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Rediff.com  » News » Villagers fight a losing battle against the N-plant in TN

Villagers fight a losing battle against the N-plant in TN

Last updated on: December 13, 2012 08:18 IST

'Let the cops come, we will teach them a lesson'

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A Ganesh Nadar in Idinthakarai

At Idinthakarai -- the epicentre of protests against the Kudankulam nuclear plant -- Rediff.com's A Ganesh Nadar encounters a hostile crowd that is angry with the heavy police presence outside their village.

Idinthakarai, a village in Tamil Nadu, has been at the centre of the anti-Indo-Russian nuclear power plant protest for almost 16 months now. The protests that began in Kudankulam had to be shifted out to Idinthakarai, a nearby village, after Section 144 of the CrPC (which prohibits assembly of five or more persons or holding of public meetings) was promulgated there. 

I have been there several times, so was shocked to see a makeshift check post that the villagers had put up, as an angry mob gathered there stopped me from entering the village.

A hurried phone call to the leader of the protest, S P Udayakumar, calmed the situation a bit and the villagers reluctantly let me through. They were angry because the Tamil Nadu police had been marching toward their village on foot.

The church bell rang continuously, a signal for the villagers to assemble. Idinthakarai has a population of 12,000 with 5,000 voters. They all started gathering at the church. The women seemed more aggressive than the men. 

"Let the cops come, we will teach them a lesson," said many who had gathered.

At the sea shore, there were no boats. All had gone to sea and Udayakumar had left with them. He knew the police would try to arrest him. 

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Image: Policemen in riot gear wait outside Idinthakarai village
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'We are fishermen fighting for our village, we are non-violent'

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"Every one here has a case registered against them. The police have filed FIRs against Udayakumar and 5,000 others. We are fishermen fighting for our village, we are non-violent, why is the police coming here with arms?" asks an old man.

"They only have lathis and no arms," some reporters try to assure him. "You are lying; the police are carrying tear gas that will blind us," he shot back. Another man came up to this reporter and said angrily, "You are the last person to enter the village, how far are the police?" "About two kilometers," I replied. 

"Why are you sitting here? Do you want to see us beaten up and then file a story about how many were arrested?" asked a villager.

"Why do you keep talking on your phone? Are you telling the police how many of us are here," another old man wanted to know. "Take his phone, you can have it back when you leave," he said. 

"I am talking to my office and the police have enough informants in your village, they don't need me," I said. 

"Then you leave immediately, we don't want informants here, leave before our young men push you out," he warned. 

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Image: Tirunelveli SP Vijayendra Bidari outside Idinthakarani village
Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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Support from NGOs, political parties on the wane

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Outside, villagers were piling up rocks and logs to block the police. We were booed away. 

So, why were the villagers so hostile? It seems they know they have lost the battle as the nuclear plant has started functioning and could go critical around December 24.

Many of these villagers have several cases registered against them. Some have been charged with sedition, which can land them in jail for years together. Their church priest Father Jaikumar has more than five cases against him.

The villagers claim they are fighting for the cause of three southern districts of Kanyakumari, Tirunelveli and Tuticorin. Though initially they found support from various NGOs and political parties, it had waned gradually. 

Who had the time to protest for 16 months? Now the villagers were fighting their battle alone. Many of them have been signing ledgers at police stations in Madurai, Valliyoor and Palayoor. Palayoor is only 20 km away, but Madurai is 200 km away, and to travel all the way to sign everyday would exhaust even the most belligerent protestor. Not to mention the fact that he cannot go to work anymore, as he has no time for it. 

Udayakumar went to sea when he heard the police was coming, but how long can this go on? Anyone leaving the village is immediately arrested. Every week at least 10 people are picked up on various charges. 

Outside the village, on the main road, the police stood 200 metres away. They were carrying lathis and riot shields. Many carried air guns with tear gas munition in white boxes.

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Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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'Why blame us? We are only maintaining law and order'

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The Tirunelveli Superintendent of Police Vijayendra Bidari led from the front. He walked in front without his customary cap. There was a police photographer who had come with them. 

Two reporters who were taking pictures were asked to leave. They ignored him and continued to click pictures. 

The police also carried megaphones, but did not use it. Suddenly the SP decided to send back four women cops. The police advanced to within 100 metres of the village gate. 

Elsewhere, people usually run for their lives when the cops swoop down upon them. But here the villagers were not intimidated. They continued standing still and watched the police, daring them to enter.

The police marched closer and stood there.

Then all of a sudden, SP Bidari asks his troops to turn around. As my colleague reported, 'The cops blinked first'.

"We have been standing here for hours, so we just decided to take a walk," Bidari said lightly. When asked if the police was now making arrests indiscriminately, Bidari said, "Not true. There are FIRs against 150 known and 5,000 unknown people we have to let the court know the strength of the crowd. I am not arresting indiscriminately. Last week we arrested seven people. Only three were part of the agitation. We let the other four go. You can check the papers." 

"We will never do anything to precipitate matters. We are leaving the villagers alone. Udayakumar was the one who announced an agitation. We have to take measures to maintain the law and order. Why are you blaming us? Let the plant start and then things will improve for the better," the SP added. 

Bidari also promised to send a high court order that clearly directs the police how to deal with the agitators. He said he was following the order. 


Photographs: A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com

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