Koodankulan And Democracy: People Vs State
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat
05 June, 2012
Democracy is a strange contradiction. At the one hand it provide us the legitimate government even if it is elected on minority votes and the other side it is used displace people who do not matter much for the state in the name of ‘national interest’. Any protest against such ‘national interest’ is brutally suppressed. That apart, the governments are using media and other social networks to malign such movements where people have stood up against a certain project which the government consider absolutely important for the growth the country.
As a nation which need growth and development too but at what cost. Our policy makers also need to listen to people’s voices and understand what they are demanding. Why the peaceful protests are turning violent? The fact of the matter is that Indian state has rarely listened to democratic voices. It only wakes up when the peaceful protest turned violent as the state try to not only bulldoze them but completely destroy them.
The protest against Nuclear Power Plant in Koodankulan has been building up for years but there was no attempt by the authorities to understand them. But government only woke up when over ten thousand villagers including school going children and old people protested peacefully on the project site. For days, the government authorities could not go inside the project area and government feared any police action would widely damage its international image. Hence it used all its tricks to foil the movement. It tried to divide the people on one hand and the other side carefully orchestrated a campaign in the media that the entire anti nuclear projects are American Funded. In fact, it was shocking to see the Prime Minister of India jumping in the entire exercise and blaming the US donor agencies for spreading campaign against the Koodankulan Nuclear Power Plant. It would have been better for the prime minister to lodge a protest to the US government if such a thing has happened. Unfortunately, the government did not do so.
Now, the authorities in Tamilnadu are working on various fronts to foil the movement and defame it. The state government has filed criminal cases against the leaders of the movement and hundreds others. Movement leaders have been asked to surrender their passport. Dr S.P.Udayakumar who was teaching at Minnesota in the United States and returned to India in around 2000 is facing persecution by the authorities. Udaya is a strong voice against communalism and nuclearisation process. He could have stayed in the US with his lucrative job but came back to India and settled in Nagarcoil at his parents place. He started school for children as well as provided coaching for civil services to numerous students. His parents have been threatened with dire consequences and his movement is being monitored by the state intelligence.
People in the Koodankulan Nuclear Power Plant area have been opposing the said project for years. They knew that it will damage their livelihood and ecology. The beautiful coastal line in the entire region is damaged. The fisher folk are facing complete threat to their lives as their fish catch is completely reduced and fishing has become life threatening due to the building of nuclear power plant. They have to go for deep sea fishing now which push them to unknown territory including crossing over to Sri Lankan territory. The repercussions are very high as they are caught in the inter country disputes and face punishment for the same. The Sri Lankan activists, however, blame Indian fishermen for fishing against the international norms which has resulted in loss of sea produce in India now therefore compelling them to cross over to Sri Lankan side which would definitely not be acceptable to that country
During my visit to the region along with the movement leader Dr S.P.Udayakumar, I asked many fisher folks as why are they opposing this ‘nuclear plant’ which is of great ‘national importance’ of us. They laughed at me and said how many of our political leaders are ready to ‘die’ for the ‘nation’. Why should the ‘national interest’ mean snatching livelihood of tribal, fisher folks and Dalits. How can you serve any ‘national interest’ by killing your own people and destroying the beautiful coastal belt of Kanyakumari.
The fact is that we are heading for an ecological disaster. This region faced the worst crisis during the Tsunami along with Sri Lanka. Obviously, after the Fukishama disaster, a new debate has started internationally about the nuclear safety. Memories of Chernobyl disaster in Russia and Fukishama nuclear plant in Japan are alive in our heart. Indians have not forgotten the Bhopal Gas disaster in 1984 which may not be called a nuclear disaster but can be included in the similar category. In the Koodankulan area, the sand mafia has been operating against the people. Many of these places were out of bound for local people.
The issue is whether Koodankulan’s peaceful stir against nuclear power plant pricked the conscience of the nation? It does not seem to have done so. The problem with the Indian people is that there is a rat race here, a herd mentality. It takes long for people to understand. Their minds do not really work independently. For those living in their ‘glass houses’, far away from these projected sites, the protest is against our ‘national interest’. They would not feel why the government does not speak to them. Why have the children come to the street? Why do the authorities always come with the idea of ‘foreign’ interference? Does government think that such a big movement can be purchased by the Americans or Europeans that easily? If that is so then what is the government doing? If money can buy everything can’t our governments do the same? Why don’t they listen to people or even ‘purchase’ them as they might have lot of middlemen in the region. The government however will not say why Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State is meeting the State Chief Ministers and talking about investment? Is not that a violation of our federal structure? Is not an interference with the internal matter of India when she goes to meet Jaya and Mamata in their respective states without informing the centre about it?
Such innuendos are insulting for the people who are fighting to live a dignified life. A nationalist would never allow his environment, his rivers, his coast, forest and water resources to die. A nation is not just a geographical entity. It cannot be a nation if there are no people. No nation can be happy if its people are unhappy. And a nation is not just its power elite. Indian nation is build by its farmers, workers, fisher folks, tribal, Dalits and many more working masses. You cannot build it by destroying their livelihood and denigrating their protest. It is time we realize that ‘national interest’ cannot be bigger than the ‘people’s interest’. The government must listen to people’s voices for their rights and act accordingly.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at www.manukhsi.blogspot.com
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