Written by Ajmal Khan A.T.

State-sanctioned brutal violence against its people has been the normal state of affairs from the beginning of the developmental state in India. This violence has been used in the making of state-led development projects, which has made citizens, particularly vulnerable populations (such as Tribals, Dalits and other backward classes) second-class citizens within the country.  However the state-led violence directed against individuals resisting nuclear power projects has been unprecedented. Since nuclear establishments are directly controlled by the state; questioning anything related to nuclear energy has become anti-national and anti-state, making it easier to legitimize violence against them.

The experiences from Kudankulam and Jaitapur demonstrate the direct and indirect state violence that was inflicted upon the locals resisting the nuclear power projects in both states. The state has used the special status given to the nuclear sector in propagating the violence.

The movement against the nuclear power plant in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu and protests against the Jaitapur nuclear power plant in Maharashtra have been two significant people’s resistance movements. In both cases, peaceful protesters were arrested and cases were filed against them including sedition and of waging war against the state. In Kudankulam alone there were around 8000 people charged with sedition; the highest number of sedition cases charged in independent India.

Many individuals have suffered at the hands of the state in Kudankulam. The first victim was a 19-year-old man named Ignatius in May 1989; a year after the plan for the plant was first announced. A peaceful rally in Kanyakumari was dispersed by police firing, leaving one family without their teenage son. Many fishermen were also injured in 2012 when police fired at a solidarity protest to clear a highway blocked by demonstrators near Tuticorin in Manapadu village. Apart from this, many people have been injured by tear gas used against the protesters and by the various police atrocities.

Similarly, the opposition against the Jaitapur project was suppressed by the police and paramilitary forces. Those confronting the land acquisition were charged and when the resistance reached its peak, two people were killed and several others were injured. On December 10, 2010 an activist called Irfan Quazi was hit by a police vehicle and died on the spot. He was on his way to pick up his children from school when a police vehicle hit his motorcycle. Though the police version of the story claimed that it was an accident, the villagers believed that he was killed by the police to send a message to the protesters – that the police could eliminate anyone who was protesting against the project.

Quazi’s death fueled the resistance against the project and on 18th April, 2011, the local MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) came to the plant site to protest against the plant and to stop work at the project site. He was arrested along with fifty locals and taken to Ratnagiri jail. A group of fishermen from the nearby Sakhari Natte village marched to the police station to protest against this and the police opened fire.  Many fishermen were seriously injured by the firing and the lathicharge.

In Jaitapur, others have died during the land acquisition for the project, mainly elderly people traumatised by losing their land and livelihood to the project. These were reported as ‘normal’ deaths having nothing to do with the protest movement against the project in official records. All these have been scantly-reported in the media.

The experiences from Kudankulam and Jaitapur demonstrate the direct and indirect state violence that was inflicted upon the locals resisting the nuclear power projects in both states. The state has used the special status given to the nuclear sector in propagating the violence.

The politics played by the state here is the ‘necropolitics’, as described by Achille Mbembe, as the subjugation of life to the power of death profoundly reconfigures the relationship among resistance, sacrifice, and terror. The protected nuclear establishment in India by the state inflicts violence and death on the local communities who oppose the nuclear power plant. The state has killed protesters in Kudankulam and Jaitapur and has also inflicted punitive strategies of intimidation and harassment on those who are organising this resistance. Eventually the people around the nuclear plant may become victims of radioactive emissions from the plant, with serious consequences on their health.

Ajmal Khan is a doctoral candidate at the School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, India working on the dissertation titled as “Interrogating State, Nuclear Energy and Social Movements in India; a Comparative Analysis of people’s movements in Kudankulam and Jaitapur. This piece was originally presented as part of the 5th King’s India Institute Graduate ConferencePhoto Credit: CC by Kudankulam/Flickr

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