Idinthakarai bids emotional farewell to Sahaya Francis
Police term death an accident, activists blame Coast Guard’s negligence. Movement gets VS Achuthanandan’s support
After four days of spirited protests, anti-Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) activists buried the body of Sahyam Francis at Idinthakarai’s St Lourde Mata Church cemetery. Sahyam Francis (37) succumbed to a head injury sustained while participating in the Jal Satyagraha on 13 September. His death had gone largely unreported as the local police had so far not made public or recorded the cause of death and had termed it an accident.
However, his family and other anti-nuke activists have alleged that Francis was killed after a Coast Guard surveillance aircraft flew low to scare the protesters. “When he was protesting on the beach Sahyam Francis was startled by the noise, he lost his balance fell and hit his head on a rock,” said a protester. When Francis’ family took him to a hospital in Nagercoil some 40 km away from the spot, he was declared brought dead. The body was kept in a mortuary till leaders of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) intervened and forced police to conduct an autopsy and register a case.
“We decided to bury him after our demands for independent autopsy and video recording of autopsy were met. He was killed by irresponsible action of the Coast Guard surveillance,” said Father Mypa Jesuraj, who is leading the Koodankulam anti-nuke struggle. Earlier PMANE activists had demanded that the police filed an FIR against Indian coast guard for the death. They were also planning to take the body to the coastal villages and stage protests.
The funeral procession started from Kottar reached Idinthakarai at 5pm on Monday 17 September. The prayer service was led by Madurai Archbishop Peter Fernando and Bishop Ivon Ambroise of Tuticorin diocese. Hundreds attended the funeral, which lasted for more than two hours. “We will continue our struggle, we have no choice as the government and the police are hunting us,” said Jesuraj.
Meanwhile Kerala government Opposition leader VS Achuthanandan has decided to defy his party whip and visit Koodankulam on Tuesday 18 September. Achuthanandan, one of the founding members of the CPM, told mediapersons that the nuclear power projects threaten the lives of the poor in and around Koodankulam. The CPM leadership had directed him not to visit Koodankulam as the party was not against the project as such.
“Nuclear power projects are a threat to humanity and I was told that safety measures here are compromised. I will meet the protesters in Koodankulam and join their struggle,” Achuthanandan told Tehelka.
However, CPM General Secretary, Prakash Karat, has so far evaded all questions regarding the controversial visit. Karat has remarked that the party’s stand on Koodankulam protest was announced earlier and there is no deviation from it. “We have announced our policy on the Koodankulam nuclear power project. Nothing more to add,” Karat told mediapersons in New Delhi.
Meanwhile, PMANE is organising a public meeting to welcome Achuthanandan at the protest grounds. “We have been waiting for his visit for long. We look towards him as an inspiring leader who stands for the people. His visit is certainly going to help our movement,” said Victoria Pushparayan who has been in hiding since the police crackdown.
On Sunday, a Kerala-Koodankulam march led by writers and social activists to express solidarity with the anti-nuclear protests in Koodankulam was blocked by the police at Inchivila, near the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. The Kerala anti-nuclear support group, which organised the march, then tried to take the activists by bus to the protest site, but were stopped by the Tamil Nadu Police. The march, undertaken by over 200 people, had been inaugurated by poet activist Sugathakumari at Parassala on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border.
“We are appalled by police repression of anti-nuke protesters”
Eminent citizens urge govt to talk to protesters, demand work to be suspended till their concerns are addressed
More than 120 eminent citizens on 15 September signed a statement expressing solidarity with anti-nuclear protesters in Koodankulam and urging the government to address the concerns of the agitators through talks.
“We are appalled at the police repression unleashed against people protesting peacefully against the Koodankulam nuclear plant. The repression has forced them to take to a jal-satyagraha. We urge the government to suspend work at Koodankulam and engage directly and democratically with the concerns of the people who live in the vicinity, so that if the plant is to proceed it has their acceptance,” the statement read.
Highlighting the safety concerns regarding the nuclear plant, the statement said, “Their legitimate, and as-yet-unaddressed, concerns about the plant’s safety were heightened by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board’s (AERB) recent admission that it has not implemented the recommendations of its own review committee, including revision of safety parameters, and installation of backup freshwater and power sources. No emergency-evacuation drill was conducted as mandated, in a 16-kilometre radius, prior to fuel-loading”.
