The otherwise subservient womenfolk of Koodankulam were the strength behind the movement against the government, finds  Jeemon Jacob in Tehelka

 

Villagers, especially women, came to join the protests in droves Photo: Rajesh

The men in and around coastal villages of Koodankulam in Tamil Nadu always believed that they were the ones in control and never spared a thought to the contribution that their women make. Yes, you call that patriarchy. The men happily went about their daily activities, dominating the economic sphere, leaving the women in charge of home and hearth. However, the recently concluded protests against the Koodankulam nuclear plant has changed the traditional scene. Not only did the women dominate the protests but also reduced the role of men in the event to a bare minimum.

The men, mostly fisher folk, slowly woke up to the active role that the women have been playing in the activism. “Koodankulam protests have given a new space to the women to air their views and concerns and be socially active,” said Sahayam Raj, a local businessman, who participated in the 12-day long hunger strike. “Look at the crowd, women outnumber men in the agitation,” he added with a grin.

Forty-five-year-old Raj feels that the protests have transformed the women in the coastal villages. “They have become bold, fearless and assertive. It’s a fast transformation,” he revealed. However, Raj is just not talking about the alteration women in his hamlet underwent. He confesses that participating in the agitation has changed him too. “I used to take Rs 200 worth of alcohol every day. I’ve not touched liquor over the last 12 days. I’ve saved Rs 2400 that I’ve donated to the movement,” he announced with pride.

J Anton (28) reveals that the anti-nuclear movement has not only liberated women in the village but also has brought about prominent behavioural among the men. “Earlier domestic violence was part of our daily lives. After a few pegs, the fishermen enjoyed beating their wives. But now it’s only a rare happening,” said Anton.

Selvam Moni has something interesting to share about the transformation within her family and in her husband after she joined the protests. “We have been married for more than 13 years. He has never cooked or cleaned my house. But he started cooking and doing all household duties after I joined the indefinite hunger strike. It really surprised me,” a beaming Moni said.

Moni’s victorious smile tells a long story of gender bias in the coastal areas of South India where men are a preferred lot. “Just five years ago, we could not think of our women coming out of houses and joining the protest with men. But now they have learnt the art of struggle. Because the nuclear plant is a real threat just 500 meters away. Now, our day begins by looking at the plant, which is going to kill us and our night ends with the fear of losing our soil and water. In such a situation, men women and children have all joined to work in tandem,” said Joseph Lucas from the protest group.

Over the last two weeks, women in Idinthakarai and other villages have been very busy. They were involved in forming support groups in every village and organised neighbourhood meetings while their men were mobilising funds for the long struggle. The team leaders of women’s groups visited every house in the village and briefed all women about the strategy. They also handpicked 20 women to observe the protest fast.

“Our movement gathered momentum after women took active interest. Now it’s almost taken over by them,” commented Dr SP Udayakumar, Convener of People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy.

According to Udayakumar, active participation of women in the protests helped his team to control the mob with ease. “Normally the fishermen community doesn’t believe in non-violent form of agitation. By nature, they are inclined to violent protests. They are prone to become hyper-emotional and go on a rampage.

However, after the women insisted on non-violent struggle, the men agreed. “Women were holding the remote control of Koodankulam struggle,” said Udayakumar. With the anti-nuke protests in Koodankulam being almost successful in stalling work on the plant, the women have proved that they are not only good at being in charge of their homes but also are adept at shaking governments.