Archive for September 12, 2012

Koodankulam Anti Nuclear Protest: The Struggle Belongs to All

koodankulam anti-nuclear protest

Why are there not many powerful voices and groups in India coming out openly in support of the movement against Koodankulam nuclear power plant led by the extraordinary women from the villages?

By Lalita Ramdas

On 9th Sunday night, thousands of people, mostly women and children spent the night under the open sky near the sea at Idinthakarai, the epicentre of protests against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant. Neither the lathi charge nor the teargas shells could stop this inevitable nonviolent struggle by the people of Koodankulam. Police intimidated with batons and officials threatened naval intervention. The protesters, braving the rough coastal weather, refused to go home. On Monday morning the police again tried to disperse them with batons but had to finally withdraw.

The women of Koodankulam, along with their men folk and their children are displaying outstanding qualities of collective leadership, organisational skills, dedication and commitment. They showed their capabilities in rigorous analysis of complex questions of energy policy, dangers of nuclear power and radiation and ecological impact of nuclear plants on their livelihoods, on the oceans and the marine biology.

Groups of women have traveled to participate and put their perspectives in front of a wide range of audiences – both within Tamil Nadu as well as outside the state. Most recently audiences in Delhi were moved by presentations made by the women from the community of fisher folk at the public hearing on nuclear energy on August 21.

And yet what is perplexing and disturbing is the relatively low level of interest and support that this movement has received when compared to many other issues in the country.

The opposition to the nuclear power plant has been given such short shrift at all levels despite a series of exposes regarding the fault lines, lack of all safety procedures, the CAG’s damning report on the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board and the utter lack of all basic environment studies.

In March this year, Jayalalitha, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, brought in a huge police force in order to intimidate the protestors. The police arrested thousands of protestors, cracked down on several activists and slapped draconian charges of sedition and waging war against the state.

Since then, the core leadership team has been virtually grounded in Idinthakarai. They fear they would be arrested if they moved out. They have continued undaunted – filing PILs, preparing detailed technical reports, making appeals, analysing every single action of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India (Ltd), the Department of Atomic Energy and informing about the various contraventions of safety regulations in the project including those by the Russian suppliers. All seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

For the past several years I have personally been deeply involved with the movement against nuclear weapons and against nuclear energy. I have been writing, posting literature, articles on the key questions around nuclear energy and its destructive potential. Through Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), I have been closely involved with the leadership of People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE). I have spoken with people at all levels. It is from this deep personal experience that my own commitment to spread the word and news about this struggle has grown and been reinforced. Above all else, it is the determination of the women of Idinthakarai and surrounding villages that is moving and inspiring.

However, today, I am left with many disturbing questions:

Why are there not many more powerful voices and groups out there raising their voices and coming out openly in support of an incredible and vibrant movement – that too with the leadership of extraordinary women?

To what extent has the possible link of nuclear power with the issue of national security played a role in this silence?

How many continue to believe the TINA factor with regard to nuclear energy – i.e. India absolutely needs nuclear power to grow and develop.

Are there just too many causes going around and we are tired and simply lack energy to go into depth regarding any of them?

Anti Nuclear protestors at Idinthakarai on Sunday

How can the people of India be made aware of the peculiar dangers of nuclear energy and nuclear power plants, so that many more voices can be convinced to speak up and speak out with conviction?

Betsy Hartmann, Professor of Development Studies and Director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College, Massachusetts, USA, presents a set of arguments as to why nuclear power should be part of all our agendas. Although she speaks within the context of the USA, we have seen that as with the peace and anti-war movement, it is not gaining traction, either in India or elsewhere. The items on our agendas are growing fast, the funding is severely reducing and groups are facing assaults from all sides – as we saw in the case of the Prime Minister’s Office crying hoarse that the protests in Koodankulam were foreign funded!

