Rashmi Kohli

The anti-nuclear movement at Koodankulum has clearly exposed how mainstream media blanket rural-based people’s perspectives to favour the side of the nuclear establishment.

On March 15, a gathering of over 4,000 people met at Idinthakarai, a coastal village ranging from 1-4 kilometres away from the controversial Koodankulam nuclear power plant depending upon where your house is. They joined over a hundred hunger strikers who sat serenely and watched a rally of protest, song and speeches throughout the day. This is the third of such large-scale movements since the Fukushima-Daiichi disaster, and it seems that the national government and media have turned a blind eye to it.

At the rally, Professor Achin Vanaik from Delhi University talked about the need to deepen democracy. Ex-Bombay High Court judge, Justice Patil, declared that he was ‘a fighter, social worker and with the toiling masses’. Having already gone to jail over people’s resistance against Jaitapur nuclear power plant construction in December 2010, he encouraged them not to be afraid of imprisonment. This is a message that has rung home, as thousands of fishermen and their families prepare themselves for a siege at the gates to the plant should the reactors be recommissioned. This comes no doubt with the prospect of police harassment, jail and even death. When the alternative is an uncertain and slow death due to increased radiation in the environment, death has no teeth. Jaya, a fish purchaser, said: ‘If need be, I am ready to die. I have already arranged for my wife to look after the house’.

But such words do not appear in the media.

The prospect of slow or fast deaths is accompanied by an invigorated sense of hope – where solidarity against the nuclear reactors is demonstrated in its thousands, and is a force to be reckoned with. The message is peace and the method, non-violence. Drawing upon a history of anti-colonial resistance, former teacher, S.P. Udayakumar and former priest, M. Pushparayan have led from the front, militantly plotting their strategies and activities against the opacity and anti-democratic conduct of the nuclear state.

On the whole, mainstream media has either overlooked or distorted these many voices, kneeling to the high-handed authorities of the nuclear establishment. The government is not in dialogue mode even though a delegation from the region had met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in September 2011. In between there were two meetings with Chief Minister Jayalalithaa. Consequently, the state government passed a resolution that construction should stop at the site, whereas the outcome of the meeting with Manmohan Singh was filled with twists and turns. First, the Congress-led government promised that work would stop followed by a consultation with people. It was declared by the delegation to the media in a press conference. But on that very evening, the Prime Minister’s brief declared that plant construction would stop but maintenance would continue. Maintenance of a non-functioning nuclear reactor implies either a bankrupt idea or a veil behind which to continue constructing in a heavily securitised area. Anyone outside the boundaries would be none the wiser. The promise about a people’s consultation was altered to ‘convincing people and allay their fears’ – more propaganda, more of the same. Instead of a people’s consultation, a government’s committee was formed of 15 members including mainly Department for Atomic Energy officials and one medical expert from TATA Institute (another DAE funded project).

A people’s expert committee consisting of 24 members was formed as a response to the fact that the government would not included independent experts. 50 documents were requested pertaining to health and environmental impact, safety, impacts on livelihood and nuclear liability. But even this was refused by the government. A mock dialogue proceeded between the two committees which led to a 38 page report in which it was claimed were answers to all the queries. The document was in effect diversionary hogwash which did not address any of the concerns.

Meanwhile, the government is charging all 125 members of the people’s expert committee with allegations of sedition (Section 124-A). This was the same section that was put up against Mahatma Gandhi by the colonial government . As writer-activist, P.K. Sundaram, reflected: ‘This is not the way a democratic government should engage its people. With an open hand they open an invitation to consult with the people. With the other hand, they put up sedition charges against the church and the people’.

Mainstream media went on the offensive to declare all the protestors as ‘anti-national church people’. The Tamil newspaper Dinamalla even went as far as to publish the names and phone numbers of 3 of the protestors who continue to have death threats issued to them by phone. The three charged wrote to them with a complaint and the newspaper apologised. But the damage had already been done.

The BJP have consistently dismissed the protestors as ‘Christian fisher folk’ –postcolonial converts and therefore not central to the ideas about an authentic Hindu nation. They have little idea of how the anti-nuclear struggle has drawn people from all ranks including Hindus – farmers, service personnel, professionals and intellectuals. Nor do they have any sense of India’s history where Christianity actually reached the subcontinent by the 4th century AD and perhaps even earlier if legends about the journeys of the apostle Thomas and his followers are to be believed. This makes Christianity more a Middle Eastern and Indian religion than European where it travelled centuries later.
After Hindu published a 2 page article by Abdul Kalam filled with factual errors and erratic 2020 ambitions for India assuming that Indian would have enough potential for consumption. Shankar Sharma, E.A.S. Sharma, Dr A.P. Parmeshwar and Admiral Ramdas sent corrective articles to the newspaper. These were systematically ignored. It is just another indication of how leading newspapers kow-tow to the well-funded nuclear authorities. Instead, they write loaded editorials against individuals as well as people’s collectives.

S.P. Udayakumar said: ‘There’s no fair space for any media discussion on nuclear issues’. Even the domain of alternative energy is being co-opted by ex-nuclear officials. Former DAE chief, Anil Kakodkar, for instance, has been made chief of Solar Missions in December 2011, a committee constituted by the government for promoting solar energy. This is despite the fact that Kakodkar had previously said that there is little potential for solar energy to meet India’s massively inflated energy needs.

The people in south India have been portrayed as ‘Luddites’. But they want development, sustainable development, one that is based on people’s terms rather than those that promote corporate, multinational deals and state kickbacks where the nuclear authorities are the darlings of statehood held beyond criticism. This arrogance translates itself not just to a blanking of opinion of people but their downright oppression and muzzling with threats of intimidation.

With the media turning a blind eye to people’s voices and legitimate concerns, they have played the lily-livered and feeble Dhritarashtra to the Kauravas nuclear family.