|The Roman Catholic Church in Tamil Nadu’s Idintakarai. Picture by Ananthakrishnan G
Here, the men go to work and the women fight. They have been doing that for nearly a thousand days now, braving police batons to “save future generations from a potential Fukushima-like disaster”.
Maybe, the clue lies in the way shirts are worn — tucked in, not bush style.
No, these women protesters at the forefront of the anti-nuclear plant agitation in Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu, don’t need to wear their shirts tucked in like women constables in the state’s police force.
But, in a way, the tucked-in self-assurance of the women cops mirrors the toughness of these protester women. Hardly 30km across the border in Kerala, women constables still wear their shirts bush style. In 2010, they had erupted in protest when a committee headed by a lady officer recommended that they tuck their shirts in.
Such diffidence has long exited Idintakarai, a fishing hamlet along the Tamil Nadu coast. “These are not women, but tigers,” says Meldret, pointing to the rest of her group on the patio of the parish of the Roman Catholic Church.
“Our men go to work and the women fight. There are hundreds of cases against all of us,” says Sundari, another protester. “The administration disconnected power lines, stopped food supplies and we had no buses coming here for almost two years. But we will not stop till the project is buried.”
The Church denies funding the agitation, but a thatched roof over the patio forms a makeshift enclosure, which, along with the adjoining ground, is the main venue for the protests. Meldret describes herself as one of the hundreds of women in the village who braved batons “to save future generations from a Fukushima-like situation”.
Didn’t they want electricity? “There are alternative, non-conventional sources from which electricity can be generated,” says Sundari, pointing to the windmills that dot the landscape. “We survive because our husbands go into the sea to fish. But radioactive discharge from the nuclear plant will kill sea life and deprive us of our livelihood.”
The women reject allegations that they were paid to protest. “Our protest is inching towards 1,000 days. Can anyone pay us for all these days!” Sundari says.
Their protest, they claim, has been low-key for a while because S.P. Udayakumar, the convener of the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy, is contesting the elections from neighbouring Kanyakumari district on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket. Another anti-nuclear activist, R. Pushparayan, is testing the waters from Thoothukudi (Tuticorin), also on an AAP ticket.
The village has, however, banned parties from campaigning there as a mark of protest. Even the AAP has not been spared.