This is where Prof. Betsy is at her best showing us how we can and must make a space for anti-nuclear activism in each of our movements because there is a powerful convergence in many of them. She argues:

  • Nuclear power is a reproductive rights issue; Among other serious side effects, exposure to radiation can increase the risk of sterility, birth defects and genetic mutations that can affect the reproduction of generations to come. Plutonium, a by-product of nuclear power and a key component of atomic bombs, is the most potent manmade poison on the planet, with a half life of 24,000 years. It crosses the placenta and is stored in male testicles.
  • Nuclear power is an environmental justice issue; From uranium mining on indigenous lands in the southwest to locating reactors in poor African-American rural communities in Georgia. And let’s not forget our own Jaduguda or the uranium mines in AP.
  • It’s a climate justice issue; Don’t let them fool you. Nuclear power is not a clean substitute for dirty fossil fuels. For one thing, the government and industry have no idea of how or where to safely store the waste. Moreover, nuclear energy is hardly emissions-free when you factor in the mining, transport and enrichment of uranium as well as the leakage of the potent greenhouse gas CFC 114 from cooling pipes. The money spent on nuclear development should instead flow into the development of safe renewable energy and conservation.
  • It’s a labour rights issue; As we’ve seen at Fukushima, nuclear workers, many of them labouring on an exploitative contract basis, are being exposed to unacceptable health risks. Nuclear power also produces dangerous chemical by-products that affect workers. As an industry shrouded in secrecy, workers often lack redress or are scared to complain about health and safety violations for fear of losing their jobs.
  • It’s a peace and security issue; The notion of ‘atoms for peace’, first trumpeted by President Eisenhower in the 1950s, has always been a sham. Nuclear power fuels the atomic weapons industry, facilitates nuclear proliferation, and increases vulnerability to terrorist attacks. In a profound irony, it helps legitimize the national security state as necessary to protect us from nuclear threats of the state’s own making.
  • Nuclear power is a basic democracy issue too; Why does President Obama support nuclear power?  Because the nuclear lobby supported his candidacy. If we want clean renewable energy, we need clean elections. And we need local control.” We should be clear too as to why Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh supports nuclear power and signed the Indo US Nuclear deal – the reasons are not far to seek.

Koodankulam is showing us the way – human rights and democracy are under threat there as in many places across the country today. We must acknowledge the linkages with these struggles. Koodankulam is a struggle that belongs to us all, affects us all, and therefore should be fought by us all wherever we are.

Lalita Ramdas is an active member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace [CNDP]. She is the founder of ANKUR Society for Alternatives in Education, Delhi, was a founder and Board Chair of Greenpeace India, and till recently, Board Chair of Greenpeace, International.

Human Rights Abuse in India: An Unholy War on its People

Medha Patkar

Human rights activists in India are deeply concerned about the shrinking democratic spaces with allegations of police/security forces intimidation, arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, and torture multiplying for the past several years

By Ramlath Kavil

On the human rights and civil rights front, things have been going wrong in the most populous democracy of the world for quite some time. Human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been accusing the Indian State of blatant rights abuses. In May 2012, the Government of India itself declared in its Parliament that human rights violations in the country have increased by over 13,000 in the last three years and in 2011 alone some 94,630 such violations were reported.

The government stands accused in several cases of human rights violations in various courts of the country. The UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, May 2012, made 169 recommendations to India regarding human rights issues, which included the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances. India’s Attorney General who led the government delegation in Geneva, chose to play down the recommendations by saying, “India has the ability to self-correct.”

The  Unlawful Activities Prevention Act,1967 ( UAPA)  which entitles the police to arrest anybody without warrant on mere suspicion and its 2008 Amendment which allows the authorities to detain the accused upto 180 days of pre charge detention,  has also come under severe criticism. It may be recalled, a widely respected pediatrician and rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen was arrested in 2007 under this act, which prompted several international organizations and individuals including Noam Chomsky to come down heavily on the Indian Government. Dr. Sen was granted bail by the Supreme Court in April 2011.

The arrests and imprisonment of the tribal woman Soni Sori ,civil rights activist Seema Azad and now a young political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi offer yet another glimpse to how one of the fastest growing economies in the world is callous when it comes to checking its human rights record.

