Kudankulam nuclear plant row: Protesters live under the shadow of sedition
Last month, Bernard Joseph was excited to fly to Saudi Arabia for a job and start a new phase in his life.
But the dreams of the 28-year-old came down crashing when he was told bluntly at Thiruvananthapuram’s international airport that his passport had been revoked. The reason: Six cases of sedition are pending against him.
He isn’t the only one. More than 6,000 of 10,000 inhabitants of southern Tamil Nadu’s Idinthakari village live in the shadow of sedition.
Many say their only crime was living in the epicentre of the massive popular protests against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant that rocked the region a few years ago.
Across the small fishing village, sedition charges have ravaged lives and many young people say their very livelihoods are in danger.
Young Cross Krishan (22) was refused a security clearance for a passport because he has eight cases of sedition against him.
He says he was apprehended from his college in Nagarcoil at the height of the movement in 2012.
Later he was thrown out of the college citing these cases, ending any aspirations of a formal career. He now follows his uncle every morning to the sea to catch fish.
There are at least 80 more people like him who are desperate to get the sedition charges dropped against them.
Many of them have made regular rounds of the courts for years and have no idea how long these cases will drag on. They say regular jaunts to courts and police stations have crippled their lives.
“At one point there were 40 cases against me. Some of them have been rejected citing want of evidence. I was recently told that two-dozen cases are still pending against me under Section 124 A and 121 of the IPC,” said Mildred Raj (44), a female leader of the PMANE (People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy).
She sits in a thatched pandal where a board is tucked in a corner saying the demonstrations against the power plant have completed 1,932 days.
Many are in the dark about the status of their cases.
“Two weeks ago a good proposal came from Tiruchendur for my son but they backed out after hearing he faces eight cases,” rued Komalam, another villager.
Police officials admit that the villagers are going through hell but say their hands are tied.
“We were told to book them under stringent provisions. It is for the government and the court to take a decision on these cases,” said a senior police officer.
But many police officers firmly believe that the agitation was funded by foreign agencies.
The Kudankulam project was the crown of Indo-Russian partnership that was first conceived in 1998 but ran into years of hurdle when the erstwhile Soviet Union collapsed.
Construction of the plant began in 2000, triggering a massive struggle in the area that many say was brutally suppressed over the past three years. Phase -two of the project was launched jointly by Russian President Putin and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in October.
“We were told the nuclear plant is supplying power to three states. But we hardly get eight to ten hours of power a day,” said Kishen.
He added that when the entire world was turning against nuclear projects, India was increasing its dependence on the energy.
“Throughout it was a peaceful movement. I don’t know how a Gandhian movement can become seditious like this,” said PMANE leader S P Udayakumar, a US-returned academic who has been leading the movement since its inception.
“At one point, I was facing 125 cases. I don’t know how many of them are remaining now,” said Udayakumar who unsuccessfully contested the last Lok Sabha election on Aam Adami Party ticket from Kanyakumari.