Fresh cases against Idinthakarai Trio

from Nityanand Jayaraman (Chennai Solidarity Group)

09 November 2012 Idinthakarai Updates:

The Tamil Nadu Police has added three new cases against three Idinthakarai women — Xavier Ammal, Selvi and Sundari — who are already in Trichy Women’s Prison.

The trio were originally jailed in three cases that claimed that they were involved in everything from shouting obscene slogans to carrying aruvals (sickles) and crowbars, to waging war against the Government of India (with an aruval) and Sedition. On 18 October, 2012, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court heard the bail appeals of 50 villagers from villages around Koodankulam. The court released 47 villagers, but denied bail to three women — Xavier Ammal, Selvi and Sundari. The women have already spent nearly two months in jail, and given the High Court’s rejection, they are unlikely to return to their families anytime soon.

Their alleged crime was an act that most women would commit intuitively, namely acting to protect their families, their communities and their future generations. Xavier Amma, Selvi and Sundari are strong, though gentle, women who have worked hard to keep their families together by rolling beedis, and selling fish, even while spending time daily in the protest venue with other women. When the occasion demanded, and it did with the impending commissioning of the Koodankulam reactors post-Fukushima, the women of Idinthakarai and surrounding villages galvanised into action. Among these thousands of women, these three have clearly stood out as leaders.

Separately, about a week ago, the Police have booked A. Lourdusamy (68), a seaweed collector, and Nazarene (40), a fisherman, under the draconian Goondas Act. Both are from Idinthakarai. According to an extract from the Wikipedia, “The Tamil Nadu Prevention of Dangerous Activities of Bootleggers, Drug-offenders, Forest-offenders, Goondas, Immoral Traffic Offenders, Slum-grabbers and Video Pirates Act (Tamil Nadu Act 14 of 1982; “Video Pirates” was added by Act 32 of 2004), Section 2(f) states “goonda means a person, who either by himself or as a member of or leader of a gang habitually commits, or attempts to commit or abets the commission of offence, punishable under Chapter XVI or Chapter XVII or Chapter XXII of the Indian Penal Code (Central Act XLV of 1860).”According to a 2011 ruling of the Madras High Court, even a single offense under the Act permits detention of a person as a goonda.

After, sedition and waging war against the State, the Tamil Nadu police’s creative abuse of law is now turning to the Goondas Act as a tool of suppressing dissent.

This is part of the State Government’s vicious program to teach protestors a lesson. It is meant to serve as a warning to everyone that if you are too insistent with your demands, the Government will leave no stone unturned to make life unlivable.

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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)

 

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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)

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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.

 

The Unreality of Wasseypur

by Javed Iqbal

‘The ending of the film was shown properly,’ Speak unanimous voices, the well-known folklore of Wasseypur, Dhanbad, ‘Gangster Shafiq Khan was really gunned down at the Topchachi petrol pump like it was shown in the first part of the film.’

‘That’s how it’s done in Dhanbad.’

And there are long lists of assassinations and murders in Dhanbad. MLA Gurdas Chaterjee of the Marxist Co-ordination Committee was gunned down on the highway. Superintendent of Police Randhir Verma was murdered by dacoits during a botched bank robbery. Santosen Gupta of the Forward Bloc was gunned down. Mukul Dev of the RJD was murdered. S K Rai, a union leader is murdered. Samin Khan, a gangster, gets bail and leaves court and is shot to death, while still in the custody of the police. Sakel Dev Singh, of the coal mafia is killed at the bypass, his brother who works with him, is killed at Shakti chowk, gunned down by an AK47. Manoj Singh alias Dabloo from Matkuria village, who allegedly terrorized the muslims of Wasseypur was gunned down. Chottna Khan, 18 years old, the son of Shafiq Khan was gunned down. Mohd Irfan a railway contractor was killed by a gang. Najeer Ahmed, a ward commissioner, is murdered. A woman home guard who once shared a love with a police officer, who would eventually take him on after their affair turned bitter, would find the dead body of her cut-up nephew in a well at the Dhanbad Polytechnic.

