Funding Anti-Nuclear NGOs? I was living on $10 a day!

Courtesy: Tehelka

AFTER A stormy night and a long flight, Rainer Sonntag Hermann reached Essen at 7 pm on 28 February. Hermann is the German tourist who was deported from Chennai the previous day on charges of being involved in the anti-nuke protests at Koodankulam. When TEHELKA tried to contact him via email, he replied, “The last two nights I had no bed and I’m very tired now. So, please allow me some time to rest. I need some time to think.” Hours later, he opened up to Jeemon Jacob about his stay in Nagercoil and his deportation.


On what charges were you deported from Chennai?
I don’t know. The policemen who took me to Chennai didn’t disclose any charges. They gave me a photocopy of some papers, but it didn’t explain any reasons. At the Chennai airport, the top official I spoke to was Foreigners’ Regional Registration Officer N Kannan. He told me that I was being deported because of “violating visa regulations”. He said that the government believes that I’m supporting an NGO. I asked him if he meant the anti-Koodankulam NGO? He said yes. I asked him about the charges and he told me that I should know it. When I told him that I don’t understand, he replied: Candle-light procession. But it didn’t ring any bell. Newspapers claim that I’m the mastermind of the NGO. I don’t speak a word in Tamil. I was a visitor at some public meeting with a lot of other people talking Tamil and I often didn’t understand one word. I took some photos to send it to friends in Germany like other tourists do.

Rainer Sonntag Hermann

Why are you so much attached to Nagercoil?
In the past two decades, I may have visited India 10-15 times. Three years ago, I stopped working as a computer programmer and started to live on my savings. If I wanted to stay in Germany, I would have to work because my savings are too small. But in countries like India and Nepal, I manage to live from my savings.

I was in Nagercoil because I like to be in a small not-too-busy tourist town. I spend my time reading, exchanging emails with my German friends, and trying to learn about India. I learnt most of my English in India.

I like the climate in Nagercoil very much because it is close to the sea. I’m getting older. I like to visit familiar places so that I know where the restaurants and hotels are. I like south India because most people know English and I don’t have to learn the local language. Years ago, I used to stay in Puducherry. But at weekends, the cheap hotels were often filled with drunk tourists. So I shifted.

When did you come to Nagercoil?
I got a visa from the Indian Embassy in Bangkok for 17 January-16 July. I flew from Bangkok to Kolkata on 22 January. I spent a few days there and then caught a train to Chennai and then arrived in Nagercoil on 27 January.

Have you ever visited Koodankulam?
Last year, I attended a public demonstration. As far as I know, it wasn’t an illegal act.

What is your understanding of the anti-nuke agitation?
I don’t know much about it. Just like the majority of the Germans, I oppose nuclear plants. I’m not a specialist on the subject. I don’t know what kind of agitation is going on in Nagercoil. When I landed there, I tried to figure it out by reading newspapers.

How do you know PNAME convener SP Udayakumar?
I don’t remember when I met or spoke with Udayakumar the last time. For sure, since I left India last year I haven’t had any contact with Udayakumar. Yesterday, I sent an email to inform him about my safe arrival.

There are allegations that you were funding the protests.
That’s utter nonsense. I lived in India on a $10-per day basis. Idli, idiyappam and meals were my main food. Every day, I spent Rs 10-30 at the Internet cafe. There is no space in my budget for financial aid to any other people or organisation. I’m not involved in drug abuse (besides tobacco, tea and coffee). I dislike Indian alcohol. I never transferred money to any anti-nuke NGO. I’m unemployed and don’t receive orders from any group in Germany or anywhere else.

Tell us about the arrest.
Ten policeman arrived at the hotel at around 8.30 pm. I had to pack my bags in a hurry. At around 10 pm, I was placed inside a police van. They drove the whole night. At 12 noon the next day, I was handed over to the Chennai airport officials. I had to pay for the direct flight (Chennai-Frankfurt, Rs 69,000).

Did anybody explain why you were being deported?
Every time I asked what crime I’ve committed, they smiled. I was deported with a smile. Without goodbyes.

Jeemon Jacob is Chief of Bureau South, Tehelka.




Join discussion: leave a comment