The reinvention of Hindutva

 by Arvind Rajagopal


Whatever your political views, the spectacle of a populist upsurge confirms the vitality of Indian democracy, whether that upsurge is for the Aam Aadmi Party, or for Narendra Modi and the BJP. But populism is not democracy.

From the context of comparatively stable political loyalties and predictable electoral results, we now have elections where a relatively small number of non-committed voters can swing outcomes decisively and reward parties with disproportionate victories. Victorious parties may thus claim a mandate for their programs based on seat majorities as if these represented popular majorities, though they seldom do. Similarly, party ideology may be modified to appear more widely acceptable. For example, Hindutva, the ideology of the Sangh Parivar, is changing into Hindu populist politics. There is a new relation between publicity and politics here, one that makes older political distinctions inadequate.

Criticism of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as being anti-Muslim has been muted of late because the BJP is supposed to have moved beyond its Hindu ideology, by adopting a more inclusive and developmentalist stance. In fact, the BJP’s transformation of its Hindu nationalist ideology into Hindu populism has allowed the party to further some of its old aims in a new and relatively uncontroversial way. At the heart of this success is Hindu populism’s claim to be the product of democratic procedure, and to express the will of the majority. But a ruling party without a single Muslim Member of Parliament in the Lok Sabha, in the second largest Muslim country in the world, is choosing to interpret its majority in a partisan way.

Hindu Populism in international context

The term populism refers to a kind of political reasoning where popular mobilisation serves as its own justification. As such, populism can support liberal, revolutionary or even authoritarian forms of government. The political theorist Ernesto Laclau has argued that populism can emerge with a democratic fervour and end up installing dictatorships, as has happened across Latin America. In the U.K., Margaret Thatcher remade the Tories as an authoritarian populist force, winning over Labour Party supporters and refashioning Conservative ideology to have mass appeal. Somewhat similarly, in India, the BJP redefined Hindu identity as both aspirational and nationalist in the face of new challenges from caste democratic forces. As late as the 1980s, many experts used to dismiss the chances of the BJP based on its tiny vote share at the time, and its more upper caste leadership, but the party has clearly changed.

The party’s populist transformation has been assisted by the explosive growth of the media. The mediated spectacle of the crowd affirms and reinforces the motives for participation, whether in a demonstration or a political rally. For the media industry, today’s spectators will be tomorrow’s consumers; investment in populism seems to make good business sense. Mass gatherings used to raise law and order concerns; today such events present opportunities for astute political strategists.

Until recently a category such as Hindu populism was hard to imagine. But Hindu nationalism has reinvented itself, combining pro-business policies with the rhetoric of lower caste empowerment. Today nationalists can claim that capitalism and democracy are thriving in India.

While this is an important achievement, it is also in part, the result of a Cold War era strategy of the U.S., which saw India as a frontline state in the battle against the Communist threat. The Cold War’s end, as we know, signalled the defeat of Communism. Religion began to become much more influential directly thereafter in many parts of the world. However, U.S. governments had historically tended to regard religion as an ally against “godless communism.” It was also seen as a stabiliser in the transition to modernity. No surprise then that influential studies conducted regarding the RSS by U.S.-based scholars regarded it benignly, as an ascetic form of socialism, as Gandhian volunteerism, or as Hindu revivalism. Their stoking violence as a means of organising Hindus was thus ignored, and the martial character of the organisation was seen as ornamental to essentially pietist tendencies. Violence was ignored because it pertained to local issues, while the optic these scholars brought was shaped by U.S. concerns during this time. Further, Hindu nationalists were reassuringly anti-Communist. They did not appear to pose any threat to U.S. interests.

Beneath this perception was a long-standing assumption that religion could not be politically viable. The post-Enlightenment separation of church from state had led to the belief that religion did not have a place in modern politics.But religion in India has had a different history, and that has unavoidably influenced the shape and direction of modern politics.

Those wishing to promote Hindu identity had a problem that was the reverse of Enlightenment-era Christianity. They first had to assert the existence of a common religion and create the sense of a shared identity that was, at best, weak. For example, Hindus historically did not all share what was supposed to constitute a religion, such as creed, deity, ritual, or text. During the colonial period, however, Hinduism gradually became codified and subject to juridical intervention. It also became a means whereby lower castes claimed public rights they previously did not have.

