New Year breathes new life into anti-nuclear struggle at Kudankulam


 

Press Release: 1st January 2013

 

  • Activists, struggle communities along with other professionals from varied walks of life take midnight pledge to fight against the Nuclear plant and to fight the forces of death and destruction.
  • Trade Unions, environmental groups, human rights organisations, etc. extend solidarity to people’s struggle at Kudankulam
  • Scientists, senior activists, artists, film makers, lawyers & other professionals join the struggle on the eve of New Year 2013
  • Night-long celebrations at Idinthakarai beach reverberate the spirit of resistance, assertion, freedom and democracy

 

As 2012 came to a close and 2013 dawned, hundreds of people sang and danced together at the Idinthakarai coast, adjacent to the Kudankulam Nuclear Plant. Among the thousands who gathered were more than three hundred people who came from outside the region, to join the local people. They came to the coastal hamlets around Kudankulam to support the spirit of freedom, humanity, resistance and democracy represented by the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE). People’s movements from Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, West Bengal, Karnataka, Pondicherry and Tamil Nadu among other states along with activists, trade unions, professionals, artists, students and others have come to oppose the undemocratic imposition of a nuclear reactor within two kilometres of Idinthakarai. The local people have come from the coastal villages of Idinthakarai, Kudankulam, Vairavikinaru, Kuthankuzhi, Koottappuli and Perumanal.

 

The movement in Idinthakarai is representative of many people’s struggles in various parts of the country against the lack of local people’s participation in decisions that affect them and generations after them. With promises of dramatic changes for local people, mines in Jharkhand, thermal power plants in Odisha and hydro- electric plants are established. However, the experience of the local people show they are often left in the shadow of such development. This negligence of people has reached its peak with the bogus promise of electricity, energy, etc. taking the centre-stage on the issues around displacement and destructive development paradigm. This is demonstrated in the villages next to many thermal plants and dams in Jharkhand, Chhatisgarh, Odisha and places like Raichur. With corporations awaiting to grab the electricity generated at the Kudankulam plant, no different fate awaits the people of Idinthakarai, Kudankulam and even rest of Tamil Nadu.

 

31st December in Idinthakarai has turned out to be a memorable experience for the local people and those who came from different parts of India. The day began with children from all over India coming together to paint a mural against the nuclear reactor in Kudankulam. It was followed by a rally accompanied by music, song and dance through the coastal hamlets around Idinthakarai. The children took the lead to assert their right to live a life safe from the risks of nuclear radiation. With the beating of drums, the Janwadi Sanstrutik Andolan from Odisha opened the programme to welcome the people gathered in solidarity at the Idinthakarai Lourde Matha Church. Despite speaking various languages, they raised a joint voice against the proposed nuclear plant.

 

Hajirabi representing the people affected by Bhopal Gas disaster of 1984 highlighted how the people of Bhopal were continuing to live the tragedy despite all false promises of the government and Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals). Many speakers highlighted how, when democratic people’s struggles were exercising their right to protest, they have faced difficulties, harassment, arrests and even death. The case of Sr. Valsa John was highlighted in Jharkhand, who was murdered when she was leading protests against the usurping of traditional forests of the Adivasi community for uranium mines. During this process of protests, they were labelled as traitors, enemies of the state and most recently terrorists, making it difficult to lead normal lives. Ashim Roy, General Secretary of the New Trade Union Initiative (NTUI is a national trade union of workers from varied sectors) affirmed that it is the duty of the new people’s movements to bring awareness to the old movements like trade unions, with regard to the assertive land protection struggles. He reaffirmed NTUI’s support to the struggle at Kudankulam.

 

Many speakers also highlighted how many villages across India were in a permanent siege, with many villages surrounded by the local police, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Rapid Action Force and other para military forces. In order to intimidate local resistance, thousands of fabricated cases are slapped onto protesters, who have to live with the constant threat of arrest. The experiences from Jagatsingpur (anti-POSCO struggle), Latehar (Jharkhand), Jaitapur (anti-nuclear plant struggle in Maharshtra), Chengara (land struggle in Kerala), etc. have not been different.

