Saraswati Kavula

Saraswati Kavula is a Filmmaker-Activist and Farmer. She is also the Joint Convener, National Alliance of People’s Movements, Andhra Pradesh Chapter.

A version of this article was published in Telugu Daily “Andhra Jyothi” -on 25th March 2012.

Another recent article by Saraswati – Combating the Nuclear Lobby in India – can be accessed here.

Like the philosophers say, we, the people of India, are surrounded by “Maya” – an illusion: and that illusion today is Democracy. Under this illusion we think, we the people are the ones who decide who “rules” us, we think innocently too that ‘we the people” are the decision makers, king makers. In our sad state of minds, we think that this great country has a democracy – that is “by the people, for the people, of the people’ – meaning the people are supreme. However, the Indian voter is supreme only till such time; he trudges to the electoral booth and makes his thumb print. In many a places, even that is a mere illusion, for the ones who have the ‘muscle power” will decide who wins – voting themselves to power. Then there is this greater illusion that is created – with money, liquor, sarees, kumkum boxes – that this entire exercise is a celebration of people’s power – no wonder then that our election jamborees are called, “election festivals” in some parts of the country.

Thence, the so called “elected representatives” of the people, thus “elected” to power, with promises like supplying of TV sets, surely keep their promises of “providing every house with a TV set”. So, that they may numb people’s minds with the constant bombarding of mind numbing, programs. Is it any wonder then that people, who think they have “elected” their leaders, finally have to “bite the bullet” literally, when it actually comes to asserting their democratic and human rights?

What has happened in Tamil Nadu, yesterday, is the greatest example of this illusion called “Indian democracy”. Purichchi Talaivi, Amma as she is fondly called, has finally decided that the Koodankulam Nuclear Plant is absolutely safe and has also stated that the local people’s fears have been allayed as far as the safety of the plant was concerned. Wonder, then why does she need a battalion of 3000 strong police force, to start the plant, or that the people who were peacefully protesting all these days have to be slapped with sedition cases? And then she adds that she is going to spend 500 crores for the development of Tirunelvelli district. Perhaps, that is the reserve fund for the treatment of the local people from cancers, failed organs, genetic mutations and other ailments which will surely follow in the near future once the plant starts operating. At least their situation is better than the people living near Kalpakkam, who are suffering silently – from cancers, genetic mutations and organ failures to name a few. No body made a promise of 500 crores to these people when Kalpakkam plant started. Like everywhere else, they were made a promise – of “progress, development and of course were told they were doing that in the interest of the nation”.

When I was discussing about the issue of Koodankulam with a friend, he said, that these plants were necessary for development of the economy. So, when I pointed out, about the impacts that the local people will have to face – his take was, “the local people must be told about the effects, and that their sacrifice is needed in the interest of the nation. And then with their consent, the plant should be started”. He too is under an illusion, that the powers that be will be “honest” with the public. The blatant lies that the Nuclear Industry across the world has been telling people, and the way our dear DAE has been convincing us about Atoms for Peace, is missed by the millions of “educated” Indians. Wonder how many of them will agree to “sacrifice” for the sake of the nation – “if they are told the truth about radiation effects” and if they come to know that their own children could be born with radiation impacted diseases?

But as I said, in this Great Indian Maya, we continue to allude ourselves that by saying, “all is well”, “all will be well”. Alas, radioactive elements and nature do not work according to the script unlike a bollywood movie. Therefore, while “we the people” used to happy endings, in our escapist movies, keep thinking, that “Indian Nuclear Industry” has had no accident till now, hence, the best in the world, there are ugly facts, that are hidden by the “make up” provided by the DAE and their likes. In case of Nuclear, there is no “happily ever after” situation – as till date not a single country has been able to figure out how to dispose off the tons of high level radioactive Nuclear waste, lying near the 435 nuclear power plants, and where low level radioactive poisons are routinely being released into the atmosphere and dumped into our oceans and seas. But, smug with our latest “illusion” about India becoming a “superpower”, our middle class thinks that there can be accidents in highly technologically advanced nations like Japan, USA, or Russia but it can Never happen in India!

