012, and submitted a complaint petition to the Collector during the weekly grievance-day meeting. Perfectly creditable and law-abiding, one would say, and that too on the day meant for airing public grievances. The children complained that NPCIL, after ignoring the year-long protest by the elders of their villages, was establishing nuclear reactors near their hamlets without conducting the mandatory disaster management exercise and without public consultations. They have appealed to the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister not to go ahead with this nuclear programme.
Recently, a Brazilian federal court halted construction of the Belo Monte dam in the Amazon region, saying that the indigenous people had not been consulted. It also said, “Only in a dictatorial regime does a government approve a project before holding consultations.”
But rather than addressing the issues in the children’s petition, the bureaucracy appears to have taken a jaundiced view of the children’s protest itself, and is calling for “action against the school authorities who failed to stop the children from being used for a protest.” This pre-supposes that children hold no opinions themselves, and have therefore been “used” by their elders.
It is easy for the government to victimise the school headmasters for “allowing” children to protest, but the questions raised by the children will not go away. The government would do well do consider some questions, such as: why should children be denied the right to agitate peacefully and in a dignified manner as they have done, for the betterment of their own future? Even if they have been instructed by their elders, is it not creditable that the instruction has been to stay peaceful while bringing their problems to official notice? This is more than can be said for the scheming indulged in by certain politicians, technocrats, bureaucrats and police officials who, as public servants, wield unaccountable power, and use that power undemocratically, even dictatorially, against the very people whom they are expected to serve.
It is noteworthy that the young adults who are protesting against KKNPP today were children who participated when the protests began in the early 1980s. Some of the children protesting today are their progeny. In times of unprincipled politics and growing violence, the children of Idinthakarai in Tamil Nadu, are an example for all Indians to emulate.
The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) is a movement that protects and strengthens people’s constitutionally assured right to life and livelihood. Its ongoing, exemplary peaceful struggle against the intransigence, intransparency, prevarication and brazen untruths of the DAE, is a source of inspiration to movements across the country, especially because children are actively participating in it. These children are demonstrating the power of peaceful resistance to the State and Central governments in a way that the Father of the Nation would have applauded. Were he alive, he might have even joined the struggle.
The governments and the people who run them would be well advised to learn from Idinthakarai’s noble children. They are the hope for tomorrow’s India that it is possible to live by the Constitution, which today is shamefully being violated by the government’s acts of commission and omission.
(S.G. Vombatkere retired from the Indian Army as a major general. He is presently engaged in voluntary work and is a member of the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org)