 

Selvam from the Tamil Nadu Eearkai Vyavasaya Sangam highlighted how the State has been painting a rosy picture for the people if they leave agriculture and other traditional livelihoods like fishing. However, speaker after speaker highlighted how various development projects have left them impoverished as lose access to their traditional livelihoods and at the same time cannot access the benefits promised by the State.

 

T. Peter from the National Fishworkers’ Forum highlighted the sacrifices the fishing community have made for the greater good of the country. It was the coastal villages and the fishworkers who sacrificed their land to establish the Thumba satellite launch station. But he asserted that for destructive developmental projects like the Nuclear project, the same fishworkers will give their life to protect land, livelihood and marine resources. It is a battle of life against the forces of death, he asserted. Peter also announced that fishworkers from across the country will hold January 21st as solidarity day in support of the people’s struggle in Kudankulam.

 

The day witnessed cultural programmes by Space theatre (Goa), Dynamic Action (Kerala), Delhi Solidarity Group, Susanta Das (West Bengal), children’s programmes from Idiantahkarai. The night witnessed songs, dances and cultural performances that lasted till the dawn of the first day of 2013. Eminent citizens and senior movement activists including Dr. Binayak SenAdmiral (Rtd) Ramdas, Achin Vinaik, Ajitha George, Adv. Colin Gonsalves, Adv. Clifton D’Rozario, Praful Bidwai, Gabriela Dietrich, Ashim Roy, Lalita Ramdas, Wilfred D’costa, Dr. Meher Engineer, T. Peter, Sr. Celia, Vilayodi Venugopal, Laha Gopalan, and others participated in the events held atLourde Matha Church premises at Idinthakarai. They were joined by eminent filmmakers, photographers, actors, singers, playwrights, scientists, and local movement representatives including Dr. S P Udayakumar, Mary, Malar Manickam, Inita Sahayam, Pushparayan, Milton and others.

 

During the evening, young activists from all over the country came together to share their dreams, hopes and aspirations of local people. They shared their hope that the development process would be more inclusive and participatory with local communities deciding on their common future. They highlighted their common dream of more democratic decision-making and a greater stake for local people in local development.

 

For details contact: Magline (09495531555), Bhargavi (09999563950) & Lakshmi (09791009160)

 

At Kudankulam’s core is fear, and anger


MEERA SRINIVASAN, The Hindu, Dec 2 . 2012

UNSETTLED NEIGHBOURS: Residents of Kudankulam say they have not been involved in any security drill, and students in the region are doing badly in examinations due to high levels of stress. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen
The HinduUNSETTLED NEIGHBOURS: Residents of Kudankulam say they have not been involved in any security drill, and students in the region are doing badly in examinations due to high levels of stress. Photo: A. Shaikmohideen

To many in Idinthakarai, the village that sits cheek by jowl with the nuclear plant, the entire idea is a betrayal. Others see brighter prospects. As the reactor prepares to go critical, Meera Srinivasan assesses the mood in the project area.

Seated at the entrance to her tiny home, R. Pramasakthi is busy rolling beedis. “What? Interview? We don’t need the nuclear plant,” she barked.

Asked why, the 35-year-old mother of four replied: “We saw a video at the church showing children with deformities caused by accidents at nuclear reactors. Ask anyone here, they will tell you that we don’t want the plant.”

To prove her point, Pramasakthi flagged down a young girl. “Tell her, do you need the plant,” she commanded the girl. “No, we don’t need the plant. It will cause diseases,” the girl replied flatly. What diseases? “Dengue,” the girl, a student of class IX, replied. “Our teacher told us.”

The girl went her way, and Pramasakthi, who was seated on the steps to get some breeze (Kudankulam, like most of Tamil Nadu, goes without power for 14-17 hours daily), got back to rolling beedis — something that most other women in the village do to supplement their family income. She rolls 44 bundles of 25 beedis each to make Rs. 100 a day. “I don’t go for the protests of late because the Rs.100 I make is crucial to support the family, but there is no change in my opinion. I am totally against it,” declared Pramasakthi.