Our Prime Minister thinks that making a loss of 1, 76, 000 crores to the national exchequer by his minister, is not a good enough case to prosecute him. Yet, he thinks that the people of the country, in whose interest he is supposed to work, for whose sake he should have taken a decision that would protect the current and future generations, feel the people of kudankulam are working against “national interest”. Hence, cases of sedition and conspiracy cases are being slapped. And his spin of “Maya” continues that the protesters have a vested interest, and have taken money from American NGOs! So, our dear Prime Minister, who incidentally never got “elected”, had been under the ‘illusion” that he was working in the “interest” of the nation, when he brushed aside the concerns of the Parliament and the entire country and signed the Indo-US nuclear deal. It’s another matter, that another deal helped him keep his “kursi” post the Indo-US nuclear deal. So, in this game of musical chairs and magic numbers, where anyone can come to power with the power of money, it is a wonder then that the “Indian people” who have been seeing this kind of tamasha for the last 6 decades, still believe in this great Indian Maya called, ‘Democracy”.

Accepting the Nuclear Liability Cap Bill according to the dictates of the Nuclear Powers and trying to pass it in the Parliament at any cost it self speaks of the “Sell out” to the Nuclear Lobby by the Prime Minister and his Government. However, today, he is trying to make us “believe” that all those who are standing up to save their lives, livelihoods and the lives of the future generations are doing anti-national activities. And ‘we, the thinking people’ believe him.

The claim that the “expert committee” has found the safety aspects absolutely up to the mark is another example of this “Maya”. The expert committee, is not an independent committee, and is headed by M.R. Srinivasan, a former chairperson of Atomic Energy Commission, and a very strong advocate of Nuclear Energy. So, is it any surprise that he would find the safety mechanisms of Koodankulam absolutely safe? That this is an absolutely new technology and not tested anywhere else in the world, and that this project got sanctioned, soon after and despite the accident of Chernobyl is another fact, that is not highlighted. The bigger question is who is telling us all these things: the state and the central governments and the ‘experts’ who work under the Department of Atomic Energy, which is directly controlled by the Prime Minister. So, how should we believe this Committee? But we must. Because this is the great Indian Maya!

So, our leaders, our bureaucrats, technocrats – all are trying to put us under this “maya’ or illusion, that come what may, Nuclear Industry in India is absolutely incident free and has a spotless record. While just in December 2009, 95 people have been affected by radiation impacts due to contamination of the drinking water with tritium at Kaigah NPP. The authorities dismissed that as “human mischief”. A flooding that occurred in 1994 in Kakrapar Nuclear Power Plant, contaminated the nearby lake with radioactive elements, as the dam of the pond where the spent fuel is cooled, was breached. When I was in Kakrapar in 2010, the local people told me, “don’t go in there, that water has radiation”. But there was no warning sign announcing of the danger. This water flows on under a bridge and joins a stream. And here people are fishing and even bathing in that water. When asked if they knew that it was dangerous, the villagers replied, “Well no one told us that we should not use this water. The NPCIL always comes and takes samples, but never tells us the results. But, we do see occurrence of strange diseases in our village. Just a few days ago, four people died”.

So, the easiest way to maintain that ‘all is well’ is to not divulge any information at all to the public. And then say, “Indian Nuclear Industry” has a spotless record. And later on say, “we have allayed the fears of the people’ and then use 3000 strong police and military force, to “convince” the protesters that “all is well”. Thus, today, the great Indian public – (not the people of Koodankulam), believe that Nuclear is absolutely safe. And we shall continue to live under this “illusion” or “Maya” until another Fukushima could happen. Even then, I am not sure, once the 24 hour “breaking news” time is up, whether ‘we will realize the real dangers” of Nuclear radiation – that no body dies – immediately that is – only the death shall be slow and drawn out and painful and no one knows who will be next and shall haunt not one but hundreds of generations – creating a country of diseased people!

Saraswati Kavula

Jt.Convener, NAPM – AP Chapter