Soni Sori

Soni Sori, named by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, hails from Chhattisgarh, one of India’s poorest regions where the banned radical left group Maoist (Naxalite) is said to wield considerable clout. Thousands of families have been caught between a deadly war fought by the State and the Maoists, both accused of violent tactics. Soni Sori’s family happened be one of them. According to rights activists, she and her family landed on the wrong side of both the Maoists and the state police, as they refused to operate as informers to either of them.

A warden in a state run girls hostel, Soni Sori’s ordeal with the law began in 2009 when the Chhattisgarh police arrested her 26-year-old nephew, a local journalist, Lingaram Kodopi. Sori and her family had claimed that the young journalist was arrested for speaking up against atrocities of Chhattisgarh police and the exploitations of the tribal people.

On September 9th 2011, Chhattisgarh’s Dantewada police charged Soni Sori, and her nephew Lingaram Kodopi of being ‘Naxalite accomplices’. Subsequently, both Kodopi and Sori were arrested.  The police accused them of being a conduit for extortion between the mining company Essar and the Maoist.  Both Sori and Essar have denied the allegation.

After two days in custodial interrogation, when Sori had to be produced in front of the Dantewada Magistrate on the 10th October 2011, the 37-year-old was so weak that she could not even get down from the police van.  A court clerk came to the police van, and the court passed an order without seeing her.

Soni Sori wrote to her lawyer about the brutal torture she was subjected to in custody at the orders of the then District Police Superintendent Ankit Garg, the controversial cop who won President’s gallantry award early this year.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court ordered an Independent medical examination to be conducted at NRS Medical College Hospital in Kolkatta. The report, presented in Court on 25th Nov, 2011 states three stones were found inserted deep inside Sori’s private parts and the MRI scan also showed annular tears on her spine.

Ever since the evidence of Sori’s custodial torture surfaced, women’s rights and human rights activists have been campaigning for her release and for an independent probe into the alleged custodial torture, including sexual violence. On March 8th International women’s day Amnesty International launched a campaign to release Soni Sori. As the Supreme Court is yet to decide on the petition for squashing the cases filed against her by the Chhattisgarh government, Soni Sori, the mother of three, is currently lodged in Raipur central Jail.

Seema Azad

The conviction of Seema Azad in June this year, a 36-year-old human rights activist and the Editor of a bi-monthly magazine adds another chapter to the country’s ongoing chronicle of silencing of dissent. Azad and her husband Vijay were arrested in early 2010 by the Uttar Pradesh Police and were accused of being members of the

From left to right- Soni Sori, Seema Azad and Aseem Trivedi

banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) and possessing banned Maoist literature. They were charged under various sections of IPC and also under the notorious Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. At the time of the arrest, Seema Azad was the State Secretary of People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL), a national network of human rights activists.

After 2 years of trial on June 8th, 2012, the activist couple were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Allahabad Court. Human rights organizations severely criticized the conviction alleging that Azad and her husband were victimized for speaking on behalf of mining workers and farmers in the region. PUCL called the conviction of the couple for terrorism, unlawful activities, sedition and waging war against the state “a glaring travesty of justice,”, The same court, however, on August 6th granted bail to the couple.

Aseem Trivedi

Aseem Trivedi, an award winning political cartoonist was arrested in Mumbai on 8th September 2012 for sedition under section 129 A of Indian Penal code. He was also charged under the IT Act and the 1971 National Emblem Act. Trivedi is arrested for drawing Parliament as a commode and showing the national emblem with bloodthirsty wolves instead of lions. Trivedi, well known for his series of anti corruption cartoons, launched Cartoon Against Corruption, a website in order to support the anti corruption movement in India in 2011. However, within 24 hours of its launch, the Mumbai Crime Branch blocked its content. Later in 2012 Trivedi started, Save Your Voice, a movement against internet censorship in the country.  Trivedi has been sent to police custody till September 16.

“Such cases show that civil and human rights in India are in a moment of profound crisis. Many of these arrests and violations have deep connections to the growing corporatization of India’s mineral-rich land and resources.  This expanded development has displaced many hill and village populations and polluted many of their habitats” says Lena Ganesh, a Delhi-based gender and human rights activist.