She is among the hundreds of villagers who seem to be caught in a web of fear, anger and, in some cases, ignorance of the potential benefits and risks associated with the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KKNPP), which is likely to be commissioned next month and is expected to produce 1,000 MW to begin with.

Officials of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited (NPCIL), which is executing the project, said that though there has been no communication internally on a specific date when unit one will be commissioned, there are clear signs of the pace of work accelerating during this final leg of construction.

Risk vs. Benefit

The plant, coming up at a cost of Rs. 14,000 crore, is expected to produce 2,000 MW through its two reactors, and seeks to help address the ongoing power crisis in the country. Tamil Nadu alone has fallen short of 4,000 MW.

While many sections of people have pinned their hopes on the plant and the promise of power, it is nothing more than an unfair deal to Balammal, a long-time resident of Kudankulam. “The benefit will go to everyone, but the risk will be borne by us alone. Only because we are poor,” the 73-year-old said.

The anxiety has begun creeping into classrooms as well, school teachers in the area said. “Their parents are summoned for the protests and sometimes, their fathers are picked up by the police. The children have very strong and opposing views on the issue, and they often argue among themselves in class,” said a teacher at the government school at Kudankulam. In a few cases, the stress manifests through a drop in performance in examinations, teachers said.

In addition to health hazards and the potential risk, a section of locals is worried about the lack of preparedness to face an emergency. This concern, perhaps, points to a possible meeting point for the government and the locals because even while emphatically voicing her objection to the plant, L. Rosalene Rajam said frequent safety drills ought to be organised. “Not once have I been called to participate in the drill. Since we don’t know what to do in case of an emergency, we panic every time there is a noise from that direction,” she said, pointing at the plant.

NPCIL campaign

The NPCIL has prepared a presentation, highlighting the need for nuclear power and the safety mechanisms put in place. Around 13,000 people have seen it so far, according to NPCIL officials, who said that making the highly technical presentation accessible was challenging. “We explain the concepts in Tamil and try our best to avoid jargon. It is a very safe plant and we want people to know that,” said S. Venkatesh, senior technical engineer.

Kudankulam, a small village in Tirunelveli district, is barely 20 km away from Kanyakumari, the southern most tip of the Indian peninsula. The roads connecting the villages around this coastal stretch are flanked by huge windmills making a tangential attempt at generating power, even as the plant itself readies for the ambitious target of 2,000 MW.

Closer to the date of commissioning, the plant resembles a fortress. Men and women attired in bright blue uniform, attached to the Rapid Action Force, sit at the first entry point. Further down the road, numerous Central Industrial Security Force personnel are posted at the giant gates at two subsequent points on the path to the site, guarding what has now become a storehouse of hope for many.

At the plant located just a few km away from where Rosalene resides, a very different mood prevails. The twin reactors with domes stand tall on the enclosed KKNPP premises that span 1,050 hectares by the Bay of Bengal. “Our technicians are working overtime, and all of us have been asked to focus our energies on completing work immediately,” said a senior official of the Human Resources Department at the site, where nearly 1,000 permanent staffers are currently employed.

Apart from the Russian experts, this contingent includes locals such as C. Vinayaga Perumal, a resident of the nearby Chettikulam village, who works as a technician in the project management system wing of the plant. After obtaining a diploma from an Industrial Training Institute, he was trained for two years and then gave a series of examinations before being made a permanent employee.

Having put in 10 years, he gets paid Rs. 45,000 a month now. “About 50 people from my village work as technicians here. There are about 55 from Kudankulam and one colleague is from Idinthakarai,” he said, clicking pictures of us near the plant with a DSLR. “This is just for our record.”

For youngsters like him, the plant bears much more than the promise of power. It has meant a job opportunity that he values. But ask villagers at the adjoining Idinthakarai— the fishing hamlet that has been the heart of the protests led by S.P. Udayakumar — and they call it betrayal.

