While Jharkhand police booked over 10,000 Adivasis for sedition, Tamil Nadu faced similar action a few years ago.

Seven years later The lives of 9000 people booked for sedition in TNs KudankulamImage: amirtharaj stephen/pepcollective
news Human Interest Thursday, November 21, 2019 - 08:51

When Scroll.in published a story on how Jharkhand police had booked over 10,000 Adivasis for sedition, it reminded the people of Tamil Nadu of the thousands of villagers living around the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tirunelveli district, Tamil Nadu. Between 2011 and 2013, the Tamil Nadu police had done something similar – the Jayalalithaa regime booked around 9,000 people from these villages under various sections of the IPC including sedition. Their crime? Participating in peaceful protests against establishing a nuclear power plant in Kudankulam.

The power plant, the construction of which started in the early 2000s, saw increasing protests beginning from August 2011, after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster earlier that year. The main contention of the protesters was that in the case of a nuclear emergency, it will not be possible to immediately evacuate people from around the plant, and hence attempts to set up the plant must be forgone. The state government ordered the police to act against the protesters, register FIRs and detain them in order to avoid law and order problems. This essentially was the prompt for the police to book those who had participated in the protests under various sections of the IPC. While the plant has been up and running for a while now, the lives of those who had taken part in those protests have either stagnated or deteriorated since then. 

Milton, who was 41 years old in 2011, had come to his village Idinthakarai in August to spend his holidays, when the protests broke out. “I was working in the merchant navy since 1998 and I used to visit my village for holidays. The protests were in full swing. I saw many people from my own village taking part. So, I also joined them in expressing my opposition to the setting up of the plant,” he tells TNM. The impact of his participation in the peaceful protest, however, lasts till date. 

Crushed dreams

Milton was one of the people who was booked for sedition by the Tirunelveli police. He played a major role in the protests since he was in charge of spreading the message of the protest to the outside world. Due to the FIR, his passport was impounded by the authorities, which put an end to his seafaring career. 

“For the first three or four years after the protests, we were not even allowed to move out of the village to look for jobs,” Miton says, “It was like house arrest. But the situation is far better now.” Today, he runs a cottage industry, making clay bricks. His passport is still with the authorities, he says. 

While the passports of those who had them were impounded by the police, those who had applied for passports when the protests happened did not receive one, since they could not obtain a 'No Objection Certificate' from the police as required by the passport authorities. This put an end to the dreams of many educated youngsters, who wanted to get a job abroad and send money home. 

As for the sedition cases registered against Milton and many others from his village, they have not progressed at all. “We receive summons at least once every three months. We appear in the Valliyur court, and come back. There is no other development on it now,” he says. 

Scared to speak out

While Milton lost out on his job with the merchant navy, 44-year-old Antony Kebiston had his shop set on fire because he participated in the protests.

Speaking to TNM, Antony says that everybody who had participated in the protests continue to suffer in one way or the other. "If we speak about this in detail to the media, we can be sure that we will get calls from the police or other intelligence officers, questioning us about it. They will tell us that they are somewhere in the vicinity and want to meet us casually etc," he explains. Pointing out that while for people like him, these questions from the police might not be fear-inducing, for any common person, a call from the police is enough to rattle them. 

"The hope is that over time, the FIRs against their names will be junked. Hence they would prefer to not get on the wrong side of the authorities. It is ultimately about eking out a living, right?" he says.

“Highly educated youngsters are pushed to low-paying jobs due to the cases,” Antony says. “They can neither go abroad, nor get government jobs, or any good job.”

Govt is making sedition a joke

SP Udhayakumar, who was at the forefront of the Kudankulam protests, talks about the serious provisions in the FIRs against the protesters, like 121 (waging war against the government of India) and 124A (sedition) of the IPC. 

“Sedition is a serious crime. The authorities are making a joke out of this. If they are going to book people for just peacefully protesting against the government, they have to book the entire country,” he says. SP Udhayakumar is the main accused in around 300 FIRs, of which about 20 instances are for sedition. The founder of the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), which led the Kudankulam protests, Udhayakumar also had his passport impounded and his bank accounts frozen for his involvement in the protests. Though he approached the court to get his passport released, the lookout notice against him is still active, he says. 

"I was lucky that I have my wife and children to fall back on. But that is not the case with people as young as 22 and 23. When will they get their life, dreams etc if this is the case?" he asks.  

“This was not a Naxalite or a Maoist movement. This was a completely non-violent struggle. To book people who took part in such a struggle for 'waging war against the state' is totally against the principles of democracy,” he says. 

Family and community have been the only things to fall back on for most people who have cases against them. “My daughter was around four years old back then and my wife had to manage so many things on her own,” Milton says. “While I am glad that it is past us now, it would be nice to have my merchant navy career back untouched. My family would have been much better off by now.”

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