Koodankulam Diary (Part II): Anatomy of the Struggle

Part I of this diary can be accessed HERE.

Dec 6 2011

It's not only the Parish Priest, the Imam too is totally with them

The two days spent in Idinthakarai were packed with realty bytes, sound bytes, history, legends, horror stories and stories of courage and solidarity, faith and belief in some superior agency – whether it be Christ, Allah or the goddess Amman, together with a deep-rooted anger and disillusionment in a Sarkar that has treated them with such scant respect. Every moment was filled with new information and learning, intense conversations, replayed narratives, questions and intensive debates

I have never been more grateful for my little knowledge of Tamil – self taught, in order to communicate with my ma-in-law. And hence the women and I were able to sing and chatter together – be it about babies, recipes and cost of living, but most animatedly about the need for ‘ current’ (minsaaram – ie electricity in Tamil), but not necessarily of the nuclear kind!!

Admiral (Retd.) Laxminarayan Ramdas with Lalita Ramdas

Admiral L Ramdas served as Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian navy taking the reins on November 30, 1990. Vir Chakra, Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Admiral Ramdas was warded Vishisht Seva Medal and the Vishisht Seva Medal during his time in the Indian Navy.

In 2004, he was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Awards for peace for his efforts in trying to demilitarise and denuclearize South Asia. Admiral Ramdas is a leading voice of the growing people’s resistance against nuclear energy projects in India.

Lalita Ramdas has been an educator and activist with a broad and varied experience spanning a professional life.

She has been involved into examining national and global economic, social and ecological trends and developments within a human rights framework – especially looking at the connectivities with gender, minority and indigenous communities and policy formation. Lalita Ramdas is a national co-ordination committee member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.

Admiral Ramdas and Lalita Ramdas can be contacted at:
LARA – Ramu Farm
Bhaimala Gaon – PO Kamarle
Alibag 402209 – Raigad Dist
Maharashtra- India


For some years now, we have been involved with `andolans’ and struggles – in our own backyard here in Raigad, Maharashtra where a former Naval person has been on demos and dharnas against the spectre of developing SEZs ostensibly for public purpose, but in fact part of the phenomena of ruthless land grab. Although women have come out in large numbers for the big rasta rokos and demonstrations, getting women to participate on a regular basis has always been a challenge – tied up as they are with their never-ending chores – be it in the field, workplace or in the home. The struggle in Koodankulam stands out for the massive and sustained participation of large numbers of women, young and old, who were willing to leave home, hearth and work for weeks and months.

In response to questions as to how and why this has happened, the answers are unequivocally linked to the quality of leadership and their visible and total commitment to the struggle; the incredibly high levels of transparency, education and participation; the continuous confidence building at all levels and an impressive display of local level consultation, micro management, and focus on efficiency and organization that has constantly been pro-active and enabling.

Rani Thomas

To give just one example – Rani Thomas [you can see her photograph taken during the march] explained to me at great length, in Tamil, how they initially all came every day from all the affected towns and villages in phase one. [Many of you would have seen the amazing media images of 15000 and more gathered at the siege of Koodankulam! ]

Moving to Phase II, they collectively agreed that it would be impossible to sustain this momentum and hence emerged the concept of a relay fast whereby there was a daily roster of who would participate from which village.

The women themselves came up with the idea that all those who could, would bring their work –for example rolling beedis, to the central venue in front of the Idinthakarai church – so that their earnings would not be too badly affected.

A woman with her three kids stepping out for the rally and meeting

Women were also encouraged to bring along their children – from babes in arms to school going children – and for whom special arrangements were made so that the portable cloth cradles [“oonjal”]could be hung from trees or bamboo poles, food and water made available, as well as arrangements for doing their homework! Streetwise lists were drawn up indicating duties, help lists and lines and responsibility for collection of rations or filling up of water. Everyone, especially the kids, were encouraged to come to the mike, share the podium – tell their stories, recite poems, compose and sing songs. They were also encouraged to listen in disciplined silence to many interesting inputs, telling them about the risks of nuclear and coal power plants; of alternatives available in renewable; of struggles happening in other parts of the country from people who visited; of developments in Fukushima; of their history, of Ambedkar and Gandhi and their relevance to the present struggle; and much more about their local history, the environment, the already damaged and rapidly eroding coastline and their endangered occupation of fishing


A new spirit of knowledge and informed opinion making; of collaboration and community action was clearly at work . While we were there, we were told the extraordinary tale of how a bitter feud between two fishing communities was amicably settled through local negotiations and dialogue – and the monetary settlement was unanimously donated by both groups to the Halt Koodankulam Fund!

While it is true that a few leaders have played a role in uniting many disparate groups together; it is also true that the struggle itself has transformed the people in ways which are profoundly significant and need to be understood in the context of the increasing alienation of different segments of our people from initiatives and projects implemented by the state in so called public interest.

First of all it has provided a sense of bonding around a common purpose and threat – namely the prospect of a living source of potential dangers and radiation, moreover in their eyes it represents an expensive piece of equipment in which they clearly have little faith or trust.

Secondly, while the initial acts of protest were around legitimate fears of being affected either by physical displacement and/or impact on livelihoods, the post Tsunami and now Fukushima period have surfaced valid concerns about safety and other sources of danger which are built in to the very nature of nuclear technology itself.

