‘Every time they arrested me, it just made my will to protest stronger’

Actor Nandita Das with protestors Sundari and Milret, who have been struggling against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant, at the launch of Minnie Vaid’s book “The Ant in the Ear of the Elephant” in Mumbai on Monday. Photo: Rajneesh Londhe
A new book by journalist and film-maker Minnie Vaid brings the focus back on the struggle against the Kudankulam nuclear power plant

Actor Nandita Das with protestors Sundari and Milret, who have been struggling against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Plant, at the launch of Minnie Vaid's book “The Ant in the Ear of the Elephant” in Mumbai on Monday. Photo: Rajneesh Londhe

It has been over 1,500 days since a group of women in Idinthakarai in Tamil Nadu sat in protest against the Koodankulam nuclear power plant, voicing concerns that Project-Affected People who have been given housing in the surrounding areas cannot be evacuated in time in case of a nuclear disaster along the lines of the Fukushima incident in Japan. The struggle against the nuclear power plant gets only sporadic media attention but a new book, The Ant in the Ear of the Elephant , by journalist and film-maker Minnie Vaid, provides a compelling account of the Koodankulam movement. Released at a popular book store here on Monday, the book is an investigative account of the daily, non-violent protests that women from villages around the nuclear plant have been conducting in Idinthakarai. Ms Vaid said she spent time with the protesters after they had already been protesting for over 600 days. Hers is an account of how radiation from the plant is a constant fear for these women, which dominates their life. It also details how the government has constantly harassed and intimidated many of them.

For the launch, two of the women who have been sitting in protest, Sundari and Milret, recounted their experiences of participating in the struggle. Sundari was among the key women who had been charged with sedition and was jailed for protesting against the plant.

“I am from a fishing community and I was just a housewife. I was not aware of the nuclear energy plant, even though some college students had come once and told us that the plant was a bad thing,” she said.

When the Fukushima disaster in Japan happened in 2011, she said she was watching TV and, seeing the extent of damage, realised that the same could happen to her community with a nuclear plant next to them. “Some years before, anti-nuclear activist SP Udaykumar had come to tell us to protest against the plant but we didn’t listen to him. After seeing Fukushima, we invited him to come back and organise protests and he explained about radiation, effluents and other things,” she explained.

Sundari said since she started protesting, there had been 350 cases registered against her, of which 24 are for sedition. She recounted with chilling detail, the number of times that she had been arrested and detained for days and how the police used to tell her to go back home and ‘be a good wife’. “Every time they arrested me or intimidated me, it just made my will to go back to the protest stronger,” she said. Her stories were echoed by Milret, who also recounted occasions on which the police had tried to disperse them. Also present at the event were actor and activist Nandita Das and senior journalist Kalpana Sharma.