The two year old Trichy Central Prison for women wears an old colonial look. It houses more than 600 women charged with various acts of violence and law- breaking. But never would it have seen the like of the 7 women from Koodankulam. Since September 9, 2012 when the people from several villages like Idinthakarai, Koodankulam, Kootapulli and Kuthankuzhi got together to say No to the Nuclear Power Plant, there has been news about the struggle headed by the People’s movement against Nuclear Energy. As the name of the movement implies, this struggle is not just against one nuclear power plant. But it is for a world free from Nuclear Energy.
Through the two yellow painted closely welded grills and a corridor, Xavieramma looked with tear-filled eyes:
“We are here so that the world will not see any more nuclear power plants that are dangerous and uneconomic. When I was in Delhi for the Public Hearing on Nuclear Energy in August 2012, I saw that there are so many people in various parts of the country who are raising their protest. It is not just about losing their land and sea, but it is about the creation of spaces where life itself is in danger. Who would want to live in such places?”
Selvi looked with her bold straight gaze “ We have been here for over a month.We get charged with new cases every time we are taken to the Court. It is only after being part of the struggle that we realized that trying to establish one’s right to live as one wishes, pursuing traditional livelihoods and also questioning activities that are being implemented without consulting the people is equivalent to crime and sedition”
Sundari the most tired looking of the three gained energy and vigour once she started talking:
“ This is not about a personal vengeance or anger. We are here for a common cause- we are here for the world. So I do not feel sad or angry. I know that in the Samara pandal at Idinthakarai, all our sisters, children and brothers are keeping the torch of resistance ignited”
Briefly asking about their families- Sundari about her 2 small ones, Xavieramma about her aged mother, Selvi about her teenage son, the women immediately slipped back into accounts of the Porattam. Even the day before the main event, Xavieramma had sat in the courtyard of the Church rolling beedis to make the right bundle size that would collect the amount. Her mother who was also there planned to sell fish as soon as menfolk went back to the sea. That is how they maintained the family economy. Sundari had gone to the beach with her kids who along with her husband have been giving her all support as she stayed away from home organizing for the gathering. Confident about the coping qualities of her little ones, she said:
“My daughter is strong and determined. Maybe a bit like me. But my son is a little scared.After all he is only seven”.But she seemed sure about her husband and family who would care for them.
Selvi’s voice broke into a sob as she worried a bit about her epileptic son. But the fact that Idinthakarai village , like many villages holds all the close-knit links and bondages of a community was loud in the way the threesome were not too bothered about their family and children.
We went through all the happenings that have taken place after Sept 10th standing in the corridor of the Prison like a kaleidoscope. The wails of Tamil, Melrit and others as Udayakumar announced his decision to protect the people by giving himself up to the Police has pierced the solid concrete walls of the prison.The Coast Guard helicopter seems to have flown low over their minds too that day as the people stood in the sea. The laments of Chellamma has reached their ears too as the tears of the children of Sahayam. They too experienced the warmth and coolness of the sand as many buried themselves in the beach. Did they also not cry as the youth buried themselves in the graveyard one hot afternoon? The grand scenario of 1000 boats that assembled to create a water- siege in the ocean on Oct 8th seems to have unraveled before their eyes too.
The energy and enthusiasm with which the 3 sisters asked and shared about their dear Porattam evoked mixed responses from the other women prisoners who stood in the corridor beyond the ominous welded bars waiting impatiently for their visitors. Not even for a second did the three speak in desperation or anger about their imprisonment. They were sure and proud of the cause for which they have been locked up.They spoke about the 4 other women friends from Kootatpulli village also with them. Xavieramma shrugged aside the question about her injured arm as she fell in the sea that day. Sundari was least concerned about the burns in her lips and cheeks. They wanted to tell the world that they are here, inside, locked up only physically within concrete and iron. Their indomitable spirit, their conviction to be together for a peaceful cause, their will to establish a life where there would be no poisons that maim the Earth’s life supporting systems pervaded all strong structures to reach the world outside.
As the time for parting came, Xavieramma raised her arms in a gesture characteristic to her and said “ We will meet soon.Please tell all friends that we are fine”
.Sundari’s look pierced through as she said
“ Vetri, Vetri. I will come out and call you.We will meet next in Idinthakarai where I will cook a meal for you”
Selvi moved away fast before saying
“Tell everyone we are still here”.
Yes, let us not forget that they are still in the Women’s Prison of Trichy, so far away from their homes and loved ones holding on to their vision of a world that is free from one of the most toxic of human inventions.
Sundari, Xavieamma and Selvi in conversation with Anitha.S on 12.09.2012 at Trichy Women’s Prison.