Rashmi Kohli

The recent FIR (First Information Report) against Peoples Movement Against Nuclear Energy activists and allegations of their attempt to murder a panchayat (village council) leader is a charge that is sure to boomerang. It is further proof as to how hell-bent the Indian state is to gag and, in the long run, itself murder local populations around the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant.

Well-founded scientific studies have all revealed that in the space of a couple of decades health problems – among them leukaemia – have increased amongst residents around a nuclear reactor, particularly amongst young children amongst whom incidents are at least double those living away from nuclear sites. These detrimental effects on health would be in the normal course of running a nuclear power plant, and in the case of Koodankulam, about 1.5 million people are within the range of high radionucleide emissions.

Should something unpredictable occur – an accident perhaps due to human error, or terrorism, a tsunami, earthquake or other geological problems as has been noted by the independent expert committee of scientific experts – then the case for murder is even more pressing. The Nuclear Liability Bill has no legs to stand on in terms of protecting and adequately compensating civilian populations who may be affected.

It is only a question of time when a major nuclear calamity would happen in India.It has happened in virtually every other country with nuclear facilities, so what makes India think it has a special clearance from adversities?

In 1976, Dr Patrick Moore had written in his report, Assault on Future Generations: ‘Nuclear power plants are, next to nuclear warheads themselves, the most dangerous devices that man has ever created. Their construction and proliferation is the most irresponsible, in fact the most criminal act ever to have taken place on this planet’.

Describing them as ‘slow atomic bombs’ and at the rate of India’s nuclear expansion, one is bound to go off sooner or later. There has been at least one major nuclear disaster every decade since the 1960s. India’s oldest nuclear energy reactors at Tarapur in Maharashtra are over 40 years old. Instead of decommissioning the two reactors, the 30 year shelf life rule of a nuclear reactor has been expanded now up until 50 years. Meanwhile, the Tarapur reactors routinely contaminate the environment.

Would criminal cases have to be filed after a nuclear genocide? And who would be in a position to do so? The links between cause and effect are in fact less hypothetical than the murder charges made by the Police against Dr S.P. Udayakumar, Pushparayan and M.P. Jesuraj, all peaceful and upstanding citizens, respected far and wide for their bold stance against one of the most powerful enclaves of the Indian state who consistently escape accountability.

The nuclear authorities hold themselves as so sacrosanct that they want to place themselves as outside of the remit of the Rights to Information Act. It is this ‘special pleading’ that acts as a major obstacle to the compilation of an effective FIR against them.

Already, mishaps have occurred in and around nuclear facilities that have been hushed with the help of the Official Secrets Act. From the work of V.T. Padmanabhan, Dr Ramesh and V Pugazhendi, amongst others, we know that the Department of Atomic Energy commission and compile reports on radiation-related health problems in and around nuclear sites as well as regions of high background radiation in India. However, these reports are either not made available to the public even if it is in their interest; or if they are, they are skewered to make the health problems such as proportionately high incidents of cancer and auto-immune thyroidism appear ‘normal’. This is science to the tune of a nuclear oligarchy.

In the post-Cold War era, civilians in the USA have successfully sued nuclear authorities for radioactive contamination that have impaired their health, albeit decades later. But do Indian civilians stand a chance? If they do, it would only be in merry hell.

The foul cry of murder against PMANE peace activists comes in a long line of other accusations: foreign agents, terrorists and Naxalites. You can wager that this is not the end of the nuclear state’s campaign to lasso outspoken critics.

Whilst anti-nuclear protesters routinely have their characters assassinated, pro-nuclear advocates are lit up with energy-consuming aureoles. The dominant image of nuclear officials is the slick-haired (if any) clean-shaven, middle class and educated family man. They talk well and they mean business. They are aggrandised with the general respect that accrues to a highly educated and scientifically talented clique which is propelling the country further into the third millennium, outpacing some other countries even in the west.

It has to be said the nuclear authorities have an excellent PR machinery. Its shining star is Dr APJ Abdul Kalam who sweet talks about children and young people, whilst supporting the development of some of the most dangerous technologies known to humanity. They have done very well in keeping away from charges of corruption and wrong-doing that has affected virtually every other public institution in India. This is not so much because they are necessarily squeaky clean; it’s just that not much gets out about what they actually do as there are shrouded in mystery protected by the mantle of national security. The net effect in the public domain is that they are brighter than white, cleaner than a hound’s tooth, so much so that not even dog excrement would stick to their immaculately polished shoes.

What the fate of people at Koodankulam amongst others has revealed is how two-faced they too can be. Dr Jekylls do not come without some very heinous Mr Hydes. They may not manifest in the same person, but there is a wide and labyrinthine network where one end does the dirty work for those at the other who prefer to keep their hands and image clean. We can only hope that the judiciary can stand apart from this nefarious and nepotistic nuclearism, even though they too become compromised when they have to turn to nuclear authorities for ‘expert opinion’ when this is required on a scientific matter.

The Police cannot get at those PMANE activists that have been charged with case after case due to the 10-15,000 strong throng that stops incursions into Idnithikarai, the village in which PMANE activists are based, in order to arrest them for ‘sedition’, ‘war against the state’ or anything else that they have managed to cook up. The latest mudslinging of murder is about to make the total number of charges against peace activist, Udayakumar, hit a century.

It’s not only the state apparatus which has supported the nuclear authorities. There is evidence to suggest that, like with any crooked politician, goondaism (gangsterism) also accompanies strategies to intimidate anti-nuclear protesters. It is not a coincidence that Udayakumar’s wife, Meera’s school for underprivileged South Asian Centre for Community Education was vandalised in March 2012. There were goonde who descended upon an anti-nuclear march and beat up men and women a couple of months earlier in January. PMANE representatives including twenty women were attacked by hired thugs including local Congress leaders near the Tirunelveli District Collectorate on their way to attend talks with the Central Government Expert Panel. The women who tried to shield the PMANE representatives were hospitalised. These events are among several where coincidences between nuclear oppression and goondaism are more than just coincidences. But the Police do not even give such warranted concerns against nuclear goondhaism a hearing.

More generally, psychological violence on people who support the anti-nuclear movement means that critics live in fear that they, their families and/or their properties may also be targeted. Their phones, email accounts and physical movements are monitored as if they were working for the Al Qaeda when they are in fact patriotic people and the last thing they would pursue is violence, murder or insurrection. Their only alleged crime is to say that we cannot live with the militarisation and nuclearisation of society.

Murder is a serious charge. And so is the Indian state’s unrelenting harassment of activists and, in the end, the murder of innocents.