These are just a few high profile murder cases, say the locals, who on one level shy away from the violence that represented their city and on another level take pride in the knowledge of who was gunning down who at what point.

Wasseypur, now a part of Dhanbad district in Jharkhand, has grown, over the decades from a culture of violence and gang warfare, parts of which are depicted in the film.

The film tells the story of three generations of a family, starting with a backdrop to mining in Dhanbad, with the murder of Shahid Khan in the hands of coal mafia leader Ramadhir Singh, and the revenge promised by his son Sardar Khan (in reality Shafiq Khan), and his sons Faisal Khan (in reality Faheem Khan).

‘There was never any revenge story,’ Said Iqbal (24), the son of Faheem Khan (50), grandson of (Shafiq), sitting in the very room where a rival gang had attacked late at night, and even fired onto a police check post as shown in the opening sequence of the film, ‘My great grandfather died of natural causes, he was never murdered by any Singh. And there was another thing, a twist. I had a grand uncle Hanif, who had wanted my father Faheem dead and who had hired a man called Sagir.’

‘And it’s for the murder of Sagir that my father is in Hazaribagh jail now.’

‘None of this is in the film.’ Continued Iqbal, who adds that the sequence where Sardar Khan would call for the rescue of an abducted woman, fictitious, as well as one-time affair of Sardar Khan’s wife, or the Romeo-Juliet type inter-gang marriages, or the arbitrariness of names of characters such as ‘Perpendicular’ and ‘Definite’. There are instead, Prince Khans and Goodwin Khans.

‘There are two kinds of laws in Dhanbad. There’s the law to arrest for the Faheem Khan Family and there’s the law to investigate for the Singh Mansion.’ Says Iqbal, himself just released on bail for murder, referring to the fact that the Singh family is still at large.

The Violent Landscape of Dhanbad

Dhanbad is an unreal place. A small mining town with extreme poverty and a rich labour history. A small town with a bustling middle class bursting through the one main road. You can expect to be stuck in an hour long traffic jam in Dhanbad over Wasseypur, you can find shopping complexes, or remnants of a burnt truck where four people were killed in police firing last year on the 27th of April, or you can find the dead body of a lawaris young man in a seedy hotel near the bus stop. It’s a city of myths, half-truths, and blatant lies. A city where a man called Suraj Deo Singh is also Suryadev Singh, or A K Rai, is also A K Roy. Now an old mansion of a private mine owner who owned 85 mines lay in ruin while the police still continues to extort money from the poorest who pick off scraps of coal to sell. A district partially affected by Maoists, two blocks – Topchachi and Tundi, have been sights of arrests and ambushes. It’s a town with massive migration, massive amounts of pollution owing to the coal mines, many left abandoned and unfilled, other’s now open-cast, and massive amounts of exploitation by the mafia that literally sells labour across the district border.

Dhanbad is where the Chasnala mining accident took place in December 1975 that claimed over 380 lives. A lake vanished into the mines. No one survived. Kala Patthar was made and still remembered. And in September of 1995, the Gazlitang mining accident claimed 96 lives.

Yet what also followed the mining, were the mafias.

‘There are many gangs here.’ Says a lawyer, ‘If you want to tell the story of Dhanbad, you’d need to spend three months here.’

A lot of gangs simply fight over scraps of urbanization: ‘Agenty’ the term for extortion from private bus services was apparently a cause of conflict between the son of Sardar/Shafiq Khan and another gangster called Babla (this was all denied by the home of Sardar/Shafiq/Faheem Khan). Eventually, Faheem Khan, the son of Sardar/Shafiq Khan allegedly instigated a conflict with a businessman Shabir who refused to be extorted and Shabir found himself, on common ground with Babla. Faheem, however struck, allegedly murdering Wahid Alam, Shabir’s brother, a while after Wahid had organized an attack on his home that left one dead and another injured. And Shabir was allegedly responsible, convicted and now out on bail for the murders of Faheem Khan’s mother, or Shafiq Khan’s widow, the aged Nazama Khatoon, who at one point was a known leader at Wasseypur.

