by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
Fifteen persons comprising eight men and seven women have been on an indefinite hunger strike for eight days now at a place called Idinthakarai adjacent to Koodankulam in Tirunelvely district of the Southern state of Tamil Nadu in India.
The indefinite hunger strike is a continuation of a long drawn out peoples struggle a nuclear power plant being set up and commissioned in Koodankulam.
The India-Russia Nuclear plant project got underway in the eighties of the last century but a vigorous peoples protest going on for nearly eight months has prevented it from commencing operations.
The protests have been spearheaded by a committed grass roots activist SP Udayakumar who is the Convenor of the Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE).
The sustained campaign against the nuclear plant being commission entered a new phase on March 12th 2012 when a relay of protest fasts were held at Koodankulam in opposition to the nuclear plant.
On March 19th the authorities cracked down by deploying thousands of Police and para-military personnel to Koodankulam. Several leaders of the non – violent peoples struggle were arbitrarily arrested and charged for sedition The inhabitants of Koodankulam were forcibly evicted from their village.
The Para – military and Police personnel also cordoned off the village and curtailed transport to and from the village. Inflow of food and medicine and other essentials were restricted.Outsiders were not allowed to come in. Media access was denied.
The forcibly dispersed people relocated to neighbouring Idinthakarai village where the protest demonstration continued. The PMANE convenor SP Udayakumar commenced a fast unto death campaign protesting the crackdown and arrests. 14 others comprising seven men and seven women accompanied him on an indefinite hunger strike in solidarity.
Thousands of people from Koodankulam,Idinjakarai and other villages in the region have assembled in sympathy and in support at Idinthakarai where the Koodankulam nuclear project protest ampaign continues.
Despite threats and intimidation and offers amounting to bribes the fast continues. Despite news stories planted in sections of the media that the protest has fizzled out the indefinite hunger strike goes on. It will enter its ninth day on March 27th 2012.
As stated earlier the on going hunger strike is the culmination of an eight month struggle launched by the peoples movement against the commissioning of a hazardous nuclear plant in their vicinity.
While more than 200 protestors have been arrested in batches over the past weeks, Udayakumar and his core group of hunger strikers have not been arrested yet.
One reason for that may be due to thousands of people including women and children keeping vigil over the fasting persons both day and night.It may be that the authorities fear a huge backlash if the highly respected ,popular Udayakumar and his fasting band are arrested.
The Police have surrounded the area in large numbers and set up a blockade around Idinthakarai village where Udayakumar now resides. Food and medicine supply have been curtailed. Journalists have been denied access.
Udayakumar obtained a Ph D at the University of Hawai in the USA and then returned to India where he set up a school for poor children.
Along with his wife,Udayakumar founded the South Asian Community Center for Education, Research and Action-SACCER near Nager Koil in Kanniyakumari district in 2001. Last week this free enrollment school with 250 children was destroyed by those a gang of hooligans backed by sections of the Police.
The Koodankulam nuclear project is an Indo-Russian joint venture.Currently Udayakumar is being vilified as an American Agent. The Christian church is also being blamed for the protest.. Ironically the supposedly US backed protest has also been labelled as Maoist and Naxalite.
I have never met Udayakumar personally though I used to receive e-mails regularly from him in the past when he was in the USA. Although I lost touch with him after he returned to India, I have often been reading news reports about him galvanising people into action as a non – violent grassroots protest movement against the Indo-Russian nuclear project
SP Udayakumar is an inspired , sincere activist who has embarked on a tremendous struggle against overwhelming odds.I have the greatest respect for his courage and dedication.
Factual information about the Koodankulam-Idinthakarai situation is hard to get due to the controls imposed by the Indian state. Udayakumar was sending out e-mails frequently in the early days. Nowadays it has become infrequent as the fasting persons become progressively weaker.
Some of his friends are circulating Udayakumar’s e-mails widely in a bid to attract global attention to the David vs Goliath battle going on in Koodankulam-Idinthakarai. I would like to reproduce two of them here.
In references that convey depths of feeling and meaning Udayakumar cites in these e-mails the burning of the JAFFNA LIBRARY and MULLIVAAIKKAAL.
The first e-mail was sent out on March 20th 2012. Here it is-
“Police have arrested 18 men more at Koodankulam last night but nothing happened here at Idinthakarai. Some 5,000 women, men and children slept around St. Lourdes Church. Some 185 men and women and their Parish Priest were arrested at Koottapuli village when they sat down by the side of the road protesting against the police peacefully.
They are being held at Tirunelveli armed reserve camp. The other group of nine people, including our Struggle Committee members, arrested yesterday and now charged with sedition, including Sections 121, 121A and 153A, have been taken to Tirunelveli also and we do not know where they are being held.
“Police have clamped down Section 144 in our area prohibiting people from congregating in any manner. So no one can walk or move around.
Despite this curfew, people keep coming to Idinthakarai by boats and on foot. There is an unprecedented deployment of police around Koodankulam and it is highly condemnable that the police be harassing the peaceful protesters to this extent.
“Some 15 of us (eight men and seven women) including Pushparayan and myself are on indefinite hunger strike here at Idinthakarai demanding:
 the immediate release of our comrades,
 the withdrawal of the Tamil Nadu cabinet resolution,
 a thorough and complete probe of geologists, hydrologists and oceanographers into the safety issues of the Koodankulam nuclear power plant,
 release of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) signed secretly by the governments of India and Russia on liability in February 2008, and
 conduct safety drills and evacuation drills in the 30-km radius of the Koodankulam project.
“There could be public health problems and food shortage in a few days here at Idinthakarai.
“We appeal to the people of Tamil Nadu to be aware of this assault on the Tamil community.
