Kudankulam: 8 years on, fear rules villages

Kudankulam: 8 years on, fear rules villages

Protest against Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Kudankulam. PTI FILE PHOTO

Are they looking for us?” asked a jittery Peter Milton, 49, as his eyes darted to scan for the police patrol vehicle that passed by. He feared the men in khaki might have sensed that this correspondent had come to the fishing hamlet to record their sufferings.

Milton has more than two dozen sedition cases against him since 2012 for participating in the protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP).

Also Read: Sedition Cases slapped on celebrities withdrawn as fast as they were lodged

“If they find out that you have come to write about us, they will make my life hell. They will ensure I don’t even get kerosene the next time I go out to the sea,” Milton told DH.

Milton’s words surmise the fear in and around Kudankulam and Idinthakarai, where the country’s single largest nuclear power station is housed.

As many as 8,856 people from Idinthakarai, Kudankulam, Perumanal, Vairavaikinaru, Koothankuli and Uvari face dozens of cases booked under Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code that deals with sedition, and other sections including Section 121.

Also Read: 'Sedition is a necessary legal provision'

“No one really knows how many cases have been dropped or added. We have lost count of it. These cases were slapped only to instil fear among the protestors,” S P Udayakumar, convenor of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy that led the protests, told DH.

Only a few were arrested, but most including S P Udayakumar, a former professor, were not taken into custody. However, their mobility and livelihoods were affected. People facing sedition charges can’t apply for a passport. Those who possess one cannot leave the country. They also can’t apply for government jobs and are under the constant watch of the police.

Also Read: Fear and loathing in ‘sedition land’

Milton, a former bosun in a vessel, has had a roller-coaster ride from the last nine years. Today, he doesn’t make even a fraction of what he brought home in 2011.

“I couldn’t get back to my job due to the cases. My wife runs a saree shop in our house — to run the household and fund my 12-year-old daughter’s education,” he said.

Constant intimidation 

Ganesan, who spent 215 days in jail, said that the police have been cultivating fear psychosis among people through sedition cases. “Today, I can’t even distribute a pamphlet against KNPP in the district as the police will rush to our doorsteps. They have planted informers everywhere,” he said.

When Ganesan applied for a passport to travel to Kuwait, his application was denied and he was put in jail. “I knew about the sedition case against me, but several people came to know about such cases slapped on them only during such checks,” Ganesan told DH.

Notwithstanding the sufferings the cases have brought to them, most of the villagers whom DH spoke to — a majority didn’t want to be quoted — said they were resolute in their opposition to KNPP.

“Why should we sleep in fear every single day with a bomb by our side?” Sundari, who spent 98 days in jail, told DH. “Then a peaceful protest in Kudankulam was seen as a threat to the government; now even a rangoli can keep the administrators on their toes,” she said.

The womenfolk proved to be the bravest during the three-year-long anti-nuclear protest. Mildred, 47, who was at the forefront of the protests, still sleeps outside a statue of Mother Mary at St Lourdes Church in this coastal village every night as a mark of protest against KNPP. In 2012, Mildred made a daring escape and evaded jail time by jumping into the sea and swimming back to the shore after being saved by fishermen. She is now an activist in her own right. 
“We women are not scared. Men fear for their safety as they go out to the seas. Several men have been harassed by the police for no reason. But that hasn’t changed our mind on the nuclear plants,” she said.

Udayakumar, who quit a well-paying job in the US and returned to India in the 2000s, seeks the reason behind the slow process of cases against the protesters.“There is no forward movement on cases against me, but my accounts are still frozen,” Udayakumar said. He said he struggled to get a decent education for his two sons due to the freezing of his bank accounts.

Antony Kebiston, whose shop was burnt during the protest, says, “Though police are not physically present in the village, they monitor us constantly. Even if there is a semblance of dissent, all these cases will get a new lease of life. Police have spoiled the lives of the youth.”

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