Our anti-nuclear agitation in Jaitapur has been resilient in the face of brutal violence and state repression: Fakir Solkar

Fakir Mahammad Solkar

Fakir Mahammad Solkar is a resident of Sakhri Nate – a pre-dominantly fishing village in the picturesque and ecologically-rich Jaitapur region on India’s western coast, where the world’s largest Nuclear Power Project is slated to be set up. Solkar has been at the forefront of the grassroots movement against the proposed plant, and in this interview to DiaNuke, shares memories of the Fukushima accident, and experiences regarding the movement, among other things.

This interview is part of the 7 interviews conducted by DiaNuke.org on 7 years of the accident.

DiaNuke.org: The people of Jaitapur recently organized a massive protest, on 10th March, against the visit of the French President, Emmanuel Macron to India to push for the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP). Could you tell us more about the protests?

Fakir Mahammad Solkar: We started our protest march at around 10am on 10th March in Sakhri Nate village and nearly 1,500 people, including men, women, children, and the elderly participated. We walked across the length and breadth of the village, raising slogans and our collective voices against this disastrous project. The march culminated in a sit-in protest meeting, where slogans were raised and speeches made, and through which, we re-iterated our staunch and collective opposition to the Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant.

DiaNuke.org: What was the response of the state government and police to the proposed protest march and sit-in meeting on the 10th?

Fakir Mahammad Solkar: The state police had refused us permission for the protest on the 10th when we had planned a march from Sakhri Nate to Madban village – the site of the proposed nuclear power plant. The police insisted that we postpone our protest to a much later date. However, the people were determined to register their protest before the French President’s meeting with the Indian Prime Minister on 11th March. As a result, we were forced to confine our march and sit-in protest to our village, Sakhri Nate. Prior to that, on the 02nd, when we had organised a planning meeting in Sakhri Nate, and had also invited the leader and members of the grassroots movement against the upcoming oil refinery in Jaitapur, the police refused us permission for the planning meeting. So we had to hold the meeting in the local village mosque. On the day of the protest on the 10th, policemen, and officials from CID and the Intelligence Bureau were present in the village.

DiaNuke.org: The French President’s visit to India and the date of his meeting with the Indian Prime Minister to resurrect the JNPP agreement coincided with the seventh anniversary of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear accident. What was the general sentiment among the people in Jaitapur regarding this?

Fakir Mahammad Solkar: It is extremely sad that our Government decided to renew efforts for the JNPP on a day when the lives of millions of people in Japan took a turn for the worse in 2011. The people of Jaitapur were both, deeply saddened and enraged by the callousness of the governments of India and France – not only did they deliberately ignore our concerns and overlook our long and peaceful struggle against this project, but in choosing 11th March as the day to renew the project, clearly demonstrated that they think very little of the lives of us ordinary people.

DiaNuke.org: What did the 2011 Fukushima accident mean to the people of Jaitapur? How did they react to the accident and what shifts did the peoples’ movement undergo after this catastrophic accident?

Fakir Mahammad Solkar: The people of Jaitapur were horrified when they heard of the Fukushima accident in Japan, and the immediate worry in all our minds was, ‘what would happen if an accident of the scale of Fukushima were to occur in Jaitapur?’ People across various villages diligently followed all updates on the accident in the electronic and print media and began to meet and discuss these concerns more regularly. The accident made the disaster very ‘real’ for us, as if it had come to our very doorstep! While our movement against the Jaitapur Plant was already underway when the accident happened, Fukushima infused a sense of ‘urgency’ in our efforts to raise awareness and understanding about the disastrous aspects of nuclear power, and, consequently, more and more people joined the movement.

DiaNuke.org: Could you share with us what you think have been the strengths and weaknesses of the movement over the last decade since it began? A news report in one of the English dailies recently stated that the Jaitapur anti-nuclear movement has lost steam and that the protest on the 10th of March was merely a ‘token’ protest. How would you respond to this assessment?

Fakir Mahammad Solkar: It is incorrect for journalists far removed from the struggles of our everyday lives to make such sweeping generalizations. A key reason why unlike before, not many people could join the protests this time was the fact that the state police had denied us permission to organize the protest march from Sakhri Nate to Madban on the 10th. They wanted us to postpone our protests to after the French President had departed from India. This is a mockery of our very basic democratic right to freely express our concerns about a project that will have direct and catastrophic consequences for us. The fact that our movement continues nearly a decade after it first began, is proof that our protests are not merely ‘symbolic’, but a fight for our very survival!

The greatest strength of our movement has been our unity – across religions, across social hierarchies, and across vocations. For instance, even though a large number of those whose lands were forcibly acquired by the government, have accepted compensation, they continue to raise their voices against the project and strongly stand in support of the fisherfolk of Jaitapur who have neither received any compensation and who will, without a doubt, be pushed into poverty once the plant becomes operational. We know this because of our interactions with fisherfolk from Tarapur, where a once robust and thriving fishing industry was decimated after the nuclear plant started. Not only did the people lose their livelihoods, but received no compensation or rehabilitation worth the name. We do not want the same fate for Jaitapur!

An area where our movement requires further strengthening perhaps, is making greater efforts towards raising awareness about nuclear energy among the people – there are still large sections of people who remain unclear about this disastrous technology or how it will impact their lives, health, livelihoods, and environment.

DiaNuke.org: We have always seen inspiring pictures of women leading the protests in Jaitapur, including in the recent protests on 10th March. What has been the role of women in the Jaitapur people’s movement?

Fakir Mahammad Solkar: It is true that the women of Jaitapur have been at the forefront of our movement. Their engagement with the movement stems in large part from their concern regarding the impact that nuclear power has on the health of people, especially expectant mothers, children, and adolescent girls. They have had the opportunity to learn from the experiences of women and children from Tarapur and Jadugoda regarding the health impacts of nuclear power and uranium mining, as well as from studies, documentaries, and workshops conducted by activists, scientists and health professionals on the effects of radiation on human and environmental health. The women of Jaitapur stand determined to oppose this technology that is anti-life!

DiaNuke.org: What message do you have for other people and communities across the globe, struggling against nuclear energy and against the might of their own governments??

Fakir Mahammad Solkar: There can be no place for nuclear energy in the world if we wish to preserve our environment and ensure health and prosperity for everyone. It is only through robust peoples’ movements that we can stop the spread of nuclear energy. And no matter how powerful governments may be, they will have to bow before the peaceful resistance and will of ordinary people!


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