“We appeal to the people of India to be mindful of impending nuclear nightmares in a highly and densely populated country such as ours.
“We appeal to the people of the world to keep a watchful eye on the forceful implementation of a mega nuclear project on our people without giving us any basic information about the project or conducting any public hearings.
“They are preparing to load uranium fuel rods into the reactor without conducting any safety or evacuation drills. This kind of Fascist development is taking our country to another round of New East India Companies and Neo-colonialism.
God save India!”
The Second e-mail was sent out on March 22nd 2012. Here it is-
“The situation here in Idinthakarai is still grim. There are some 10,000 people from coastal and interior villages. Most of them are women including pregnant and nursing ones. I myself saw many nursing women feeding their babied sweetened water as there was no milk coming to the village.
More people are coming by boats and on foot as the access roads are all blocked by police. There is no bus service to this place. There is no sanitary complex and women bear the brunt of it. No public health official has ever come to help the people.
“Some 15 of us have been on indefinite hunger strike and no medical doctor has ever come here to check our health. On March 21 my mother received a phone call from a lawyer called T. Udayakumar, who claimed he was calling from the DGP office in Chennai. He told her to ask me to leave the protest so that all the cases against me would be dropped and I would get whatever I ask for. My mother told him that I was not a man of that nature and ended the conversation.
That evening the Superintendent of Police of Tirunelveli District called me on my mobile and asked me to surrender alone so that people would not be affected. I told him that I was all ready for that but the people here at Idinthakarai also wanted to get arrested along with me and they would not let me go alone.
I proposed to the SP to send enough number of buses and two police officers so that there would not be any stampede or tussle and we all would board the buses peacefully and go wherever they wanted us to go. He would not accept that proposition and said in anger: “This is the last time I talk to you.” There ended our conversation.
“That night the police officer who was on security duty at our SACCER Matriculation School outside Nagercoil town had received a phone call from the Kanyakumari District SP office to go away from the school.
Then a group of vandals, obviously with the blessings of the police, entered the school and destroyed it very badly. The compound wall was completely demolished and the gate damaged. They ransacked the school bus after tearing down the car shed’s iron shutters.
They entered the KG classrooms and destroyed all the small little chairs which my children were using to sit on. They broke all the tables and chairs and I do not understand why they punished my little children like this. The vandals entered our school library and destroyed all the 12 glass bookshelves and tables and threw away the books. My 250 children are all avid readers and have been using our library extensively.
This reminds me of the burning of the Public Library at Jaffna a few years ago.
“The governments and the police treat and speak of me as if I were Osama bin Laden and our people some mindless terrorists. We resent this inhuman and brutal treatment. Electricity, water, milk and other essentials have been cut for two days; people cannot go out of and come into Idinthakarai as there is brutal police control.
We are surrounded by police and I truly feel like I am at Mullivaickal.
We are a group of simple people who have been fighting nonviolently and democratically against an untested foreign reactor with all kinds of problems and hiccups. We have not done any harm to anybody or anybody’s property in our eight-month long struggle. The whole country is proud of our people.
“The stalemate continues. There are protests happening all over the country and the state of Tamil Nadu. Whoever is farsighted enough to worry about the future of India’s “ordinary citizens,” our natural resources, the well-being of our progeny, the possibility of losing our freedom to the New Nuclear East India Companies and most importantly, the democratic fabric of our country support us.
We thank them and you for standing with us. We are ready for any brutal police action but will not give up our nonviolent noncooperation campaign.”
Editor of Transcend Media service, Antonio C.S.Rosa a personal friend of SP Udayakumar has in an editorial drawn attetion to the magnificient peoples struggle going on in Koodankulam
Here are some excerpts-
“Information from the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant nonviolent struggle is scarce as Tamil Nadu authorities imposed an efficient news blackout by blockading roads and accesses. A major reason for the strangulation of information is the authorities’ fear that the movement will spread to other areas in the country.
Such phenomenon is not foreign to Indian society as history shows. That could be one of the reasons that these demonstrations have not yet captured the attention of major western news media –corporate and alternative, Internet and traditional”
“However, doctors were under order not to take the 15 hunger strikers to a hospital given the potential for violent backlashes if Kuma (Udayakumar) or others were removed from the scene. They earned a lot of respect and the staunch support of the population.
The movement, which has been careful to maintain Gandhian approaches, methods and practices throughout, enjoys also the sympathy of the Catholic Church that has a large community in the region. It is believed that the potential for violent outbreaks among the 10,000 protesters guarding the hunger strikers is the main reason that Kumar has not been arrested along with over 200 others”
On March 26th some local journalist were allowed limited access.According to a news report in “The Hindu” SP Udayakumar has said that the Govt should talk to the protestors if they consider those engaged in as people of India. Here are excerpts-
“We are ready for talks. If we are considered people of this country and if our ahimsa protest is respected, government should talk to us. They should treat us like Indian people,” Mr. Udayakumar, on an indefinite fast since March 12 along with his supporters, told reporters in Idinthakarai near Tirunelveli, the epicentre of the stir against the project.
He said it was regrettable that the government was suddenly “belittling” the protesters by accusing them of having links with Maoists and foreign countries.
Observing that the protesters met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh once and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa twice as part of their dialogue process, he said, “suddenly to describe and portray us as having links with Naxals and as anti-nationals, demeans people who have faith in democracy.”
Thus the non – violent struggle of the people goes on in Koodankulam.One does not know when the authorities would crack down further and arrest the fasting grass roots activists.
One hopes and demands that saner counsel will prevail and that those in power would respect the peaceful protestors and talk as Udayakumar wants.
As for me I want to express my solidarity and support for SP Udayakumar and the people engaged in a peaceful protest against formidable foes for a worthwhile cause.
Power to the People and may God save us all!