“I would rather die. The sea has been our source of livelihood for years and I cannot do anything else,” said Rayappan a fisherman. Squatting by the shore and tweaking his net, he added: “We will continue protesting. Let’s see how they commission the plant.”

 

Inter-caste marriage sparks riot in Tamil Nadu, 148 dalit houses torched


K A Shaji, V Senthil Kumaran & Karthick S, TNN | Nov 9, 2012

Inter-caste marriage sparks riot in Tamil Nadu district, 148 dalit houses torched
Though 300 policemen were present, they failed to control the mob after being grossly outnumbered. The arson and looting continued till 9.30pm when additional police forces arrived on the scene.
DHARMAPURI: Outraged by the suicide of a man who felt humiliated after his daughter married a dalit boy in secret, a mob of non-dalits went on the rampage in three villages of Dharmapuri district, looting and burning houses of dalits late on Wednesday, police said.

The 2,500-strong mob set ablaze 148 houses in Natham, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti villages. They claimed that the “humiliation” caused by the marriage and the refusal of the dalits to send the woman back home had resulted in the suicide of G Nagarajan (48). The mob looted valuables before setting the houses on fire.

Though 300 policemen were present, they failed to control the mob after being grossly outnumbered. The arson and looting continued till 9.30pm when additional police forces arrived on the scene.

Talking to TOI on Thursday, IG (west zone) T P Sundaramoorthy said the situation was brought under control after an additional 1,000 personnel were deployed and more than 90 people arrested. Cases had been registered against 210 others, he said.

Nagarajan ended his life at his residence in Sellankottai, not far from the Natham dalit colony, on Wednesday evening. The autopsy was delayed because of frequent power cuts, and the body was handed over to his relatives only on Thursday evening. Later, police said, a group of dalits set fire to two houses belonging to non-dalits in Natham.

Govt announces compensation 

Announcing compensation of 50,000 to each family that lost its house and belongings, chief minister J Jayalalithaa said on Thursday that severe action would be taken against those responsible for the violence. In a statement, she said police had rushed to the spot and were taking necessary measures. She instructed the district authorities to extend all help to the affected in the violence.

Police said Nagarajan’s daughter Divya, 20, eloped with dalit youth Ilavarasan, 23, about a month ago, and they got married in a temple. As the non-dalits threatened them against entering Ilavarasan’s house in the Natham dalit colony, the couple approached the Salem police, seeking protection.

Meanwhile, the non-dalits conducted a ‘kangaroo’ court and directed the dalit family to return the woman on Wednesday. But Divya refused to obey them and made it clear that she would continue to live with Ilavarasan. Dharmapuri SP Asra Garg said the kangaroo court was held at Nayakkankottai village last week and the police were searching for those who took part in it and orchestrated the violence.

Fire tenders were not able to reach the villages in time because huge trees had been cut down on the roads to block them. Services of the Rapid Action Force had been requested to maintain law and order, he said.Dharmapuri collector R Lilly said the homeless had been put up in three government schools.

Politics stoking caste fire

In a state that boasts of being progressive, caste divide is rearing its ugly head once again. The violence that rocked Natham in Dharmapuri district on Wednesday has reversed a recent positive trend in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu, once a hotbed of simmering caste tension between Vanniyars and dalits.

Activists point out that this is the first big caste violence in the last two decades in Dharmapuri. The last decade had seen leaders of the dominant communities in the region, the Vanniyars and the dalits, campaigning together for communal harmony.

“Tamil Nadu is a land of reformation. Usually, political and social leaders of the state advocate inter-caste marriages and successive state governments have encouraged progressive development. But in recent months, this positive trend has changed and a few caste leaders have been openly campaigning against inter-caste marriages,” said writer-politician D Ravikumar, state secertary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a dalit party with a presence in the north. “They have indirectly encouraged killings in the name of honour and even ignited violence. This should be stopped through progressive initiatives,” he said.

