Protesters say they have reached a point of return and would rather go to jail than stop the agitation
Church bells tolled at Idinthakarai at 8.25am on Thursday 22 March after rumours of police moving towards the protest venue. Within minutes hundreds of villagers thronged St Lourdes Church grounds and People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) convener SP Udayakumar and his associate Pushparayan moved out of the stage where they are sitting on an indefinite hunger strike since 19 March. Fearing impending police action that the rumours warned of, the villagers shifted them to a safe area. Hundreds of women encircled the central zone and the men stood behind them. Some shouted slogans while others kept an eye on the roads. After 20 minutes of high voltage tension, volunteers keeping an eye on the police activites, informed the leaders there was no movement of police vehicles. The scene changed immediately and the children returned to their playfields; and the volunteers’ security circle was relaxed.
“Rumours of police movement have the effect of a mock drill here and the crowd gets tense. This is the fourth time that the rumours created stress here,” said Raj Leon (57) one of the many stranded at the protest grounds for the last four days. “The whole village is sitting here as we have reached a no point of return. I’m also one of them and we will remain here till they close down the plant, this is our unanimous decision,” he said. A fragile-looking Leon believes that they will win their war against Nuclear plant as the locals are talking in one voice. “Here we have only one agenda. If the government ignores our silent protests and democratic rights, then it’s our fate,” said Leon.
However, not all are as calm as him. The women, specially, are agitated and emotional but have become more aware and socially active. They have abandoned their daily chores, children and jobs to be a part of the protesting crowd. They too say they have reached a point of return .
Bhoovaneshwaari Kebiston (27) has been fighting against the Koodankulam Nuclear plant since she was 11 years old. Hunger strikes and protests are not new to her. She along with her four young children reached the church grounds on Monday afternoon. She remains with the women’s core group at the venue. “I’ve not done any household work for the last four days. I’ve not cared my children properly, for me this is more important. I just go home to take a bath and brush my teeth. I spent the rest of the time here,” said Kebiston. Her youngest son two-year-old Nilolfar sits on her lap while she sits in protest. He has not had milk as the supply to Idinthakarai has been stopped. “I’m giving him water. He should learn the tough ways of life, he has no future if the plant starts operating in our soil,” said Kebiston.
According to her, the people of Idinthakarai are ready to fight for their cause for as long as it takes. “We will not stop our agitation. They can put all of us in jail, but we will continue our fight till we win or die,” she added. More protesters have decided to court arrests en-masse. “We won’t leave our leaders alone. Before arresting them, the police should arrest all of us including the children. They can take our leaders only after that,” she announced the group’s decision.
Selvi Hector (38), another volunteer supported this decision and says she too will go to jail if police enters Idinthakarai. “We have seen the worst, we don’t care what happens to us in future. Give us one reason why the government is blind to our protests. They have branded us terrorists,” said Selvi.
The mood is changing in Idinthakarai, food supply is running short, constant power cuts and police movements are adding to the discomfort, However, the protestors say they will not give in. “It’s unfortunate that an elected government is keeping a whole village as prisoners and a waging war against us,” said SP Udayakumar , convener of PMANE. “The government and the police is treating me like Osama Bin Laden. They ask me to surrender and charged other leaders with section of sedition. What crime we have done,” he asked.
Jeemon Jacob is Bureau Chief, South with Tehelka.