Leaping Into Death
17 September, 2012
Chellamma celebrated and felt the touch of waves and sun that day as the whole village took to the sea in a mighty protest against the death knell being rung loud by the KKNPP. The other day the bells of the Lourde Mary Church in Idinthakarai also rang in unison for the struggle of people to come to a fruition.
Chellamma remembered her childhood when as the only sister of 3 brothers, she would sit on the shore of the clean beach and watch the boats come and go. There were no stone pathways ( Pulimuttu) into the sea then and no yellow domes looming nearby. Growing up was not an effort. Marrying into the same village, she also cherished the memory of when illicit liquor brewing was eradicated in the village by the women, including her mother and aunts- how this helped wipe away the tears and fears of many women. The streets of the village leading to the sea was the familiar landscape through which Chellamma walks peacefully home every day.
Life was really tranquil, a bit of it still reflecting on her clear face. . Till the yellow domes started appearing as a concept. Promises of jobs came in which attracted some. There were reports of much land being take away in Koodankulam village with little or no compensation. She knew that the march in 1988 to Kanyakumari had to do with the coming up of this new development. The injuries that the bullet created in a villager stands testimony to the first questions that were raised against this. Later the name of the development got known- the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant. Little did she know this would ring the real death knell in her house too.
“ For us this sand is precious, said Chellamma picking up a handful of sand in the Samara Pandal.
This place , the wind and waves, the sun and heat are sacred. We will not let go of this. Is it the Government who made this? It is ours and we want to live and die here”
When asked why she disapproves of the Nuclear power plant, the usually sing song soft voice of Chellamma turns a bit hard:
“Because of what it does to the woman’s bodies. We know that this will make our wombs unfit for growing a healthy baby. Will we be able to give birth to deformed babies? Can we bring them up with our tears? Is it not better we do not give birth to such babies?”
The day passed. Chellamma came back from home refreshed and all set for another day in the pandal. Her clear face and clearer thoughts made one want to share thoughts with her.
“ My whole family is with me.My brothers are fishermen.But they give a lot of time for this. They tell me too that we should be here till the Anu ulai closes.”
She wondered about the future of the place. This was mid August 2012.
“ We do not want money. We are not orphans. As long as you have health and your spine and limbs are fine, nothing can scare you. Can we let the ocean die? Can we let this land where we were born die? Does this belong to the Government? Only we have the right to live here. We are asking only for the right to live and is it so impossible a wish?”
A month after, when in Idinthakarai again for the innovative Jala samarpan day ( Sept 12th) my eyes searched for Chellamma and her quiet wisdom. But I did not see her. Maybe she has gone home to bathe and wash. We took leave that evening from the villages, our minds heavy with the news that Sahayam, a 35 year old fisherman who was shocked out of balance by the Coast Guard Aircraft was battling with life. Whose father, husband, brother, son and friend would he be? Who all would lament his passing away at so young an age for no fault of his? The day darkened over the windmills and the red lights of the KKNPP started shimmering and flashing.
The next day brought pictures of Sahayam’s family with grieving relatives. And in its midst I saw Chellamma beating her chest and crying. Why is she there lamenting along with Sahayam’s family? Whom does one ask in this time of crisis/ Or am I mistaken. Assailed by these fears, I travelled the next day again. And then the ordeal of going to the house of the deceased. Beyond the Pillai ar temple through the charactertistic alleys of the coastal hamet, my feet refused to move fast. I was afraid to face Chellamma. I asked Melrit in whispers on the what “ What is Sahayam’s wife’s name?” Dreading to hear the familiar name and description , I was ashamed to be relieved that it was not Chellamma. But then as we drew close, I heard her crying out loud “ Oh God, why do this?”
Sitting next to her on the sand, holding her dehydrated body, I heard her whimper “
I played so much in the sea that day. Look at these children – they too were in the waters the whole day. Would I have played so and laughed loud if I had known that in a few hours I would cry like this?”
The group of women from Kerala sang their soothing prayers.
“God, little did I know that while I played and leaped , my brother, my own blood and flesh was next to me bleeding. Leaping to death”
We did hear that someone had fallen and was being rushed to the hospital. How will I forgive myself? Now I have only all of you as brothers and sisters. These young children have only you as caretakers. We are orphans”
Next to her sat the mother of Sahayam,her grief pouring gently through the wrinkled cheeks.
96 hours have passed since Sahayam’s life ebbed out of his young and healthy heart. 96 hours of incessant lament and tears for Chellamma, his wife, mother and children. 96 hours of no food and water, no bath or sleep. How many more hours to pass before they bring his lifeless form here asks many as they sit watching his picture and that of the one who lost his life near Manapad.
What a price to pay for India’s Nuclear Industry to flourish alleging that some foreign funded external agency is working with these people and spreading rumours and fears! Why then is the system cordoning them off with police and barricades on land, with coast guard ships and patrolling vehicles in the sea and old and dilapidated aircraft from the skies? If they are poor and misled folks, why fear them and control them with tear gas and rifles , with lathis and verbal abuses? Why chase an unarmed crowd caught unawares on the sand with arms and threats? Why not dialogue with them and answer their demands and requests? Sahayam would soon be an insignificant number in the statistical records- “one die as people stand in the sea protesting against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant” . But for Chellamma, he would be a dear brother, his mother a son, his kids a loving father and for his wife a caring husband. What a price to pay for a Nuclear Industry that adds to India’s GDP?
Conversations with Chellamma-
Aug 15th, Sept 4,5 ,Sept 16th 2012
Recording of Chellamma’s perceptions in “Daughters of the Sea- Voices from Koodankulam /” Satish.K and Anitha.S on www. dianuke.org.
Update from PMANE
The dead body of 42 year old Sahayam Francis, who died of shock when the Indian Coastal Guards flew the plane at a very low altitude, was brought to Idinthakarai after the procession through some of the coastal villages on Monday evening. At 6.20pm, the Sahayam's body was taken on a procession throughout the village and was kept at St Lourdes Matha Church premises. The entire village gathered at the church for the mass led by Bishop Evan Ambrose Peter, after which his body was buried. Nearly 10 parish priests from different coastal villages were present during the mass.
After the mass, people gathered there took an oath to stop commissioning of Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project.
Images from Sahayam's funeral taken by
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