‘The rivalry of Shafiq Khan and Faheem Khan with the ‘Singh Mansion’ is not so much,’ Said the Superintendent of Police RK Dhan, ‘It’s really them fighting themselves.’

The ‘Singh Mansion’ is really a collection of different Singhs who often share public office, especially standing on BJP tickets in contemporary times. They include Suryadev Singh (apparently Ramadhir Singh in the film), Baccha Singh, Ramadhin Singh, Shashi Singh and Khunti Singh. Suryadev was alleged responsible for the murder of one of the biggest mine owners V P Sinha decades ago and he died of natural causes in 1991. The Mansion had called for the banning of the film due to the negative portrayal they had received. Yet it is commonly known that the Singh Mansion had their own conflict with Suresh Singh who was murdered in December last year. The conflict between the Singhs was over the coal mines while it is generally known in Dhanbad that Shafiq Khan and his sons were never involved in the mines.

‘Shashi Singh murdered Suresh Singh, according to many witnesses’ Continues the Superintendent of Police.

Yet at the home of Faheem Khan, in Wasseypur, antagonism against the Singh Mansion exists, as it had become no secret that they were involved in providing assistance to the enemies of the family. Sultan, who lived close to Naya Bazaar was in open conflict with Shafiq and had the support of the Singh Mansion. Shabir who lived a mere ten seconds from Faheem Khan, had the support of the Singh Mansion. And spoken in whispers, the ambition of the Khans, led them onto a direct conflict course with the Singh Mansion.

A Dissenter Among the Violence

‘When I was young, a man was hacked up in front of us.’ Says W, a family member of one of the gangs of Dhanbad.

‘In front of you?’

‘Not really in front of me, but we saw the body parts in different bags.’

‘And?’

‘After that all of us were called later to talk to uncle. And uncle, was talking to us about something else, we never gave eye contact, and somehow we pretended nothing had happened.  The thing is, Javed Bhai, we really like to keep ourselves different from them, we know how they might use us, for this or that.’

The Man Who Wore Recycled Tires

A frail old man with glasses, sits quietly holding his arms at the ICU in Dhanbad Central Hospital – he can barely speak yet there was a time that his name was synonymous with the name of Dhanbad. A K Rai, was a chemical engineer, turned trade unionist who helped organize a majority of the mine workers on private mines in Dhanbad, who would be elected three times to office – , and would be in open conflict with the state machinery, the coal mafia and the private mine owners who’d dismiss workers on the slightest hint of organizing, or would hire goons to deal violently with the organizers and strikes.

‘We must’ve lost around 25 to 30 comrades in the 70’s.’ Said Comrade Ramlal, once a miner, than an organizer. He sits back to recall a story that started long before liberalization, long before nationalization, long before Naxalbari and the thousands of days of violence.

‘Before 1962, there were two central government collieries that had some wage structure, but there were some 60-65 private collieries where there was no minimum wages system.’

‘Back then, the bosses never even gave money in some of the collieries, they just had booze shops and their own ration shops. The message to the workers was to just work, and take what you get. And the workers were kept in camps, so they won’t run away. And there was no safety, nothing. There were a lot of movements then also, but the workers were often beaten into submission and there were many murders.’

‘It was during this time that A K Rai had come as a chemical engineer in some company. By day he used to work, by night he would teach in a school in one of the nearby villages.’

Strike after strike, beatings after beatings, the workers would even find themselves in a war of attrition with the coal mafia, especially against Suryadev Singh, who had workers killed and would find that the workers could also defend themselves. At one point A K Rai was convinced by the mine workers to stand for election. He would win for the first time in 1967 on an Assembly seat, then in 1969 to the Vidhan Sabha, again in 1972, then in 1977 after being arrested during the Emergency and only started to lose after 1991. The status of the three-time MP and the MLA stayed intact as a minister would be seen around Dhanbad standing in line to pay his electricity bill, or travel by train, standing in general compartment. Even today miners speak of a time in the 1970’s during the apex of the power of the unions and there is a legacy of the work that was done. Just this year, a one-day strike had helped increase the wages for the miners from Rs.17,000 to Rs.21,000 – this from virtual slave labour before unionization. However there are still no signs of health benefits or for pensions.