The limits of Hindu populism

After a long hiatus, amid the political crises of the late 1980s, Hindu identity began to be used openly again, and yielded electoral dividends in electoral campaigns. It helped win the small but decisive “non-committed vote,” as L.K. Advani called it, boosting the BJP’s share of seats exponentially. Political Hinduism has grown since then, aided by the Congress’s decline. Then how is Hindu politics different from any other religious politics?

In the Hindu tradition, reality is beyond words and the truth has no essence. There is, in fact, no religious doctrine as such to challenge. Hinduism as conjured for the political process today surpasses dialectical materialism; it is the most expansive ‘philosophical system’ conceivable. In such a context, the category of religion presents an opportunity rather than a problem: to be “Hindu” is an artefact of publicity rather than an expression of ancient mores. It is no surprise that Arun Jaitley has stated that Hindu nationalism is an opportunistic issue for the BJP, a “talking point” rather than a core ideology.

The electoral process has sanctioned a new language of political theology for the BJP. In his Madison Square Garden speech in New York, Narendra Modi referred to the people as sovereign and their verdict as divine. He declared: “Janata Jan Janardhan.” But Janardhan is not a secular term for “ruler;” it refers to Lord Krishna. Electoral success provides the supreme redemption in this understanding, negating merely juridical verdicts. It implies divine power in the figure of the elected ruler, who is like the king but sanctified by a formal democratic process.

Political authority is the end towards which this new kind of religious identity is created, applicable across caste groupings that not long ago were excluded, prominently the former Untouchable castes that constitute about a quarter of the population. No previous party has come to power by excluding Muslims so completely. Meanwhile the situation of Muslims has steadily worsened over the last 30 years.

The exclusion of Muslims from political visibility is accompanied by the increasing political visibility of Dalits. The new basis for Hindu unification is the exclusion of Muslims, alongside the formal subsumption of Dalits. The register of exclusion shifts in the process, from untouchability to invisibility. Media expansion enables more coordinated and extensive forms of exclusion than were previously imaginable; political dynamics have both anticipated this development and furthered it. If Hindu populism is to deepen its democratic character, these are issues for it to reckon with.


This piece has previously been published in The Hindu Op-Ed and the Communalism Watch blog. Arvind Rajagopal is the Professor of Media Studies at New York University.

Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket)

14 mins. 24 s.

The Ayoreo are the nomadic indigenous people of Eastern Bolivia. They believe in the legend of Direjná, the grandmother of a cricket whose songs can bring rain to this earth. She owned all the waters, and where she was it rained. But one day, she sang and sang in overjoy until the rain fell so hard and the lands were flooded. So, her grandchildren asked her to leave, and she retired to the second heaven. The hot, dry days of famine took over the earth. From the second heaven, Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket) sends rain every time someone tells her story. 

In the years 1999 to 2000, there were massive protests in Cochabomba, in Bolivia, against the privatization of municipal water supply. In 2009, eight animators from Bolivia worked with French filmmaker Denis Chapon and The Animation Workshop of Denmark, chose to retell her story. Abuela Grillo sings as she walks the lowlands and mountains in the borders of Paraguay and Bolivia. She settles in a village where she is initially welcomed. Overjoyed, she sings and sings until the valleys are flooded. The villagers get angry and chase her away. While traveling, she is lured by the black-suited, white-collared corporate giants who promise her fame and applause. They harness the rains, bottle water and sell it to the people. Now, the villagers whose lands had plenty start to run dry. Abuela Grillo gradually grows tired of the stage shows, but realizes she cannot leave. The corporates have her in captivity. They force her to sing more and more, until they tap her tears. The villagers come to know of Abuela Grillo’s plight and realize their mistake. They march into the city with all utility weapons they can find demanding the corporates let their grandmother go. Unfortunately, the white collars wage war against them with tear gas. Not able to stand it anymore, Abuela screams and her floods wash away the tear gas and destroys everything in the city. Free now, Abuela walks away, and is welcomed back in the village, where she sings and brings harvest all along her way.