The signatories include former Chief of Naval Staff L Ramdas, former AERB chairman A Gopalakrishnan, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court AP Shah and former Ambassador to the United Nations Nirupam Sen. Writer Arundhati Roy and social activist Aruna Roy are also among the signatories.
Five thousand anti-nuke protesters launch jal satyagraha against KNPP
PMANE protesters take to the sea to continue struggle against Koodankulam nuke plant, as leaders demand a complete shut down of the plant
Around five thousands protesters, including women and children, entered the sea to launch an indefinite jal satyagraha at Koodankulam on Thursday, 13 September. Spirited anti-nuke protesters marched along the coast around 11.15 am and walked into the sea creating human chains and stayed put till 4 pm. Father Mypa Jesuraj and Melred Raj led the protesters into the sea and declared that they would continue their protest against Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) till it is closed down.
“We have been protesting for the past one year. We launched hunger strikes; tonsured our heads; went to jail and met the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister and filed cases in various courts with a simple demand—save our lives, our soil and water from the killer nuke plant. Now we have no choice as Atomic Energy Regulatory Commission (AERC) has given a nod to load fuel and the government has scheduled the dates for commissioning the plant. We have become unwanted in this earth, so let mother sea takes us all,” Raj announced before leading the protest from Lourde Matha Church grounds, Idinthakarai. It was 11.10 am and hundreds of children and women joined the march braving the scorching sun and shouting slogans against police brutality and the government.
As they walked along the shore, hundreds of women and children joined the protesters. They were just 500 meters away from the nuclear plant when they walked straight into the rough sea without any emergency rescue mechanism. The children were the most active members among the protesters. Hundreds of children walked into the sea and remained there the whole day. “It’s not for pleasure we are in the sea. This nuclear plant is a curse and nobody is going to benefit out of it. Only a disaster can convince our politicians and the government. Then we won’t be alive to tell that story,” said 15-year- old Rishika Raj.
While the protesters continued their agitation in the sea, coast guards deployed Dornier air craft for aerial surveillance. They continued their protest till 4 pm and decided to continue jal satyagraha till the plant is shut down. “It’s not easy to remain in sea for five long hours under the scorching sun. It’s not like standing in a lake or a river. The tide is strong. We are forced to do it as the situation is drifting from bad to worse,” said Father Jesuraj, who is heading the protests from Idinthakarai. He remained in the sea with his people for five long hours.
According to Jesuraj, the police are continuing to use oppressive measures against the protesters raiding their homes and vandalising household articles. “Our people are sleeping in the church grounds. They are not going back to their homes as the police are raiding the houses at night. The police are registering cases against our people one after another. But we will fight out these oppressive measures and intimidation tactics,” Jesuraj said.
Jesuraj appealed to the government to release the innocent arrested protesters and drop the false cases registered against PMANE leaders Dr SP Udayakumar and Victoria Pushparayan. Both Udayakumar and Pushparayan were shifted to a safe location as the police intensified their search for them.
The entire town of Koodankulam wears a deserted look as shops kept their shutters down and buses did not ply as per routine. The entire area remains under police surveillance as more than 4000 police personnel including Rapid Action Force with assault vehicles have been deployed to man the area.
“We are waiting for orders from the top and are positioned in strategic locations. We can nab any of the leaders in no time,” said one senior police official camping at Koodankulam.
Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka.
“We will enter the sea and remain there till the end,”
10,000 anti-nuke protesters to launch a Jal Satyagraha at Idinthakarai on Thursday
Inspired by recent Jal Satyagraha’s (protesting while standing in water) held by farmers in various parts of Madhya Pradesh, the anti-Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) protesters have also decided to launch a Jal Satyagraha at Idinthakarai from Thursday 13 September. According to activist Melred Raj, one of the women members of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) core team, the entire village has decided to launch a Jal Satyagraha by standing waist–deep in the sea till the authorities do not relent. “The police is raiding our homes, destroying our boats and arresting our men. We have decided to launch a Jal Stayagraha from tomorrow. We will enter the sea and remain there till our end,” 40-year-old Melred told TEHELKA.
The situation in Idinthakarai grew tense after the police started raiding the protesters’ homes and the villagers moved the PMANE leaders to a hide out in a bid to avoid arrest. “We have been fighting to close down the plant. Now both Central and state governments have decided to load fuel. We don’t mind dying for our cause,” said Melred.
