Thursday, September 13, 2012

Turning defense into offense against nuclear power in India

Last week, women protestors in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh protested government action in violation of a supreme court order requiring compensation to those whose homes & lands are submerged by increasing dam water levels. Activists immersed themselves neck-deep in water in a tactic called “jal satyagraha” (water protest). After nearly two weeks, the government acceded to their demands, agreeing to reduce the water levels of the Omkareshwar Dam & give land as compensation for those whose property was submerged. Encouraged by the political success of the jal satyagraha in Khandwa, activists & villagers in the neighboring Harda district affected by the Indira Sagar Project--the biggest power project in India & second biggest  in Asia--also employed the jal satyagraha tactic & for the past two weeks immersed themselves in water demanding land compensation & protesting increased water levels in Indira Sagar Dam. Seeing where this was headed, the state government deployed over 1,500 cops into the area where villagers are holding the jal satyagraha to put an end to such effective political protest.

Now this week, protestors against the Kudankulam power plant in the state of Tamil Nadu were driven into the ocean by a police assault with tear gas, truncheons, & live ammo. Police not only continue to employ violence against protestors (killing one man with live ammo), but are on a house-to-house search & ransack mission, are attempting to arrest activists, have destroyed 40 fishing boats, & have cordoned off entry to the town housing the nuclear plant, allowing only essential commodities to enter. In a move of brilliant if not also ironic defiance, activists turned defense into offense & adopted the tactic of jal satyagraha, forming a human chain in the ocean to demand the loading of uranium fuel in the reactors be stopped. Spokespersons for the People's Movement of Nuclear Energy (PMANE) which is organizing the protest have four demands: stop loading fuel at the plant, stop attempting to arrest anti-nuclear protest leaders & activists, proper compensation for those who have suffered losses, & release of activists already taken into custody.

The state government’s pathetic explanation for the attacks on protestors is no match for the brilliance of activists. Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister Jayalalithaa appealed to people not to fall prey to the designs of anti-nuclear protestors--a version of the old outside agitator accusation so effective against radicals but regrettably stupid against this protest. She claimed police were forced to attack after being provoked by protestors marching toward the power plant & attacking cops with logs. To protect themselves & the plant, cops had to lob tear gas at protestors. Small comfort to know politicians around the world are of such deplorable caliber. (Photographer not identified)

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