A blogger from Bolivia details some of the themes in this film:

  • Exploitation of natural resources by greedy businessmen in the city. Shows the fear and the symbol of the bad guys as unsympathetic, large in stature, sharp edges around the body, physically abusive, cement gray and black in color as if mechanical or lacking life.
  • The move into the city being where trouble ensues.The grandmother is taken for granted in her homeland and is forced to wonder into the big city where she is exploited. This is a moral lesson for indigenous people torespect the wisdom of their elders even if they don’t initially understand the importance of tradition and song. The people of the countryside who kicked out abuelo grillo later find hardship when no water falls from the sky.
  • Indigenous knowledge of natural cycles and the old grandmother’s traditional skill. Abuelo Grillo’s ability to make it rain is a metaphor for her people’s inherited, old wisdom and spiritual power to retain balance and good health to their people and land.
  • Water is the most essential part of life, so the metaphor speaks to all the issues in the world over water and how we are connected. Even water use in British Columbia, a place so blessed with fresh glacial melt, has to be aware of the implications of masses of people who abuse it.
  • Cycles of nature taking over – the flood. This is reminiscent of the earth fighting back against human destruction and wrong-doing.

A blogger from Toronto, Canada adds to this that the grandmother cricket is the representative of old women in the society whose knowledge and contributions usually stand invisible. She also brings to notice this ridiculous advertisement campaign below. She writes, “I’m seriously not impressed with this new Evian campaign with people wearing pictures of babies on their shirts – “live young” and die young?–, although, admittedly, you’d have to have the brain of a 3 year-old to continue to purchase toxic-seeping water bottles…”

On a radio advertisement, a man complains in anxiety that there’s no safe place to drink water from, when his friend suggests him to get himself a safe and pure bottle of TATA Water Plus. But, how did our tap water get unhygienic or salty? How did our rivers become sewers? How did our wetlands become homes for high-rise SEZs and gated communities? How did water in a plastic container or anything packaged come to mean ‘clean’? How did water become something we pay for?

While Annie Leanord’s The Story of Bottled Water gave ideas how an urban middle class and rich audience can ask these questions and react to the privatization and commodification of natural resources like water, this simple beautiful film tells the story of how the indigenous population will react. Examples of this are in plenty. The protests against bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills, the anti-nuclear protests in Idinthakarai, the jal satyagrahas against the massive dams, the Jaitapur villagers protesting against the uranium mines, the villagers who want to save their forests in Thervoy Kandigai from SIPCOT, farmers who are trying to preserve indigenous knowledge and systems against genetic modification and industrial farming, the fishermen who are fighting against privatized ports and elevated expressways, and the list goes on to tell the same story.

There is more reading below, which equips a citizen to assess both her luxuries and her part in this dialogue. Today, most of us buy water cans that cost up to Rs. 30, some families need two a day. Even if we remember to carry water with us, sometimes in the city its hard to not to buy a bottle of water (most restaurants or theaters don’t allow water brought from outside). The first step is to genuinely acknowledge and recognize the indigenous communities and their rights to hold on to their last pockets of ecological and cultural heritage.

Reading:

The Cochabamba Water Revolt and its Aftermath. Jim Shultz. University of California Press.

The political economy of public sector water utilities reform. Karen Coehlo. Info Change News & Features. 2005

Blue Gold. The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World’s Water Supply. Maude Barlow. National Chairperson, Council of Canadians Chair, IFG Committee on the Globalization of Water. Revised edition. 2001.

Water as a Human Right? John Scanlon, Angela Cassar and Noémi Nemes. IUCN Environmental Law Programme. 2004

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sustained notes of struggle: The Anti-Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant Movement

APEX Express is a “weekly magazine-style radio…committed to building a broader social movement for justice and collective liberation for all oppressed people, including poor & working-class people, people of color, women and queer people.” Read more about APEX Express on their blog.

On 18 October 2012, APEX contributor Marie Choi called in activists from the Chennai Solidarity Group for a discussion on the various aspects of the anti-nuclear struggle in Koodankulam and the Government of India’s and the state government’s reaction to it. What follows is only the transcript of the conversation between V. Geetha and Nityanand Jayaraman (Chennai Solidarity Group) and Marie Choi (APEX). Listen to the full episode here and tune in every Thursday 7-8 p.m. for new episodes here.

Introductions

Protest against proposed nuclear power plant in Koodankulam, 1989. Shared by Prabakar Kappikulam

The People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy has been picking up steam and they’re organizing against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant in the southernmost part of India. People in Tamilnadu have been organizing opposition to this nuclear power since 1988 when the Indian and Russian governments collaborated with big energy corporations and agreed to build this plant with no public information or input.