People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy has appealed to the more villagers to the join the Jal Satygraha as a last resort. The appeal, made late on Wednesday got instant response and hundreds, including women and children came forward to join the Jal Satyagraha, said PMANE leaders.
“We will remain in the sea till we die, as we have no future if they commission the plant. We prefer to die in the water,” said a protester Prema Murugan. Meanwhile, the police stepped up action against the villagers who have been on a war path against the commissioning of the nuclear plant. According to activists, the police has started raiding homes in Idinthakarai and arresting protesters they suspect were involved in the recent clashes.
“The police has destroyed 46 boats and started arresting our men, we have no idea where they have taken them,” said Magline Peter who is camping at Koodankulam with the other protesters. By Wednesday night the villagers had made arrangements for launching the Jal Satyagraha in the morning.
According to a statement released by PMANE late on Wednesday night the struggle will continue indefinitely. “Today we are surrounded by police, beaten up, harassed, accused of committing all kinds of crimes, arrested and above all, mentally, emotionally, spiritually assaulted. We are fisherfolk, shopkeepers, agricultural laborers, beedi-rolling women, working class people. We do not steal public money, we do not amass wealth through illegal business deals, and we do not plunder the nation’s natural wealth. But we are treated like criminals and dangerous to civil society,” stated PMANE.
They also appealed for the support from civil society at large. “Several people including a baby are missing. Around 53 non-violent protesters have been charged with sedition and are languishing in various prisons in Tamil Nadu. Thousands of families are living in fear and despair. If you think we are your brethren, please join us,” said the statement.
The PMANE leaders requested Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to stop loading fuel in Koodankulam Nuclear plant and recall police from the area. “We are not criminals but poor people who want to live in our land,” said the statement.
Activists urge govt to hold talks with protesters of Koodankulam
Criticising the police action against the agitators, the activists have demanded that the government immediately put a moratorium on the nuclear reactor until the concerns of agitators are addressed through talks
Photo: Amritharaj Stephen
Activist Aruna Roy and environmentalist and senior journalist Praful Bidwai have slammed the central and the Tamil Nadu government for not taking people into confidence before taking steps to commence production from Koodankulam nuclear power plant. Talking to the press, Roy asked, “If Parliament can be forced to shut down because there is dissent, then why can’t people (of Koodankulam) dissent and protest peacefully?”
Stating that the hallmark of any intelligent society and aware citizenry is to ask questions, Roy alleged that a simple act of asking serious questions about the threat to life is being treated as sedition in Koodankulam. “The question is: Are we as people not going to insist that before anything is done our questions must be answered,” she said. Around 8,000 cases of sedition have been registered against the residents of Koodankulam.
The activists also criticised the judgement of the Chennai High Court for ignoring the 17 issues raised by the safety committee of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board. “The plant doesn’t have adequate power backup and they have promised to install a mobile diesel generator only in the long run. When would that happen, nobody knows,” said Bidwai.
Rubbishing the theory of foreign funding to the agitation, Roy said that all genuine struggles are funded by people and same is the case in Koodankulam. “People are donating their one-day wage and beedi workers are contributing one-tenth of their salary to support the agitation. Shopkeepers are also donating,” she said. Bidwai, in turn, took a dig at the money spent on nuclear plant and said, “It is a technology funded entirely by subsidies and state support and produces electricity at double the cost of coal and gas-fired power plants.”
Expressing her dismay at the happenings of past few days in Koodankulam, Roy argued that if the people want to be assured about their safety, the government should sit down with the protesters over and over again to assure them instead of using force on them. “The need for a dialogue is most important now and sitting and talking across the table is the only solution,” she said.
Meanwhile, Arundhati Roy, a noted author and activist, has also sent a message of support to the people of Koodankulam. “We know how the Government has colluded with Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) to ensure that the victims of the Bhopal Gas Leak will never get justice. But no amount of compensation can ever right a nuclear disaster. I do believe that what is being done in Koodankulam in the name of development is a crime," her statement said.
Activist Arvind Kejriwal, who was in Koodankulam on Wednesday 12 September, accused that the police of destroying more than 40 boats of fishermen. Kejriwal said, “300 police cases have been slapped against SP Udayakumar. It seems that he is most wanted person by the police and by the state and I am very happy that I am standing by his side.” He has asked the government to make all the details and documents regarding the safety of the nuclear power plant available to villagers and have an open debate with them. “You can’t run a democracy with this kind of police operation,” he said.
Prakhar Jain is a Correspondent with Tehelka.