Anti-nuke protests turned violent after police fired tear gas shells to disperse the protesters who tried to lay siege to the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu. Around 4000 protesters, including children and women, marched towards the KNPP defying police on the coastline.
“Police started firing tear gas shells without provocation and many of our people jumped into the sea. Some of them are yet to report to the protest grounds. Situation remains tense in Koodankulam,” said Dr. SP Udayakumar, Coordinator of People Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) from his hide out. PMANE has been organising protests against KNPP over the past one year.
According to media persons, police surrounded the protest site on Monday morning and asked the protesters to disperse. “Soon some people had thrown sticks and sand on the advancing police party. Within few seconds, police started firing tear gas shells on the protesters and several people jumped into the sea,” said Pradip Pillai, a journalist with Times Now.
Policemen have also damaged cameras and threatened video journalists who were covering footage of police violence. Tension mounted in Koodankulam after 4000 villagers marched on the coastline to reach the KNPP’s backyard on Sunday defying prohibitory orders issued by the district administration. The anti-nuke protesters tricked the police by changing their route at the last minute opting to take the coastline to reach their venue of protest—500 meters away from the plant.
“When police sealed all entry points from Idinthakarai to Koodankulam, we decided to take the coastline and reached the point of protest. Police surrounded us in the morning and asked us to return to our villages. But we told them that we would return only if the chief minister gives us an assurance that plant would not be commissioned,” said Pillai.
Then they used tear gas to disperse us,” said Melred, a housewife, leading protests against the plant. According to her, police also tried to arrest PMANE leaders Udayakumar, Victoria Pushparayan and Jesudas. However, Udayakumar said that despite hurdles, PMANE would continue its protests for ever.
“It’s a do or die battle for us. We have been protesting against the nuke plant peacefully. If the police are trying to crush our protests, we will use all available means to continue to stage our protests. Now they have decided to upload the fuel in the plant and are going to commission the plant without mandatory requirements,” said Udayakumar. On September 6, the villagers met at Loude Matha Church, Idinthakarai, and decided to march towards the power plant, which is located 4 km away from the village to register their protest against fuel loading before commissioning the project.
“We started from the church premises at 11 am after offering prayers. Around 6000 protesters comprising young children in the front, followed by women and men joined the march. Police sealed all the main roads and we walked along the coast and reached the backyard of the plant,” Udayakumar revealed. As their march was halted, the agitators sat on the shore, shouting slogans against the KNPP and the state and Central governments.
Dr. Selvaraj, district collector of Tirunelveli and Vijayendra S. Bidari, police superintendent, tried to pacify them but the protesters were not ready to obey their orders to disperse from the spot. Later Rajesh Das, inspector General of Police South Zone, also attempted to pacify the agitators, but talks failed as the protesters stuck to their stand. The police could not arrest PMANE leaders as they were surrounded by children and women.
Fisherman killed in police firing at Tutucorin
A fisherman succumbed to injuries sustained when police fired at anti-nuke protesters as they marched to the armed police camp in Tutucorin. Police identified the victim as 40-year-old fisherman Anthony Sami. The protests turned violent in the evening when the cops fired tear gas shells to disperse the mob at Koodankulam. Later, the crowd blocked rail and road traffic in protest against police action. The anti-KNPP stir spread to neighbouring villages after the police dispersed the mob near the nuclear plant. Several organisations staged protests against police action in different parts of Tamil Nadu.
According to sources, Chief Minister J Jayalaithaa convened a meeting of senior police officials in Chennai and directed them to use force with caution.
Delhi groups send memorandum to Jayalalithaa condemning violence
Civil society activists in Delhi on Monday demonstrated in front of the Tamil Nadu house at Chanakyapuri, protesting the police brutality on the Koodankulam villagers, who were attacked for demonstrating against the soon to be operational nuclear plant. Members of National Alliance for People’s Movement (NAPM) and Delhi Solidarity Group sent a memorandum to Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa asking her to look into the police atrocities, which left one dead on Monday evening.
“It’s nonsensical to operate a 2000 MW nuclear plant where there are wind mills generating 6000 MW of power,” said Praful Bidwai, political analyst and activist. Bidwai who was one of the jury at the first public hearing on nuclear power in India has criticised Monday’s police attack. “It’s sad that today’s protest by the children and women are being dealt with such undemocratic manner.”