So when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, United States stepped in hoping for their own piece of the Indian nuclear pa[indistinct] and eased India’s way into Nuclear Suppliers Group. The project was slated to move forward. Last year, the Fukushima nuclear disaster renewed concerns about the impact of nuclear plants on the health and safety of people living nearby. In August 2011, just five months after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, protests in Tamilnadu picked up, with over sixty villages opposed [indistinct] people engaging in hunger strikes. Since then, the protests have escalated, with thousands of fisher people and residents staging protests in the waters around the nuclear plant.

We sat down with V. Geetha and Nityanand Jayaraman, members of the Chennai Solidarity Group, who have been working on the grounds to support the protests against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant.

My name is Nityanand Jayaraman. I am a writer, researcher and also a volunteer with the Chennai Solidarity Group for the Koodankulam struggle.

My name is V. Geetha. I am writer and historian. I’ve been working with the Chennai Solidarity Group which supports the struggle against the nuclear plant in Koodankulam.

English: Construction site of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant Deutsch: Baustelle des Kernkraftwerks Kudankulam (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Construction site of the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Marie Choi – There’s been opposition to the plant for years and years, but was there something that shifted in August 2011? 

V. Geetha – Fukushima of course, which brought to reality what can happen in case a nuclear reactor goes in to danger. Also, what was happening in Japan, I think, that triggered off a major sort of anxiety about the plant. But, prior to that, I think, the people who have been coordinating the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy have been doing a lot of work on the ground. They’ve been going from village to village and trying to persuade people that this not such a good thing, and there may be jobs for a few, but in the end it’s really going to sort off affect their communities, their resources, their right to livelihood, their future and so on. So, I think, both these things came together and then people decided enough was enough. And they decide to this sort of prolonged sit-ins in their villages. The fishers, of course, have been the most vociferous, because they stand to be immediately affected since their livelihood depends on the sea. But, everyone else has pitched in as well. Those that do farming, small shopkeepers, teachers, just about everybody else that keeps a community going. I think, what has happened is that something which would have been just a routine government decision has become something that people have started talking about. They are talking about the environment. They are talking about safety issues. And they are also raising very fundamental questions about what kind of electricity do we need.

Marie Choi – Can you talk a little about why this particular nuclear power project is so important nationally within India?

Nityanand Jayaraman – I don’t know who it is important for. Certainly not for me. For the government, it has become both an issue of prestige and also, I think, it is payback time. With the nuclear deal with India and Russia, where India was seeking a way out of its, kind of, you know, it hadn’t planned much of its stake as far as the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s concerned. The Americans tried to mediate and tried ease the way for India to join the nuclear club without risks. As a result, it is now payback time. Corporations from Russia, from France, and from America would like a piece of the nuclear vibe. There’s supposedly a huge market in India. If all the plants that the government has proposed to build are constructed, there is a lot of money to be made. The Government of India is caught in a diplomatic bind, where it has promised to foreign governments access to India’s nuclear markets. This is not about India’s energy security. It is about honoring the debt, honoring the legitimate concerns of the corporations that might have bailed India out or helped India, the lobbying capacity of the Government of the United States.

V. Geetha – I would actually see it in the larger context of what is happening in countries like India, which is that a lot of communities dependent on natural resources, whether it’s the sea, the forest or the rivers, are being told that they must give over their resources to companies that are interested in mining, that are interested in generating electricity for the industrial use. And these communities are faced basically [with] a very drastic choice – that they give up their traditional ways of living, or they give up their dependence on natural resources, come to the city as cheap labour and work, or they protest and face the consequences.

Marie Choi – I’m curious. Do you see any connection between the nuclear energy projects and broader militarization?

V. Geetha – It may not be easy to make direct connections with absence of public information. But, one can safely say that the nuclear establishment whether it is concerned with civilian uses or for military uses is completely untransparent. You are simply not able to find out who makes decisions, on what basis are these decisions made. And anyone who interrogates the nuclear establishment, even the civilian nuclear establishment stands to be seen as an enemy of the State. So you have this very absurd and menacing scenario, where ordinary fisher folks of a village next to the plant, over 2000 of them have been charged with Sedition. So that should give you a sense of how the Government of India treats nuclear power, you know, capability. It’s obviously a matter of State secrecy, it’s matter that’s beyond civilian control, and the government’s, sort of, determined to keep it that way.

Links to Report on the Convention against Sedition and other Repressive Laws. PUCL.

