Protest countdownMy journey to Koodankulam started on the evening of September 16 from Bangalore city. As I was about to board the bus I received a message on my cell phone saying, "200 people detained in Tuticorin. Are you one among them?" At first I was frightened and filled with anguish when I read this message. It made me realise that anyone can be arrested in the name of law and order. But soon, this made me even more determined to visit Koodankulam.

I got off the bus at Kanyakumari just before Koodankulam. The posse of taxi drivers who immediately approached me looked surprised when I said I wanted to go to Idinthikarai. One of them told me that cabs are not allowed there right now.

Hearing our conversation, a local boy said that he is from Koodankulam village, but is afraid to go there considering the heavy police presence. After some searching, I found an auto driver who agreed to take me to Koodankulam but not till Idinthikarai, which is about five km from the nuclear power plant. En route, it was interesting to see lots of women police officers, before we reached the main barricade before the power plant. We soon crossed the Koodankulam power plant, heavily guarded by the Rapid Action Force (RAF), but to my surprise nobody stopped us.

After this there were police barricades at every km but they suddenly stopped. At this point, the auto driver said that this area belongs to the fishing community, who are protesting, and it was unsafe to be here. After about 2 kms there were more barricades, sand bags, road dug-outs and thorny bushes on the road. Here, the driver stopped and asked me to walk the remaining three km to Idinthikarai.

Empty village roads

I walked the lonely road, where not even a single shop was open. Two media vehicles passed me. I reached a village and was on the lookout for the church where the protests were happening. But there was nobody in sight and the houses were all locked. It was truly frighting to walk through an empty village with no human presence. I walked for half an hour more but could not find the church so I climbed to the roof of a house to get my bearings. It was then I realised that I was walking towards the power plant and in fact, the church was behind me.

I finally reached Idinthikarai village and on almost every wall I saw pictures of the two people who had died in the protests the previous week. At the end of the village, I reached the beautiful church that I had previously visited in March.

Hundreds of villagers were here, seated outside the church. I remembered the auto driver's words of caution, but what I felt here among the people was care, unity and love. It was a gathering of the old and young, men and women. One man who seemed to be a leader of sorts greeted me and I introduced myself. The people were very caring and they let me stay here.

Protesters at Idinthikarai

It was a political sympathy day and a local MLA and members of the CPIML party visited and political leaders made several speeches. However, I was searching for the leader Uday kumar, but I was later told that he would not be visiting due to security concerns. I had met him earlier and I knew that the local community had deep faith in him.

A journalist told me that Uday kumar had many charges against him including six sedition charges. I thought about all the corrupt politicians in our country roaming free, while a man who is peacefully defending the lives and livelihood of his community is being persecuted.

Towards evening I saw the media personnel filming what looked like a bottle on the steps of the church. On further inspection I realised that it was a tear gas shell used against the protesters. Shockingly the expiry date on the shell was 2001!

At 5:30 the doors of the church opened and more people started gathering around. Upon enquiry, I found out that the body of Sagayam was on its way from Nagercoil hospital. A march was organised to the village entrance to receive the body and people carried black flags. After an hour the body arrived and the people raised loud slogans and carried it through the village to the church. Many women were crying and then I saw that Sagayam's daughter had passed out from unbearable grief. About 12 priests completed the last rites and the body was then taken to the graveyard.

By 9 pm the ceremony was completed and having no other mode of transport I requested the Headlines Today crew to drop me to my room. They obliged and en route they told me that the ex-CM of Kerala, VS Achuthanandan, would be arriving soon to support the people.

Though everything seems very peaceful in the village as of now, one has to walk through the empty village lanes to feel the tension. Everyone here is waiting to see what happens next. So am I.

 

Ali Abbas is covering the ground realities of the anti-nuclear protests in Koodankulam. All images have been taken by Ali Abbas.