400 days and counting – Questions from Idinthakarai

We are simple fishermen asking for a democratic discussion about a Governmental decision that’s affecting our lives. Why 144?


As soon as you set foot in the village of Idinthakarai, a volley of questions and indignant remarks get thrown at you. For a remote village in a corner of Tamil Nadu, Idindakarai in Tirunelveli district has suddenly popped up on every map of the world, for being home to the infamous protests against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KKNPP) that have been going on for the last 400 days. They go straight to the heart of the matter.

 

(Excerpts from conversations with protesters at Samara Pandal and Tsunami Colony, Idindakarai)

Nuclear energy may be astrophysics. But we are not dumb idiots, we can understand if you explain. Some of us are educated. Most of us know what is happening around the world. For your information, we do watch NDTV, CNN and Discovery. And mind you, Jaya TV.

Let us assume for a moment that we are lesser mortals. Does that mean we don’t deserve any say? In 1989 we started our protests with the peace march “Protect Waters; Protect Life”, the police fired ammunition and shut us up. We continued to go on hunger strikes thereafter many times and staged peaceful protests for 20 years now but the world has not bothered to notice us. Back in the 1980s, we were misled with false promises of water from Pechiparai dam, thousands of new jobs, and a lot of other developmental initiatives for this region.

We have been living like refugees in our own homes, day after day at the pandal outside our church. We are simple non-violent fishermen asking for a democratic discussion about a Governmental decision that’s affecting our lives and livelihood. How does that call for police and violence? Why 144?

As citizens of this state don’t we have the right to know how our health and environment will be affected? We are scared for ourselves and our children. We hear about downs syndrome, abortion, still birth, cancer, mental disorders etc. resulting from radiation. We have waited since 1988 for some form of consultation with us about these doubts and fears, but in vain.

The Government shared an Environment impact analysis in 1989 or so – things have changed so drastically in the last 20 years. Have they done any analysis post that about the impact of the plant on our local environment and livelihood? And if they have done an analysis, why not be transparent and share it, and get an informed consent from us?

We understand that an area of about 2 to 5 km around the nuclear plant would be called the sterilization zone and people may be displaced. Some authorities from the plant however say that there will be no displacement. We are thoroughly confused. We also hear that there are more than one million people living near the plant and so many people can’t be evacuated quickly if there is a disaster.

Some leaders promise that there will be no disaster ever. Did they know that there was a mild tremor in the surrounding villages of Kudankulam in 2006? Do they know that the 2004 Tsunami flooded the KKNPP installations?

If you think these fears are misguided, please guide us. Tell us how you will ensure our safety despite the radiation and nuclear waste. Allay our fears. Tell us what would be the impact of the nuclear plant on the fish, the seasonality of the species and changes in sea. We learnt that sewage from uranium will be around for 48,000 years. Explain to us how this waste from the plant will be treated and if that sewage will affect our livelihoods.

Instead of initiating such rational discussions, you make false allegations – about money coming in from foreign countries to back us. We aren’t beggars of some sort. In fact, we can work hard and send these countries some money, if they like.

Oh, wait. How could we possibly send money? The sewage from the plant has already affected our ‘catch’ so bad; we don’t make that kind of money anymore. And what with the police coming into tsunami colony and destroying our houses, we don’t have any security for our life either.

Do you have an explanation for the police and their sheer display of arrogance? A policeman invites a physically challenged woman to spend a night with him. Another policeman enters our pious church, urinates and throws our Mary Matha’s statue on the ground. How can we not be angry? Yet we decide not to retaliate with violence, instead we pray that evening to our lord for the redemption of their sins.

We lost our dear Sahayam and Antony Raj to the police’s terrorizing rage. The patrolling aircraft of the coastguard was flying so close to Sahayam’s head, he died of the shock. Several others have been injured thanks to the lathi charge and usage of tear gas. The police broke into the tsunami colony and ransacked our houses.

We want an immediate removal of Section 144 and withdrawal of police personnel deployed here. We have not had access to bus services, fresh water or essential food commodities in recent times. Our children have not gone to schools or colleges for sometime. We have to purchase water at Rs. 2.50 per pot, since no water tanker has been allowed to enter the villages, and there is a serious scarcity of water. The medical shop has very limited supplies, and there are no good doctors in the area.

You say we are provoked by Udayakumar. Sure, he is showing us direction and helping us learn things. But this fury is our own. This is a People’s movement. We are all together on this war and we are all Udayakumars. We want the decision makers and leaders to come to our village and speak to us. We are looking for answers. And until then we will be right here at the church screaming our woes.

“Our dreams are full of nightmares”, Velankani’s words are still echoing in my head. I remember sitting by the threshold of the church, feeling ill-equipped to address their concerns or calm their angst. All I could offer then was compassion and a promise to put their questions out in the world. I felt a deep sense of responsibility towards this community that wants to be heard, just by virtue of having spent a few days with them.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sindhuja P is a freelance Travel and Social documentary photographer. In her other life she works as an educator for an IT major. Gifted with a high restlessness quotient, she has dabbled in varied fields including theatre, playing the ‘veena’ and counselling. She constantly tries to bring her interests in travel, photography, education and psychology together to impact societal change. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sindhuja P is a freelance Travel and Social documentary photographer. In her other life she works as an educator for an IT major. Gifted with a high restlessness quotient, she has dabbled in varied fields including theatre, playing the ‘veena’ and counselling. She constantly tries to bring her interests in travel, photography, education and psychology together to impact societal change. more

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