‘A K Rai, was probably the only minister who said that ministers should not take pensions.’ Said Divan, a colleague, and it was well known that the battle for pensions amongst the miners was never won. Today, an older generation of unionists speak of failures and the inability to combat the cultural hegemony that came with liberalization. Their children work as managers or in the private sector, a growing middle class has controlled elections, and they’ve slowly seen the diminishing of the power of the unions due to mechanization and less prominence of the Bharat Coking Coal Limited, who were the voting bank of A K Rai, who finally lost the elections in a landslide to the widow of a murdered Superintendent of Police in 1991.

There is even a well known story in Dhanbad of the assassins who had gone to kill A K Rai over a decade ago. They found a frail old man, who was elected to office three times, sweeping a party office early in the morning. They saw his shoes, made of recycled tire rubber, his meager demeanor and walked across a shop to confirm who is A K Rai. When they were sure they knew who it was, they entered the office, drank water, turned around and walked away.

‘Something about that man affected them,’ Said Divan, who also says that the board ‘Bihar Colliery Kamgar Union’ on their office, was the only thing about AK Rai and the labour movement visible in the film Gangs of Wasseypur. ‘I think the mind of this filmmaker was also globalized.’ He laughs.

The coal mafia was born the minute the coal started to leave earth with colliery after colliery owned by private individuals with their own private armies who’d all find themselves in conflict with the miners who began to organize themselves, and there seems to be a reason why every man above the age of forty who has lived in Dhanbad all his life seems to know the name of A K Rai, yet his name is even known amongst the youth.

‘There was probably no man who had done so much for the poor in Dhanbad.’ Said 24 year old Iqbal Khan, gangster or student, who would even say: ‘Krantikari.’

Yet the gang war seems to never end, as Shabir who was released from prison on bail still vows for revenge against the family of Faheem Khan, and local newspapers report that Iqbal, who had a ‘supari’ on his name when he was in the 12th, and is now merely 24, promising to continue the fight.

Meanwhile, a quiet old man who shook the earth is living the last of his days at Dhanbad Central Hospital, while the names of the miners who died in Chasnala fade from the memorial built for them.

***

Earlier this year, assigned to do a piece on ‘Gangs of Wasseypur: Reality vs. Movie’ for a magazine who agreed to fund a trip to Jharkand, the author took the chance to ask what the gangsters and mafia were really doing in Dhanbad over the last fifty years. However, the piece was re-written and published late by the magazine and WordPress has been blocked by certain internet connections. So, the author released an unedited version as a note on Facebook. 

Javed Iqbal is a freelance journalist and photographer who blogs at moon chasing.wordpress.com

Other articles by him on chai kadai-

A Short History of Death and Madness in Bastar. 09 July 2012

“Even if they don’t let us settle here…” 04 May 2012

The Last of The Asbestos Miners of Roro 23 January 2012

The War Dogma 19 October 2011.

When Individuality means Waging War Against the State. 11 October 2011

 

Photographs from Koodankulam, near Idinthakarai – September 13, 2012

by Amirtharaj Stephen

(read more in Koodankulam Speaks)

People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy – Press Release September 12, 2012

People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy
Idinthakarai 627 104

PRESS RELEASE
September 12, 2012

Let us Do Some Soul-search and Talk Again!

Just like a hapless wife brutally assaulted by her male chauvinistic and drunken husband, like an innocent little child beaten up by his abusive parent, our honest, hardworking, and pious people have been violated, their possessions vandalized, their 400-day long nonviolent movement vilified. By our own government! By our own Chief Minister who we brought back to power to rescue us from corruption, power abuse, nepotism, dynastic rule and double speak! An overwhelming majority of the Tamil voters including almost all the coastal communities voted for the Chief Minister’s party.