Even these little ones know what is happening!

Thirdly and more importantly – this has nurtured a substantive degree of identifying with other struggles across the country – especially of all those facing existing or potential threats to health, habitation and livelihoods from nuclear power plants – the ANU MIN NILAYAMS! We were told by different women in different locations how a group of them has left for Delhi to participate in the National day of Protest against Nuclear Power; another group had been upto Chennai to participate in a day long fast and a Press conference. Ahead there were similar meetings in Madurai, Trichy, Coimbatore……….

And the women were in the forefront – the first to put up their hands and volunteer ……with an unbelievable level of support from their menfolk and families. We were part of one such decision making exercise during the daily evening meeting held between 6 to 8pm (during one of the two to three daily power cuts), on the sacred space surrounding a small Amman [Devi – Bhavani – Shakthi] shrine. This is located just short of the crossroads one of which is the road leading to the plant where the SIEGE OF KKNPP took place. We sat on the cool sand – being introduced to many of the different groups . In contrast to the predominantly Christian composition of Idinthakarai these were primarily a community of traders, Nadars, from Koodankulam. Yes, (in response to a comment on our last blog!), it was almost like a picnic atmosphere – families strolled in – children played together without disturbing the adults – who busily discussed new developments, the latest news from the state and national capitals, and the next round of events in the pipeline. We have been highly impressed by the extraordinary levels of information dissemination and sharing – including media contact. Needless to say this is an outstanding example of the use of technology in peoples’ empowerment and mobilization. When some 200 people had gathered around 730pm, Uday Kumar shared the news that one group had reached Delhi, the second group was leaving for Madurai and Chennai – but now there was a requirement for a representative group from all the agitating villages to be present at a meeting in Coimbatore……..Within the space of 30 minutes – a plan of action was in place – details and responsibilities allocated – and we dispersed after the Kappala Todi Kulapathi [Former] Chief of the Navy and his wife , addressed the gathering in an interesting mixture of Tamil, English and Hindi!!!

Deserted homes - they are all at the meeting

Understandably all of this has given the people a high level of confidence to speak about what is motivating them, about what they don’t want and what they do want.

It is a point worth noting that the current phase of high intensity opposition was directly triggered by the atmosphere of secrecy, the total lack of transparency, and acts of omission and commission, by a somewhat bumbling atomic energy officialdom. Although we heard the chronology of the protest movement from people like Muhilan and Uday Kumar, it was the women who were interrupting each other in their enthusiasm to tell us of all the steps that had brought them to this juncture. We listened with sadness as they spoke of voices not heard, of hopes kindled and then dashed ; of seeing the direct impact of the earlier Tsunami on their own beaches and livelihoods; and the genuine fears about anything nuclear, after Fukushima.

Eventually it turned out that the trial run of the power plant in July 2011 – together with the announcement in the press, [hastily withdrawn but too late] warning the public that the plant was being started up for a trial run but in case of problems/accidents they were to run in a direction away from the plant with their eyes, nosed and faces covered – that was the proverbial last straw on the back of the long suffering public of the Koodankulam catchment area!

Celine – the 65 year old woman spoke in graphic terms to the large audience, describing the unholy loud grinding, howling sounding which emerged for many days from the plant during the trial run and which had the entire area in a state of terror.

Idinthakarai church is 107 years old

These are people who will not easily forgive or forget that not one among the procession of top leaders and VIPs took the time or trouble to visit and engage with them in any serious effort to understand the source of their fears and their objections.. From all accounts this was nothing new, but went back to their early days of protests when the very first surveys were being carried out some twenty odd years ago….It is a matter of regret that the authorities were in such a rush to send out a former President, about whom today there is widespread skepticism, indeed questioning about his very credentials as a scientist qualified to make the sweeping pronouncements that were carried for days in the media.

So when they hear media and officials constantly asking why they did not protest much earlier, there is frustration combined with wrath and indignation, which can best be described as KOLAVERI, KOLAVERI DI……….You can hear it in their words, and see it in their eyes!!!

So we returned to Idinthakarai for the night – tired but exhilarated – after the many shots of adrenalin we had been receiving…..The spirit of the people, the women, was almost electric. There appeared to be a strongly held conviction that the Government had no option but to listen, sooner rather than later……

Our next blog will deal with the trip out to sea in the fishing boat WALRUS INDIA – the view from seaward of the Plant; as also the crucial question of the source of material and financial support for the movement. This is worth some elaboration, since every newspaper and TV channel has been screaming about the Foreign Funds and Foreign sources of support which are instigating this `war against the state’ , and the seditious actions on the part of the leadership and the people who are protesting against Nuclear power …………

More to come ….stay with us

Lalita and Ramu Ramdas
[back in the Gaon]

Hundreds of signatures from neighboring Kerala

UDAY Kumar - updates and ideas DEC 6 pm

One more fire brand at the KKNPP Amman shrine meeting

Admiral Ramdas in a contemplative mood before Amman shrine - all attempts to insinuate a religious divide have failed so far

From Tarapore to JAITAPUR

Admiral Ramdas and Gabriele Dietrich from Tarapore to JAITAPUR

From Tarapore to JAITAPUR

Mass demonstrations against dirty thermal coal Plants near ALIBAG Many women (top) Mass demonstrations against dirty thermal coal Plants near ALIBAG Many women (below)


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