Caste leaders have gone one regressive step further to warn activists against encouraging the union between couples of different castes and even issuing diktats against love marriages. PMK MLA J Guru, who heads the Vanniyar Sangam, the first avatar of the PMK, shocked progressive groups when he issued an open threat at a community meeting, forbidding inter-caste unions. Similarly, the Kongu Vellala Goundergal Peravai, which claims to represent the community, issued advertisements in newspapers calling a meeting of community members to oppose inter-caste marriages and launched a campaign against it.

Activists point out that the violence in Dhamrapuri had occurred in a hamlet which used to have a strong presence of the left movement. “The district was once the headquarters of the ‘naxalbari’ movement. Hence caste violence in such a place has come as a surprise,” said a police officer.

Well-known Tamil writer Manushaputhiran pointed out that political parties have been using caste as a tool to improve their prospects. “Caste feeling is not only a cultural issue now. Caste parties have been using it as a powerful political tool as well,” he said.

While there is a lack of cooperation between dalit and non-dalit leaders in southern Tamil Nadu to end the divide, PMK leader S Ramadoss and Dalit leader Thol Tirumavalavan made some efforts for communal amity in the northern belt. Ramadoss unveiled dalit leader Ambedkar’s statue in many places and the VCK in turn honoured him by awarding him the Ambedkar Award.

The caste tension between Vanniyars and dalits was seen to have ended in the early 2000 because of this truce between the two leaders, who came together under the umbrella of Tamil Protection Movement. But the bonhomie did not last and Ramadoss recently declared that his party would align only with caste parties for elections in the future.

 

Kudankulam row: Thousands of villagers protest near plant


 

Reported by Sneha Mary Koshy, Edited by Mala Das | Updated: October 08, 2012 13:57 IST

PLAYClick to Expand & Play

Kudankulam: Thousands of fishermen from 40 villages around the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu have surrounded the area from about 500 metres in the sea and are shouting slogans to protest against the plant. This is a token seige of the plant, since they will not be allowed by policemen to get any closer. Activist SP Udhayakumar, who is spearheading the anti-plant protests, today said in their next action, protestors would lay siege to the Tamil Nadu Assemblyin Chennai on October 29.Mr Udhayakumar’s organisation, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), has said apart from the fishermen in Tirunelveli and the adjoining Kanyakumari and Thoothukudi districts, volunteers from various political parties are expected to participate in separate protests planned across the state. “We are laying siege against fuel loading. It will be a peaceful, non-violent protest as we have been doing for some time now. We have asked authorities to treat our protesters with respect, to respect their democratic rights. We have appealed to the government against fuel loading at the plant. When the entire world is shunning nuclear power, why shouldn’t we?…we will not cross our boundaries…the protesters have been clearly told there will be no vandalism, they will not attack security officials,” Mr Udhayakumar said.

The protesters have floated fibre boats and bouys in the sea and intend to stay there for the whole day today. More than 5,000 security personnel have been deployed and the Coast Guard has positioned five vessels in the area to prevent any untoward incident. Meanwhile, there is heavy security on all roads leading to the plant, Personnel from the Additional Coast Guard, Rapid Action Force, Central Reserve Police Force and the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) have been deployed at all key junctions, the plant site and in the neighbouring villages.

The protesters are demanding the closure of the plant, citing safety concerns. The locals say they are worried about ecological damage by radioactivity which could affect the livelihood of thousands of fishermen around the plant. Activists have also cited the Fukushima disaster in Japan, triggered by a tsunami last year, to draw parallels about the dangers of a nuclear plant.

The villagers are also demanding the release of those arrested in an earlier protest, and taking back what they term as false cases against activists. They also want the police to be withdrawn from their villages.

Last month, a protest that lasted several days ended in police action on villages around the nuclear plant, where several people were arrested. The cops were indicted by an independent commission of using excess force at that time. Police had used tear gas and lathicharge to control the protesters, who had threatened to storm the plant from the sea.

Though protests have been continuing against the nuclear plant, the Supreme Court has cleared its operationalization under the condition that all safety mechanisms are in place. The government has assured the court that the plant is safe and is “fully equipped to withstand” Fukushima-type incidents.

(With PTI inputs)