Marie Choi – And, can you explain what Sedition means?

V. Geetha – Well… You know, as I said, it’s absurd and menacing. Certainly, because it’s ridiculous to charge a 14 year old with Sedition or 75 year old with Sedition, right? That’s whats being done! The Sedition law goes back to colonial times. It was used by the British to arrest Indian freedom fighters. And it’s a shame that we haven’t been able to take the law of our statued books. There’s been a campaign by civil liberties, civil rights group to do that. But, that hasn’t really ended. What’s happened over the years is that it is used by the State to quell dissent of any kind. And once you’re booked under Sedition Law, of course you’re allowed access to the courts..you may hear, you know, opt to defend yourself, you may have lawyers defending you, but it can mean a very protracted trial. And that can be very despairing for people who are poor, and who don’t want to be caught in this scenario, and who are merely protesting their right to, to retain their right to livelihood. So that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, you have the entire hysteria that can be whipped up around Sedition by the Media, by right-wingers, by those that are not supportive of people’s struggles. So. Whatever happens in the courts is one thing, but in the public eye this can create a lot of discomfort as well.

Marie Choi – If you are tried for Sedition and found guilty, then what happens to you? 

V. Geetha – Depending on the actual particular instance, which has earned you this label of being a seditionist. You could be imprisoned for life. You could have a very long jail term. And the worst case scenario is, if your name has been linked, whatever that means, if it has been proved that you’ve inflicted murder, you could face capital punishment.

Marie Choi – I’m also curious how class is being used? With all that’s going around this particular nuclear power plant. I mean, I’ve been seeing reports that they’ve been cutting power to people, even in the surrounding areas. But, a lot of it has been appealed to the middle class as well this energy is for you, this is to support your lifestyle, how is that played out? How real are those claims? 

Nityanand Jayaraman – In a sense, this kind of fixation on electricity, is essentially a class issue. If you look at what’s being talked about here that the nuclear power plant is crucial for India’s energy security, not electricity security, but energy security. We need to have efficient policies of how we can conserve on the transportation needs, how we can vamp up our public transportation, subsidize public transportation, and penalize private transportation and cars. I think, that there is a mis-match. I see electricity which is only 12% of the energy basket, to cooking which is a major issue. Our preoccupation if it were on cooking fuel, I think we would say that this is a society that tries towards equity. But the focus is on electricity. I think electricity is important, for people like me it is crucial both to conduct my work and everything else. The power cuts are real. I don’t think.. There might be orchestrated to some extent. But there is a scarcity of electricity. Are these electricity cuts equitably distributed? No. Yet, the IT companies, the Hyundai Motors, the Ford car company, these guys have 24/7 electricity. But children who want to study in the evening do not have electricity. The small entrepreneurs, the small, you know, people who run small workshops, they don’t have electricity. So the people who are being hardest hit are the people who can least afford it. And the people who are not being hit, are luxury consumers of electricity, like software companies and car manufacturers.

Marie Choi – Why is this something that people who don’t live in that area, who come from different class background, why is it something that they should care about?

V. Geetha – It is very, sort of, painful to watch ordinary people being made to go through such difficulties. I think there is a sense of social justice that people in the cities are sensitive to. I mean, this is not a large number obviously. But, there are enough people that  feel quite annoyed that their government is doing this to its own people. That’s on the one hand. Then of course, I think, there’s been a very real concern about nuclear energy. And I must say, Fukushima has played a very important role at least in sensitizing this generation of people to what a nuclear disaster could actually result in. That is also an important aspect to be kept in mind. And thirdly, post-tsunami 2004 there’s been a general sense of anxiety about what the sea can do, because the sea really caught everyone unaware. And those that live in the coastline, like in the city where I live, Chennai’s a coastal city, there’s also a sense that the coast is not something you can treat lightly, it follows rhythms that we don’t quite understand and we may not want to tamper with its natural rhythms over much. People also come to that from that understanding.

Anti-nuclear protest, near Idinthakarai, Koodankulam. September 13, 2012. (Photograph by Amirthraj Stephen)

Marie Choi – Four hundred days of sustained protest. What is it that sustained that?

