India is the largest democracy in the world, but the events that took place in Kudankulam in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu starting September 10, 2012 makes one wonder if this is true. Not the largest part but if we really are a democracy.
People in this coastal town have been protesting against India's largest nuclear power plant being built in their backyard for over a year now. Amazingly, the protests first began in 1988 but the government was hell bent on completing the project ignoring the local people’s concerns.
On September 10, a large number of protesters mostly from the fishing community had gathered near the nuclear plant to demonstrate peacefully against the loading of enriched uranium fuel in the plant. The police action to disperse these peaceful protesters was extremely violent and unnecessary. They fired teargas shells and lathi-charged thousands of protestors, who were forced to jump into the sea to protect themselves. Many were injured, including women and children while several people were arrested. In the neighboring Tuticorin district one man was killed by police firing.
14 September 2012
Stock Image - Kudankulam protest © Amirtharaj Stephen / Greenpeace
Greenpeace condemns the continuous crackdown and use of force by the government of Tamil Nadu on the anti-nuclear protesters and stands in solidarity with the people of Kudankulam and their struggle for justice. They have a democratic right to protest against the nuclear project considering they are the ones who will be most affected if there is a nuclear catastrophe.
Greenpeace has issued a public statement condemning the attack on the protestors and is calling on the Tamil Nadu government to refrain from using force and to decide on its nuclear ambitions based on public opinion and consensus among all stakeholders. Greenpeace campaigner, Karuna raina, said. “The commissioning of a nuclear power plant should not happen without consensus with the stakeholders. In the case of Kudankulam, local villages are the biggest stakeholders. Seventeen safety measures recommended by the atomic energy regulator are still to be implemented and yet, the government is hell bent on starting the plant. Since the power plant is in their backyard, the peoples’ fears needs to be addressed, their consent is required.”
The state increased police presence before the commissioning of the 2,000 megawatt nuclear plant. The plant was expected to be commissioned late last year but was delayed due to protests. The Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan following the earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011 intensified the fear of the locals. The local expert committee is concerned that Kudankulam is prone to tsunamis as well and no proper research has been carried out to assess the geological features of the site either.
The protestors are now seeking Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to intervene in the matter and address the concerns raised by them before the plant is commissioned. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa had supported the struggle earlier by halting construction work until all the concerns are addressed. However, due to pressure from the center, she had to backtrack and allow the work to proceed.
Now the police have decided to go after the local leaders of the protests in Kudankulam and has promised to arrest them soon. If the state simply uses force to shut down any protest and does not allow citizens to voice their opinion or hold a peaceful protest activity, can we still call ourselves a free country?
When excessive police action is used to quell a group of activists before they have a chance to air their concerns, one must question at whose behest is this happening, and for what reason? Raina concludes, “The government's crackdown will protect the profits and business interests of foreign companies instead of the rights of its own citizens.”