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Koodankulam: People's movement against nuclear energy

By S P Udayakumar
September 15, 2011 14:22 IST
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Idinthakarai village, Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu

Many of us, the organisers, gathered at Idinthakarai village and started preparing for our hunger strike from September 11. Around 3 pm we received the news that the police was arresting some of our activists at Koodankulam village. Some 500 women had blocked the road and demanded their immediate release. The police relented and the women also dispersed. The authorities invited 10 people for talks but later foisted cases on 510 people. So many cases have been filed against many people. The media covered the event extensively.

DAY 1; September 11

Considering the Fukushima nightmare, the police harassment and the Department of Atomic Energy chief's announcement that the Koodankulam nuclear power project would go critical in September, we decided to embark on an indefinite hunger strike. We made it very clear that our strike would be completely non-violent and we would follow the Gandhian ethos and practices. Some five to seven thousand people from Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts gathered in front of the St Lurdes's church at Idinthakarai.

Anti-nuclear activists performed cultural programs, sang social awareness songs, and gave speeches. The local MLA Michael Rayappan of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam showed up and expressed his solidarity with the people. The whole group was observing a day-long fast and at the end of the day we started gathering the names of indefinite hunger strikers. 127 people including 20 women, four physically-challenged people, four Catholic priests and three nuns decided to fast. Proper records were prepared about their background, health history and so forth. At 5 pm, the people dispersed and the indefinite hunger strikers slept in the front porch of the church. Several hundred local people slept around the church to express their solidarity and to provide security to the indefinite hunger strikers.

DAY 2; September 12

People started pouring in from all parts of southern Tamil Nadu from 9 am. There were some 12,000 to 15,000 people around 11 am. The bishop of Thoothukudi visited at 9 am and stayed with us the whole day. He was also fasting with the group. The MDMK general secretary Vaiko and religious leader Balaprajathipathi Adigalar also came. The Bishop, Vaiko and Adigalar addressed the crowd and opposed the Koodankulam nuclear plant. Several activists also spoke. We concluded the day at 5 pm. And the indefinite hunger strikers continued their fast and several hundred local villagers slept around the church. Several media groups were there to cover the event. A medical team checked all the indefinite hunger strikers for any health issues.

DAY 3; September 13

People started coming in from 9 am and the crowd was more than 10,000 people at its peak. The Tamil Nadu Merchants' Association chief Vellayan came along with his office bearers. They announced their decision to organise protests against the KKNPP in all district headquarters all over Tamil Nadu on September 20, 2011 and a complete shut down in Thoothukudi, Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts on that day.

The Manithaneya Makkal Katchi leaders also came and they announced that their party would demonstrate against the nuke plant on September 23. No government official came to see the indefinite hunger strikers even after three days of fasting. Angry and agitated about this gross callousness of the authorities, some 500 women resorted to block the road and halted vehicles. With so much difficulty, we managed to bring them back to the strike venue. National media reached the venue and telecast live programs.

Several people fainted. Two revenue department officers asked a small group of us to go and meet them in the outskirts of the village. They wanted 15 of us to go and meet the district collector and the police chief at the Koodankulam police station. We refused to go with them and asked the crowd for their opinion. They all said that the authorities should come to see us at the strike venue and we should not go to see them. We concluded the day around 6:15 pm.

We received a word from our MLA that his application to speak in the Tamil Nadu assembly about our struggle and demands was quashed and he was not allowed to speak. This makes us doubt the very functioning of our democracy. Neither the chief minister nor any of her ministers has ever spoken a word about us, our struggle or our demands. No need to say anything about our distant Delhi government; they never speak a word about the people or our issues.

Indefinite hunger strikers are getting weak; people are getting upset. But the strike continues in a very orderly and non-violent manner. People keep invoking the ways and means of Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi.

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S P Udayakumar
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