Since 2005 many big corporations like Mittal, Jindal, Posco, Vedanta etc have signed MOUs for mining activities in the mineral rich Indian states of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Jharkand etc. These regions have also witnessed extreme opposition from locals against corporatization of the forest land. The Indian government argues that “the rise of extreme leftist outfits in the regions rich in minerals has badly affected investments.” However, rights activists feel the unrest among the locals in these regions is widespread and independent of ‘insurgents’. By attributing the disaffection to ‘motivated parties’, the government and the corporations are walking a tight-rope over a political mine field.

The fact is, as the number of human rights violations grows, the dissent also grows.  In a country where one third of the world’s poor live, silencing the voice of the distress is an absolute impossibility. Threats of arrest and imprisonment would only alienate the vast majority of its 1.2 billion population. Let us not forget, it is the country that gave birth to one of the greatest non violent political movements, a movement that taught the British Empire that no Kingdom can rise above its people’s civil liberties.

Featured photo courtesy: PTI

Making a Case for Patriarchy

Domestic Violence

Karnataka High Court judge K Bhaktavatsala’s misogynistic comments during a divorce petition proceedings sets a dangerous precedent that would make laws such as the Domestic Violence Act ineffective

Padmalatha Ravi

‘If you can tolerate birth pangs, can you not tolerate the husband’s beatings’ reads the headline of a leading Kannada daily quoting Justice K Bhaktavatsala of Karnataka High Court’s observation while hearing a divorce petition. The wife had filed for divorce citing domestic violence as a reason.

The judge went on to say that in marriage “these kind of things happen and she should just move on”. He also referred to the Kannada actor Darshan’s case, where he was first arrested for domestic violence and then let go because the wife retracted the complaint, and said ‘see now they are living quite happily why can’t you learn from them.’

As per news reports, despite the facts – the description of domestic violence (the woman had bruises and boils all over her body) and the photographic evidence, the judge said that there was no merit in the case. It is not clear whether this was just an observation during the hearing or the words in the ruling denying the divorce. Either way, this was a disturbing remark. What was worse was the suggestion he made for the husband to take the wife and children out for a snack to sort it out. How different is this from the police officials who invariably end up brokering a compromise when a woman goes to file an FIR in a domestic violence case?

Though his recent observations have created uproar among women’s rights activists who are campaigning to remove him, with an online petition gathering steam, Justice K Bhaktavatsala is known for his patriarchal comments in divorce cases.  He had famously argued with a female lawyer that since she was single, she had no business arguing a divorce case. Reports quote him saying, “You are unfit to argue this case. You do not know real life….Family matters should be argued only by married people, not spinsters. You should only watch….You better get married and you will get very good experience to argue such cases.”

Justice K Bhaktavatsala

This is not the first time judges have made inappropriate remarks in divorce cases. Earlier in May, division bench judges in Bombay High Court observed that a ‘wife should be like goddess Sita who followed her husband Lord Ram.’ In this case the husband was filing for divorce because the wife was refusing to move with him to Port Blair, where he was being transferred on work.

There have been reports of family courts in general being a nightmare of humiliation for a woman seeking divorce. It is no secret that there have been systematic efforts to change the section 498(A) in order to ‘Save Indian families’. Every attempt to make the divorce process woman-friendly is termed as a new ploy to exploit men. The recent amendment to the Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill has upset the conservative forces in the country. The amendment suggests that the woman will get a certain share in husband’s property post divorce.

Comments such as the ones given by Justice K Bhaktavatsala’s not only re-enforce patriarchy in the mainstream psyche but also give impetus for those arguing against the Domestic Violence Act. These comments have become a part of public record. If the presiding judges also decide that these laws are harmful to men or Indian families and hence deny divorce applications, they set a very dangerous precedent.

Padmalatha Ravi is based in Bangalore and works as an Associate Editor with www.Citizenmatters.in

Featured Image:  Trapped – Art by Sherrie Thai of Shaireproductions