Courtesy: Fountain Ink magazine

At Nate Market, a sign that reads “Jama Masjid” leads into a narrow lane. Down a steep slope and two sharp turns, the road opens up to a lively and chaotic village square, the busiest we saw in the region.

On one side of the road, goats are tied to trees, under which men are mending fishing nets and chatting. On the other side, women draw water from a well, whose bright yellow walls are painted with the signs “No nuclear” and “Areva, go back”. Areva is the French company that has signed a general framework agreement with NPCIL.

Houses—dilapidated and multi-storied—are stacked across the hill, leaning precariously towards the sea. Many household chores and items spill out on to the road. Utensils are washed, vegetables are chopped, clothes are drying, and water is boiled on the road. Parts of the road have been incorporated into the house—plywood and ropes make extra storage space for children’s bicycles, old vessels, tyres, and other things deemed worthy of enclosure.

A thatch-roofed shack at the dusty village roundabout is the popular tea stall, where many hours have been spent talking about the project. Amid the chaos and the cramped contours of the place where everyday life is playing out in public view, the ambience is ruled by the sea and fish, dried and fresh. They fill the air with their presence.

The smell is the reason Sakhri Nate is the richest village in the Panchkroshi, its 10,000 inhabitants living off fishing and its allied businesses.

It’s September in 2014, and Sultan Machchiwala is making deals over his mobile phone with traders in Ratnagiri even before the boats arrive in the evening with their catch.

Once the load arrives, the whole village gathers. Men who own big boats make quick visits to check the catch, others instruct the Nepali workers to unload the boats and load the harvest on to mini trucks. Small boat owners do it themselves with the help of women and children in the family. The trucks loaded with fish and squid, packed in ice, hurry off to Ratnagiri. Part of the catch goes to Mumbai and the rest is exported directly.

Many calls are made, and business is the only thing on anyone’s mind. Each hour means thousands of rupees. It’s hard to imagine that these are the same men who scaled the steep cliff from the seaside to defy the police, who had sealed landside access to the project site.

Women negotiate rates for smaller loads for local markets and occasionally quarrel. Some of them get into fights—slaps and blows are exchanged, some hair is pulled. Men stand afar and laugh. It’s part of the routine.

These are the women whom the Nate police fear. Once they came out to join the protest, the movement reached its peak.

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Unlike Madban and other villages, Sakhri Nate has no land at stake. Its economy is entirely dependent on fishing. According to Amjad Borkar, a businessman and leader of the fishing community, the village generates revenues of ₹600 crore a year.

It is this wealth that people fear the nuclear plant will wipe out. The harbour—in the creek between the project site and Sakhri Nate—will be affected. Activists said barriers would be erected around the project site, and entry and exit of boats would be restricted. Moreover, hot water from the plant would raise ambient temperatures in the area, a breeding ground for fish, a terrifying prospect for locals. They joined the movement and their impact was felt soon after the public hearing on the EIA at Madban.