Fisherfolk of this part of the country have a reputation for being fearless and militant. There’s that. [indistinct] That’s also, they will tell you if you ask them why, “Everyday we face death in the sea, so what do we have to fear?” So there’s that sense of romantic disregard for life. But, I also think that there is a certain disciplined organizing that has come about because the local communities have stood by them and the local church groups which have organized fisherfolk in particular have been very supportive. The Catholic church is very strong in these parts. And local members of the Catholic Church, I’m not talking about the Catholic hierarchy, but the local members of the Catholic Church have always been very involved in civic issues. And that has gone both ways. It has also meant that they support they most powerful amongst the fishing groups or they take the part of the more subaltern and the more oppressed. In this case, I think, the fact that everyone rallies around for a meeting when the church bell is struck, you know, that’s how they call people for a meeting. It’s also meant that they feel a sort of ethical, spiritual sense of doing this together in the name of something that is beyond us, not God so much, but the name of a nature that includes us, includes the natural world that is non-human. So there is that as well.

Marie Choi – If everything goes you’ll way, what does that look like? 

Nityanand Jayaraman – We would like to have this nuclear programme ended, at least for now. And the plant not commissioned. And the plant used for something that is saner, I don’t know what that is. The other thing is that the government should drop the cases that were filed against the people of Idinthakarai and Koodankulam. More than 300 cases have been filed against about 150000 people. 10,000 people have been charged with Sedition and waging war against the state. This is the response a democratic state has had to bunch of people protesting nonviolently for more than a year. Among the people who are charged with Sedition and Waging War Against the State are also children. I think, that, they must drop these. And if they have the courage, apologize sincerely to the people of Idinthakarai and thank them for trying to bring sanity in to India…

The music played in the background is ‘Song of the Coastal Lilies’, (Neythalin Paadal), a movement song  by Pedestrian pictures

***

This English transcript was done by volunteers in Chai Kadai. Feel free to share, copy, distribute and translate this transcript under this Creative Commons license. Please attribute the podcast interview to APEX Express. 

Chai Kadai. (chaikadai.wordpress.com | chaikadai@gmail.com)

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Anugundu – The Atom Bomb | Documentary

Anugundu – The Atom Bomb ( Tamil with English subtitles) – YouTube. 48 minutes.

A film by Manila Mohan, a journalist with a Malayalam literary magazine, who visits the protesters in Koodankulam. The documentary details many pitfalls in the building and commissioning of the nuclear power plant in Idinthakarai, Koodankulam. It interviews many of the villagers, including women and children, who express concerns about their safety, the stupidity of such an unsafe technology, and question for whom is this development and electricity that the States promise.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Sea Siege in Koodankulam 08 October 2012

(Photographs by Amirtharaj Stephen)

Launching another phase of their anti-nuclear protests in Koodankulam, thousands of fishermen from Kanyakumari and Tirunelveli districts began a day-long siege by placing themselves in fiber boats surrounding the area shouting slogans from 500 metres in the sea. This is a token siege as they will not be allowed to get any closer to the power plant.  PMANE convenor S P Udayakumar (quoted from Firstpost) said –

“We have been appealing to the state and central governments that this power plant is not in the best interest of safeguarding the livelihood interests of the people in the area”, he said.

Udayakumar added that the entire world was shunning nuclear power, and it was imperative that the government did not drag India in the opposite direction. “We are all for power and development but not this costly and dangerous exercise,” he said.

Speaking to the media even as the villagers of Idinthakurai prepare to launch a jal satyagraha 500m away from the site of the Kudankulam plant, PMANE convenor Udayakumar said that they were demanding that the heavy police presence at the village be withdrawn, and that charges against them be dropped.

NDTV reports

The protesters are demanding the closure of the plant, citing safety concerns. The locals say they are worried about ecological damage by radioactivity which could affect the livelihood of thousands of fishermen around the plant. Activists have also cited the Fukushima disaster in Japan, triggered by a tsunami last year, to draw parallels about the dangers of a nuclear plant. 

The villagers are also demanding the release of those arrested in an earlier protest, and taking back what they term as false cases against activists. They also want the police to be withdrawn from their villages.

The sea siege happened from 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. on 08 October 2012. Over 5000 security personnel, including the Rapid Action Force, had been deployed, besides the five coast guard vessels monitoring the sea.

(click on image to view gallery)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Kudankulam’s neighbours weigh nuclear power fears against living standards | India Insight | Reuters

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.

via Kudankulam’s neighbours weigh nuclear power fears against living standards | Anoo Bhuyan | India Insight | Reuters 08 October 2012.