Anti-Nuclear Movement in Koodankulam: A Great Experiment in Nonviolence

Anti-nuclear struggles in India have been consistently non-violent despite brutal repression from the State. Challenging the closely-guarded citadels of ‘expertise’ and high-science, common people are redefining what life, progress and power should actually mean.

The 12-day long hunger strike against commissioning of nuclear power plant came to an end inKoodankulam yesterday. While the media, the officials and political class is pretending to be surprised why such a massive movement erupted when the reactor is about to be commissioned, they are conveniently brushing aside the fact that residents around Koodankulam Nuclear power Project (KNPP) have been protesting since the very inception of the project. As early as 1989, the fish-workers of the area had organized a 10,000-strong demonstration in Kanyakumari. They did not only force the authorities to come up with Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) at a time when it was not legally mandatory, but also offered an informed critique when a half-baked report was introduced.  After collapse of theSoviet Union, the project seemed to face a closure. However, when it was reopened in 1998, the protests also resumed.


The People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), spearheading the movement has put acomprehensive criticism of the project on environmental, safety, economic and human grounds, but the mainstream media and policy-makers continue to see it as merely a Public Relations (PR) problem. Calling the people’s assertion in Koodankulam an over-reaction to Fukushima, the ‘experts’ detached from life and soul of this country are only insulting the struggling masses. Urging the Union Government to halt the construction work, even the State Cabinet’s Resolution has only sought that the Centre should ‘allay the apprehensions of the people’ before proceeding.

In Koodankulam, common people – mostly fishing communities – have been fighting for more than two decades to save their life, livelihoods and their natural surroundings with which they have inextricable organic links. While the nuclear accident in Fukushima did have a deep impact and it reinforced the urgency to fight, Koodankulam people have over the years learnt about the harmful effects of nuclear fuel cycle, and the insurmountable risks inherently attached with nuclear technology. In past, they have attended public hearings and other meetings in large numbers and have put up informed questioned before the authorities. They have a sense of belonging to their lifestyle and cannot mistake in identifying their real priorities. Koodankulam movement is a struggle for alternative development.

State Repression

Since the beginning, the government and authorities have responded with callous disregard for democracy and dialogue. In the name of dialogue and concern, they have dished out only misinformation and flawed reports. This is combined with brutal police repression with on common people. In the 1989 mass movement, police had opened fire and disrupted the public address system. In the recent round of movement, the state authorities arrested hundreds of protesters and blocked all routes and transports for people to reach the protest venue. Police crackdown appears without any provocation. The movement in Jaitapur has also faced brutal police repression and crackdown, including unfortunate deaths as a result of indiscriminate police firing. Dr. Sanghamitra Gadekar of Anumukti hails the perseverance of people and their adherence to nonviolence under these extreme conditions as a great hope.

Illegal arrests, extermination orders, false cases, tapping of phones and communication and harassing anti-nuclear people personally on various pretexts has come to be associated with the nuclear establishment which was supposed to champion scientific temper and modernist ideals of democracy and liberalism in the independent India under Nehru.

Today, when the most undemocratic regimes like North Koreacan acquire nuclear weapons and technology, we need to seriously question the promise of social enlightenment that is supposed to necessarily follow great technological advancements. In fact, nuclear industry is known for indulging in worst forms of racism throughout the world. Nuclear accident in Fukushima, like the nuclear bomb in Hiroshima has resulted in social ostracism of radiation-victims. Not unsurprisingly, the nuclear tsars inIndia have also indulged in malicious tricks, cover-ups and callous indifference for people’s health and lives.

For a nuclear-free world, we need a new society

Perhaps nobody feels the need link their struggle to the overall societal, systemic and civilisational changes as people in anti-nuclear movements do. Nuclear issues concern public health, environment, labour and human rights, economic and political transparency, accountability and above all – an evolved and mature society that reprioritises its consumption pattern. The insane rush to economic growth and American dream came as handy justifications for nuclear energy in a ‘risk society’, although even this is untrue: nuclear energy production on global scale is on a consistent decline and actually no source of energy can feed the current growth fetish. Capitalism is essentially anti-nature.

Nuclear-free society cannot just be today’s society without nuclear reactors and weapons. The unending ‘consumption’ that capitalism deems necessary for human existence and growth, and for which nuclear energy is supposed to be essential, is nothing but a farcical mirage. Despite large growth of electricity production in the country in last two decades, the actual consumption in rural areas has increased only marginally. In the present growth model, only a limited part of electricity generated goes for actual consumption and the rest is wasted in energy-guzzling sectors such as advertising, military industrial complex, excessive bureaucracy etc.

From huge transmission losses to wasteful use in shopping malls, India wastes large amounts of electrivity. The obscene new airport in Delhi consumes as much electricity as India’s second tier cities, and still remains inconvenient for passengers. In a recent development, India’s recently fenced and floodlit 1861 km border with Pakistan have become the second ‘pride’ in Asia after China’s great wall that can be seen from the space. And for its growing energy needs such as these,India needs more and more electricity, including 100-fold more nuclear power generation! There is no reason to believe that with an imaginative and socialized energy consumption pattern, we can maintain a fairly healthy life and still not land in the proverbial stone-age.  A nuclear-free, carbon-free world is possible.

Seeking Strength in Non-Violence

The anti-nuclear movement recognizes that it can pursue its goal only by fighting for this larger perspective. In context of Fukushima disaster also, leading thinkers of Japan have outlined this necessity. Strengtheningdemocracy and practising non-violence is an imperative in this regard that the anti-nuclear movement has always adhered to. It’s not a coincidence that India’s anti-nuclear activism found its cradle in Gandhian institution. Anumukti, a group engaged consistently in opposing nuclear energy and weapons, and mobilizing public opinion against them since 1980s runs under theleadership of Shri Narayan Desai, a veteran Gandhian who spent 25 years of his life with Mahatma Gandhi. Anumukti is a pioneering voice inIndia’s anti-nuclear movement. Dr. Sanghamitra Gadekar, along with Dr. Surendra Gadekar, an anti-nuclear physicist himself, has carried out the first comprehensive health surveys around the nuclear facilities inIndia. Be it Jaitapur, Kakrapar, Mithivirdi or Koodankulam, people protesting against nuclear energy have always found them supporting their cause, demystifying complex nuclear issues with utmost simplicity.

Despite attempts by some to instigate violence, S P Udayakumar, spearheading the movement in Koodankulam for last two decades has also shown an unflinching commitment to nonviolence. On Monday this week, Tokyo saw more than 60,000 people protesting on the streets against nuclear power, but there was no hint of violent and disruption. In Germany, the anti-nuclear movement is known for adopting creative nonviolent methods for decades and finally it has brought the government to accept phasing out of country’s nuclear program. The nonviolent road to a non-nuclearIndia may be long and arduous, but it is also sure.

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