When the biggest nuclear power plants in the country or the largest nuclear power park is being set up on our seas that will have deleterious effect on our sea and seafood, land and crops, water bodies and ground water, on our livelihood and on our progeny, we have opposed peacefully, democratically and nonviolently. Don’t we have at least that much freedom in our country?

In fact, the Chief Minister sympathized with our cause in the beginning. She had objected to the Chennai visit of the nuclear-armed ship, the USS Nimitz; and she had opposed the India-US nuclear deal with so much conviction. Our team met with the Chief Minister twice and the Prime Minister once at her own personal initiative. The Chief Minister kept talking about solar power and other renewable sources of energy, kept demanding more electricity from the central pool and more finance for electricity projects in Tamil Nadu. She even said that she would be one among us in our struggle.

We took to the streets, voiced our concerns to the Central Government and asked them to stop the Koodankulam nuclear power project, change our energy policy and to save our natural resources. The District Collector, Dr. R. Selvaraj, entertained us in his office and served us tea and biscuits. The Superintendent of Police, Mr. Vijayendra Bidari, gave oral ‘go-ahead’ every time we sought permission over phone for our demonstrations, agitations and public meetings. But they kept on filing false cases on us all with serious charges such as sedition, waging war on the state and so forth.

The ‘love scene’ changed to ‘hate scene’ in March 2012! The script changed! The situation, the lighting, and the overall direction changed! The Chief Minister alleges that we are all in a ‘maya valai’ (mystical net). Maybe she is referring to nuclear radiation that is indeed like a ‘maya valai’ you cannot see, hear, smell, taste or touch.

Today we are surrounded by police, beaten up by police, harassed by police, accused of committing all kinds of crimes by police, arrested by police and above all, mentally, emotionally, spiritually assaulted by police. And the Chief Minister is the police minister!

We are all fisherfolks, shopkeepers, agricultural laborers, beedi-rolling women, and to be brief, working class people. We do not steal public money, we do not amass wealth through illegal business deals, and we do not plunder the nation’s natural wealth. But we are treated like criminals; dangerous, seditious, violent, vicious and wicked lawbreakers. Our leaders, who have been invoking the names and wisdom of Thiruvalluvar, Buddha, Mahavir, Ashoka, Guru Nanak, Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Mother Teresa, are treated like dreaded terrorists. Our people who worship Sage Vishwamitra, Lord Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohamed are treated with contempt and dislike. The St. Lourdes Church at Idinthakarai has been desecrated by urinating and a holy statue destroyed. Naval boats are patrolling our seas; air force planes are hovering over our villages; the police are blocking our roads; we are short of food, water and other basic essentials; and the state is waging a war on us! But we cannot do a thing!

The global nuclear mafia sees our people as their sworn enemies. The KGB, the CIA and other international intelligence agencies consider us serious threats to their respective ruling cliques. The Delhi Government is infuriated with us as they are worried about their billion dollar nuclear business deals and commissions and kickbacks. The Tamil Nadu Government also tends to treat us like dreaded terrorists and dangerous criminals.

The police have shot down an unarmed civilian Anthony John at Manappadu coastal village. Several people including a small baby are said to be missing. Some 53 nonviolent protesters, men and women, are charged with sedition and waging war on the State cases and are languishing in distant prisons in Tamil Nadu. Thousands and thousands of families are living in fear and despair.

We do not expect or want any awards or accolades for practicing democracy and protesting in a nonviolent manner. But can’t we be treated with a little bit of humanness, civility and dignity? Who should we turn to? Who could we talk to? The Chief Minister may not even see this. Her arrogant upper caste advisors may say everything bad about us and our lower caste people.

We would request the Chief Minister to stop fuelling the KKNPP, remove police from our area, provide compensation for the people who lost their boats, vehicles and household items, and release those who are arrested.

We thank all the leaders and members of various political parties, social movements, lawyer associations, fishermen associations, student groups, labor unions, village committees and other organizations in Tamil Nadu and other states for organizing various demonstrations and agitations in support of our struggle. We would solicit their continued support for our struggle and for the above-mentioned immediate demands as well.

The Struggle Committee
People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy