Some people say that anti-nuclear activists are trying to take advantage of simple-minded and uneducated people who don’t understand the benefits of electricity. “(T)he local people who protest in Kudankulam are not those who can analyse the safety issues of the nuclear plant, but they are being carried away blindly by the skillful campaign of their leaders, who appear have an agenda of their own,” S Venkataraman wrote in the Deccan Herald.
But Rani and Elsi are neither simple minded, nor raised in the dark. They are modern women — members of the mixer-grinder generation, and are well acquainted with the joys of electrical appliances.
“I have a fridge, a TV, grinder, mixie, fan and iron box,” Rani said. Their neighbours, Jayabal Markus and his wife, have their mobile phones lying on their washing machine. They own a DVD player, speakers, induction stove and other gadgets.
But they don’t have electricity to power their mixies. It’s a conspiracy, they say: whoever controls the power grid will choke their electricity supply until the protesters give up and the plant goes live.
In 2005, 94 percent of households in urban India had electricity, compared with 57 percent in rural areas, according to a World Bank paper. The 2011 India census shows that there has been an increase in households using electricity, and the rural-urban gap is at 37 per cent. And these figures do not include the energy-intensive industries that operate out of urban areas. Contrast this with the fact that 70 percent of India lives in rural areas, and one arrives at a conundrum of supply and demand.
The Kudankulam plant has the capacity to generate 2,000 megawatts of power, about 30 percent of the demand for New York City’s more than 8 million people, according to this website.
The locals do not like the idea that the entire burden of middle-class aspiration for more electricity, is being burned onto them. “These power cuts we are facing (are) a pressure tactic.” said Jayabal.
There is more than just coercion, real or imagined. On Sept. 10, there was a clash between the police and protesters. The St. Lourdes church was vandalised, allegedly by the police, and police shot a fisherman dead. Another local fell from a pier and died. He panicked after an Indian Coast Guard plane flew in low over the protesters.
At the end of my visit, Rani took me back to the St. Lourdes church from her house. Hundreds of wind turbines dotting the area around Idinthakari, twinkled and twirled. Seeing the natural power of the wind the sun and the tides while talking about an energy crisis invited observations about irony. Behind her, the plant formed a hazy silhouette in the setting sun.