With over 100 cases filed against him, S P Udaykumar is Tamil Nadu’s most wanted. The anti-nuclear activist has become the face of the Kudankulam agitation, and even as the fission process of the nuclear plant has started, the protests led by him have not lost steam.
For over two years now, Udaykumar has been camping in Idinthakarai in Tirunelveli district, which has been the epicentre of the anti-Kundankulam stir. With police crackdowns and protests, the fishermen’s village is always on the edge.
The going has certainly not been easy for the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy convener and his family.
In a candid chat with A Ganesh Nadar, Udaykumar’s wife Meera, bottom, left, speaks about the Idinthakarai’s struggle, the sacrifices made by her and her two sons and more. The family (the wife, children and Udaykumar’s ageing parents) live in neighbouring Kanyakumari.
How long has Udaykumar been involved in this agitation?
Since 1989. Even I had signed the protest against nuclear power as a student while in Sarah Tucker College, Tirunelveli. When I married Udaykumar, he was actively doing research and opposing nuclear energy.
He has been visiting Idinthakarai since 1998. After we returned from the US in 2001, he visited Tirunelveli over the weekends. Visiting villages in the area, distributing pamphlets, giving speeches, he was a one-man army then.
How many cases is he facing now for his activism?
There may be more than 300 cases against him and six against me. I am being tried for sedition because I visited him during an agitation.
Have you been inside the nuclear plant?
I have not, but my husband was invited one day, almost four years back. They gave him the usual spiel on how safe it was.
The nuclear plant has now started. What’s the point in agitating now?
We can continue to protest. We hope they will agree not to re-load fuel in the nuclear plant and stop once the current fuel runs out. Nuclear plants are being shut down the world over.
Is there a legal solution to all the cases against your husband?
The Supreme Court has suggested that the cases be withdrawn in the interest of peace. I hope that happens.
If the cases are withdrawn will the protests stop?
Never! The protests will continue. My husband is against nuclear power; his protest is not restricted to Kundankulam.
How long do you think this will go on?
I have answered this question over a thousand times. I really do not know. Sometimes, I get tired and fatigued just thinking about it.
How often do you see him?
Every other week unless some work comes up here (in Kanyakumari). I visit him since he cannot come here. (Udaykumar faces arrest if he steps out of Idinthakarai.)
How long have you been married? How did you meet?
I have been married for 21 years.We met through a mutual friend. I was teaching in Kanyakumari then and he was pursuing his PhD in Hawaii. After we got married, I joined him and started pursuing a master's in social work.
We were in Hawaii for 10 years. In 2001, our second son was born and we decided to return to India. In 2003, we set up a school in Nagercoil.
How is the school doing?
Last year, we had classes till Std IX. This year, our first batch should have appeared for the SSC exams. But the school’s recognition got delayed because of the agitation. I had to send my students to other schools. This year we are operating till Std VIII only.
Do the children miss their father?
They are aware of what their father is doing. He is very persuasive and has told the children about his fight. They understand and are proud of him.
Your husband is away from the family, your school is not getting recognition. Do you think the efforts are worth it?
Yes, definitely it’s been worth it. I am grateful that I have the spirit to fight. The State has an agenda and we have ours, and they both clash. We believe in what we are doing and they believe in what they are doing.
I am powerless against the State. They have the power to do what they please and what suits their convenience. I expected this to happen; in a confrontation these things always happen.
Image: Demonstrators stand in their boats in the Bay of Bengal during a protest near the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant
Read: Abandon nuclear power, not the plant: S P Udaykumar