About 25 kilometers away from Kanyakumari, the southernmost sanctuary of Hinduism in India, there is a small fishery village called Idindakarai.
After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami destroyed almost the whole village, the disaster recovery public housing called “Tsunami Colony” has built. These houses stand on the entrance of the village and it is still a dwelling for many of the victims. As you walk towards the center, where the church is located, palm trees and banana leaves on the side of the road welcome you, swaying in the wet tropical wind. The wind also carries the smell of the ocean and the sound of waves. Children are racing one after another and motorbikes pass by me. I threaded my way to the big Christian church at the center. There is also a Hindu temple which is a little smaller than the church. It was in the afternoon when I arrived there so it seemed the villagers were getting settled towards the end of a day -- fishermen mending their fish traps, a woman rolling a bidi, which is an Indian cigarette, and people laying, chatting and napping in the shade. At the sunset, the villagers make their ways to the church. Behind the prayers, cooking steam produced from houses let them know that their dinner is almost ready. Houses are dimly lit and the night crawls in.
In 1997, NPCIL (Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited) collaborated with Atomostroyexport, the Russian Federation’s nuclear power equipment and service exporter, and Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy corporation, began construction. Then the facility became the first nuclear power plant in India with an installed capacity of 1000MW. Construction finished at the beginning of 2011. While the Fukushima nuclear disaster which happened on March 11th was still shaking the world, KKNPP carried out its test operation in July in the same year. In protest against the operation, the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE) was founded by a local former professor S.P. Udayakmar and its movement became intense. After August 2011, more than ten thousands people joined and worked for anti-nuclear protests every day. They tried to block off the roads and carry out indefinite hunger strikes, demanding a release of safety assessment and effect assessment of the environment. In the result, Jayalalithaa, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, manifested that the plant would not be operated without the residents’ consent and requested the suspension of operation to Prime Minister Singh. However, Jayalalithaa later announced the change in the manifest and permitted its operation on March 19th, 2012. The peripheral region of the power plant was blocked off by armed police. As a result, goods supply to the area was banned and the press was prohibited from reporting any related news. Moreover, the leaders of PMANE were charged with arrest warrants and 665 villagers who joined the protest held on March 22nd were arrested.
Although the blockade and goods supply were permitted later by a high court, the protest had continued and there were still one thousand participants in the one held on September 10th in 2012. On this protest meeting, one of the villagers were shot to his death by police and 200 of them were arrested. The population of this village is about ten thousands yet 8856 villagers were charged against 21 cases of treason. Most of them are not informed with details of “their crime” and have never seen their warrants.
Ms. Melret witnessed police officers shooting the crowds while participating in the protest organized by PMANE in 2012. Since then, she has been participating in any protests as she determined to fight against such force until she dies. “Our goal is to close all the nuclear power plants,” said Ms. Melret. She had been charged for 127 fabricated cases and was not allowed to step out of her house for 3 years.
Since the 2016 Sumatra earthquake, Mr. Sathish, a fisherman in the village, has been afraid of a tsunami and its possible effect on the nuclear power plant.
“If there is another tsunami in the future, people would escape from the village. But who will save them if something happens in the nuclear power plant? Where to keep them? We all know that the government will not provide us with safety and cleanliness. They should understand that the ‘development’ that they are talking of will end up destroying the whole world. Creation should be for the health and growth of human beings, not for the destruction of the world.”
Upon the commencement of commercial operation of the nuclear power plant on August 10th in 2016, the village has seemed to restore its normal state. However, the villagers are still left with their “criminal records.”
Although people are still confused by the charges fabricated by the government and also afraid of a possible explosion on the nuclear power plant by a tsunami and its effect over the environment, they would never give up on raising their voices.
Fishermen go out to the sea when the sunrises and bring back the catch to bid at an auction which starts before the sunlight begins glaring down. This is the busiest time of the day. By the time school starts, the village gets its tranquility back. The wet wind sways leaves on trees and waves starts singing.