Kudankulam protests: Seeking livelihood, a village in Tamil Nadu fights under constant shadow of sedition
Villagers and fishermen at Idinthakari had joined the struggle against the Kudankulam power plant because of its long-term adverse impacts on their lives.
Thirunelveli: When he joined the massive protest against the nuclear power plant at Kudankulam, in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu in 2011, Pepsi Ganeshan had never imagined that it will ruin his life.
He got an inkling of things to come when his wife, Jayalekshmy, was dismissed from the firefighting wing of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) in 2014. The reason, apparently, was his participation in the agitation.
Ganeshan realised the gravity of the situation when the passport office at Tirunelveli refused to renew his passport. He had applied for the renewal after he got a job in Dubai. The passport authorities told him that they can renew the passport only after the cases registered against him by the state police were closed.
The 43-year-old, who holds an MPhil degree in history, does not have any hope of finding a job, either abroad or in the country, since he is grappling with as many as 113 cases – 43 of them are sedition charges. Ganeshan is not alone, many like him have lost out on similar opportunities.
Bernard Joseph, a 28-year-old who got a visa for a job in Saudi Arabia, could not board the flight as his passport was revoked after the police slapped six cases of sedition against him. He lost nearly Rs one lakh that he had spent on the visa as a result.
The movement has brought the education of another young man to an abrupt end. Cross Krishnan, 22, was thrown out of college after police arrested him on campus five years ago.
But, that's not all. The Kudankulam plant seems to have adversely affected even the fish in the area. Fishermen at Idinthakari, the epicentre of the protests, and the neighbouring villages complain that the fish catch has dropped drastically since the commissioning of the plant.
"We used to get a lot of fish near the coast earlier. Now, our fishermen cannot find fish even after going miles into the sea," said a woman, who sells fish near the beach. She believes that the effluents discharged into the sea by the Kudankulam plant had driven the fish away.
SP Udayakumar, leader of People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) – that spearheaded the agitation against the plant – explains that the contamination of the sea water due to the discharge of effluents had led to the depletion of fish stock in the area.
"Nuclear reactors need water for steam generation and cooling. The water used for cooling is later released into the sea at a higher temperature. This upsets the marine ecosystem and destroys the species that survive there," Udayakumar said.
He said that the depletion of the fish stock had pushed the fishermen, who depended on the sea for their livelihood, into poverty and misery. The Kudankulam plant will wreck the lives of fishermen not only in Tamil Nadu but also in the neighbouring state of Kerala, he added.
The nuclear power plant has affected not only the catch but also the fish marketing. Fishermen said that people were reluctant to buy the fish from their village as they considered them to be contaminated with radioactive effluents. Two ice plants at Idinthikarai are on the verge of closure as a result of this, the fishermen said.
The villagers had joined the struggle against the power plant because of its long-term adverse impacts on their lives. But their immediate worry is the police cases hanging over their head, like the Damocles sword.
According to PMANE activists, 107 FIRs were registered at just one local police station against more than 55,000 people, in just a matter of two months. That is about 30 percent of the total eligible voters in that Assembly constituency. About 6,000 people in Idinthakari village are living under the shadow of sedition now.
Perhaps this may be the only village in the country where so many people are facing sedition cases. The police did not spare even women and children. Sundari, who had mobilised the women against the Kudankulam plant, is grappling with over 300 cases. More than a dozen of these are sedition charges. She languished in jail for 98 days as a result.
"Six women and 63 men were arrested along with me on 10 September, 2012. Four women were granted bail after 45 days. Two were detained for 80 days. Since I was arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act, I had to approach the high court for bail. I got it only after 98 days," Sundari said.
Sundari was granted bail on the condition that she would sign the police register at Madurai, which is 240 kilometres away from her village. She was forced to stay in a hostel at the faraway place, leaving behind her nine and eight-year-old children alone with her husband for two months.
She said her husband could not go for his job during her incarceration and subsequent stay in Madurai. This has left the family in great financial difficulty. Sundari and her husband are now struggling to put their life back on track.
The cases and the sufferings, however, have not deterred the protestors. Mildred Raj, a woman leader who faces 127 cases, said that they will resume the agitation in another two months. Udaykumar said that they were working out their future course of action.
"This is a fight to live. The government says the plant is for the nation. Do they want the poor to perish for the rest of the nation? We are ready to die, but what about our children? What would be their future? We are fighting for the next generation. We will fight till we win," said Mildred.
An employee at the health centre in Idinthikarai said the adverse impact of the Kudankulam plant on the health of the local people had started becoming visible. The official, who did not want to be identified, claimed that cases of miscarriages and premature births had registered an increase following the commissioning of the plant.
The protests against the Kudankulam plant had begun from the time it was conceived in the late 1980s, with the collaboration of Soviet Union. The project was shelved following the collapse of the Soviet Union and taken up again in 1997. The plant reached criticality in 2013, amidst several bouts of protests since then.
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