Post police action, Koodankulam totters on the edge
PMANE leaders decide to surrender before the police, as anti-nuke protesters resist arrest
A day after police crack down, Lourde Matha Church premises at Idinthakarai remains tense. Around 2500 villagers including women and children are on 48-hour-long hunger strike to protest against the police action and the killing of a fisherman. For them, they have no future as the loading of fuel in first unit of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) is going to take place soon.
On Tuesday, 11 September, People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) announced that they would surrender before the police to avoid bloodshed. According to Dr. SP Udayakumar, convener, PMANE, the leaders including Victoria Pushaparayan and Parish priest Jesuraj would surrender.
“We are ready to surrender before the police. We will abide by the law,” said Udayakumar who has been in the forefront of anti-nuke protests in Koodankulam since 2004. The villagers, however, opposed the decision of the leaders. “We have no faith in police. We don’t want our leaders to surrender. They have already filed false cases against us,” said Kitherian Bosco, a fisherman from Idinthakarai.
“We will take the final decision after taking into confidence village elders,” said Pushparayan. Idinthakrai remains tense after the police cracked down on anti- nuke protesters on Monday, 10 September. Around 2500 villagers are on hunger strike for 48 hours ever since. “We want the Koodankulam plant to shut down and save us from peril,” said Bhoovaneshwari Kebiston.
District administration has invoked prohibitory orders around a 7 km radius of KKNPP and police have sealed all entry points to Idinthakarai. Coast guards have deployed special boats and intensified aerial surveillance along the coast. The coastal village looks cut away from the rest of the world—all alone in its fight.
“We have been protesting against the KNPP for the last one year. We have been protesting peacefully and police registered more than 8000 sedition cases against us. Now they have chased us away from protest grounds. We are continuing our protests,” said Melred Raj, a housewife in Idinthakarai. 40-year-old Melred has been campaigning against KNPP for the last 12 years. She was on hunger strike for three days last May.
“We don’t fear police or death. It’s our last chance,” said Melred. The poor villagers have decided to continue their struggle against KNPP for ever. Like her, hundreds of women had left their homes and decided to fast to express their solidarity for the Koodankulam struggle.
Their struggle took a violent turn after a group of protesters decided to defy police orders and move towards the KNPP in 10 fiberglass boats on Monday noon. Police stopped them and took custody of two activists. But protesters retaliated by holding two policemen back.
“When the police released our men we also released the policemen. Later police lobbed tear gas shells and caned us. It was a pre-planned attack on us as the KKNPP is loading fuel from today,” said Raj Leon, a villager from Idinthakarai.
Many villagers jumped into the sea to evade arrest. After the police crackdown, they returned to their base, Loude Matha Church grounds. Soon, the violence spread over neighbouring districts, as activists started blocking national high ways and rail traffic. Police could not arrest PMANE leaders as they were taken to a safe hide out by the protesters. “Police wanted to arrest our leaders. But we shifted them to a safe hideout,” said Leon.
In the afternoon, a group of fishermen staged protests in Manappad, a coastal village, and marched towards Kulasekarapattanam in Tutucorin district. Police fired six rounds killing Anthony Sami on spot. Following the incident, an angry mob set ablaze a police checkpost and post office and was moving towards the station when the personnel opened fire.
Soon violence spread to other coastal villages. K Ramanujam, Director General of Police, defended police crackdown at Idinthakarai and firing as necessary since the protesters were rioting in the area.
“Police had no other options. We have used minimum violence to stop them from proceeding to the KNPP. They were planning to attack the plant,” said the DGP.
Udaykumar, however, rejected police findings as absurd. “It’s a blatant lie. Violence is not our path. We have been conducting the struggle for the last one year in a peaceful manner. It was the police who started violence against us. They have beaten up our women and children. Now they blame us for instigating violence. We will continue our struggle whatever may be the outcome. We will leave these grounds only when they close down Koodankulam plant,” said Udayakumar from his hideout.
Meanwhile, unidentified miscreants set ablaze a liquor shop at Uvari village, a hamlet about 20 km from Idinthakarai, shortly after the police operation. They also set on fire a shed erected in front of the IMFL outlet.
The PMANE convened village committee meeting and decided to continue their struggle and sought the help of fishermen for their cause.
The protests, in the meanwhile, have spread along the coast and reached Chennai. Several anti-nuke organisations attacked state-owned buses in Chennai and other parts of the state. Shops had their shutters down in Idinthakarai and Koottapuli.
As the anti-nuke struggle drifts towards its most volatile phase, Koodankulam keeps a guarded silence.
Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka.