Democratic protest. 8,000 Sedi
The protest over the nuclear plant in Koodankulam has claimed the livelihood of thousands, with bogus charges filed and restrictions on their occupation, reports
IDINTHAKARAI, A small coastal village in Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district, overlooks a horizon dotted with windmills. The village is populated by small-time fishermen eking out a modest living. But, according to the register at the Kudankulam police station, this village is the country’s most notorious place. People here are waging a war against the nation. They are all seditious. This is the first time, in the history of this country, that 8,000 cases of sedition and waging a war against the nation have been registered, at a single police station.
However, a visit to Idinthakarai dispels this myth of sedition. The village, at the brink of a soon-to-be functional 2,000 MW nuclear plant, is definitely waging a war. Not against the State, though, but for its right to a nuclear disaster-free future.
A nuclear plant, located only a few kilometres away from the villages, threatens the very existence of the people in Koodankulam. Fishing, their principal means of livelihood, is facing extinction.
“If anything, this has only trivialised the gravity of the charges of sedition,” says SP Udayakumar, the leader of People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy ( PMANE). “We led a democratic and nonviolent protest here for over a year and they charged 8,000 people with sedition. If we are seditious, then the Atomic Energy Research Board ( AERB), which has been named by the CAG for irregularities in the nuclear policy, is committing a bigger crime by playing with millions of lives,” he says. Apart from sedition cases, criminal cases have been lodged against as many as 66,000 people in the past year.
Most of the sedition cases were lodged on three occasions. During a sit-in at the plant premises in October 2011, the Koodankulam police, after using violent means to ward off the protesters, lodged as many as 3,000 cases. In November 2011, more cases were filed when fishermen from the neighbouring villages staged a peaceful demonstration by the sea. The last mass registration of sedition cases occurred recently, on Independence Day this year. As a sign of protest, villagers in the surrounding areas of the plant refused to hoist the national flag. They put up black flags instead. The district administration deemed the protest seditious, nevertheless. “A few thousand more cases of waging war against the nation were lodged that day,” informs Pushparayan Victoria, a colleague of Udaykumar’s.
Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan rubbishes the cases, even calling them ‘absurd’. “The SC, in a verdict in 1962, said that only an act of overthrowing the State qualifies as sedition. This is just an instance of a peaceful movement being suppressed by these false cases,” he says.
Interestingly, the Tirunelveli Police backtracked on all their previous atrocities. Superintendent of Police Vijayendra Bidari says that police never dealt with the protesters in an ‘undemocratic manner.’ “The numbers that are doing the rounds are false,” says Bidari. “We have named only 20 people or so in the FIRs,” he says. Since most of the names were registered under ‘others’, the entire village is under the threat of a judicial trial now. “We are working on the chargesheets and we have enough evidence against some of these people, which will be produced in the court,” Bidari asserts.
Civil society from all over the country have protested against the State’s treatment