8,856 ‘enemies of state’: An entire village in Tamil Nadu lives under shadow of sedition

Protesters, including Udayakumar, were also accused of taking funds from the Church to lead the agitation.

Updated: September 12, 2016 7:02 am

Last week, the Supreme Court laid down what sedition wasn’t. But for five years now, as officials let cases drag, almost the entire population of a village in Tamil Nadu, protesting against the nuclear plant, has lived under the shadow of Section 124 A. Arun Janardhanan reports. Photos by Amrithraj Stephen.

On September 5 the same day as the Supreme Court said criticism of the government isn’t sedition, a figure on a white board in a village on the distant southern tip of the country was changed — to Day 1,846.

The Supreme Court ruling was on just one case, won by S P Udayakumar of Idinthakarai, but there are 140 more such cases against people in the village. In India’s sedition map, Idinthakarai is ground zero. In the protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) that have been on in this village and adjacent Kudankulam village since 2011, led by Udayakumar, 8,956 people have been slapped with 21 cases of sedition — the maximum such number charged in the country.

Unit 1 of the Kudankulam plant was commissioned on August 10, 2016 Unit 1 of the Kudankulam plant was commissioned on August 10, 2016

Nobody expects these cases to amount to anything — least of all the police. Almost all the 380 FIRs lodged (240 were withdrawn in October 2014 following an SC order) first named Udayakumar, then five or 10 accused, and ended with the line “and another 300” or “3,000 people”. A senior police officer who doesn’t want to be named says this was for two reasons — to “scare people” as any one of them could be among the unnamed; and because naming “all the hundred or thousand was impractical at a time when we were registering multiple cases implicating over 2,000 or 5,000 people in each”.

So, for five years now, Idinthakarai, a village of over 10,000 people in Tamil Nadu, has lived under the shadow of Section 124A, the law governing sedition. Most of the accused are also booked in 21 other cases registered under Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), for “waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the government of India” — a crime that can fetch the death penalty.

Most of them have no idea of the status of their cases; many haven’t even seen the FIRs against them. No sedition case has so far been dropped.

* First sedition case (Crime No. 315): Oct 15, 2011

No. of people booked: 10

The protests against the 6,800 MW Kudankulam nuclear plant, in the works since 1988, and located just half a kilometre from where the white board marks Idinthakarai’s protest, had erupted in 2011, ahead of a reported date of commissioning. The protests were led by women as the men in the largely fishing village were mostly away at sea.

Advocate C Rasarathinam, known mostly as Chemmani even in the case documents, says the first case of sedition was registered on October 15 that year following a road roko near the Kudankulam junction. Chemmani is associated with the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), that is leading the protests.

Among those named in ‘Crime No. 315’ was Udayakumar, the PMANE convenor, and a priest, Father Michael Pandian Jesuraj.

Udayakumar would go on to be named as ‘Accused No. 1’ in over 300 FIRs, including all the 21 sedition cases and all the 21 cases under Section 121, besides nearly 100 criminal cases. And that is just a rough estimate, Udayakumar laughs. The Indian citizen facing arguably the largest number of sedition cases ever is himself not clear on the number after five years.

sedition-4 Women sit under the huge canopy built in the St Lourdes Church compound for the protests

Protesters, including Udayakumar, were also accused of taking funds from the Church to lead the agitation. This fanned allegations of foreign funding behind PMANE.

V Narayanasamy, then Union minister of state in the PMO and currently Chief Minister of Puducherry, was among the Congress leaders who attacked PMANE. Asked about the allegations now, Narayanasamy says, “I said all that when I was in the ministry. You should ask the present government.” But does he still believe PMANE is getting foreign funds? “Why are you talking about all that now?” he replies. “All that is over.”

Not for Udayakumar — though despite all the cases against him, he has not received summons from court in any. He has never been arrested and was only detained by Central agencies while on the way to Nepal for a conference two years ago. He says “sources” have told him of 35 cases in the process of turning into chargesheets; of the others, he has “no clue”.

Chemmani says that is not surprising, as there was “no violence or even disruption of public life”. “They just wanted to scare the protesters.” Many of those booked, for example, didn’t leave the village for up to two years fearing arrest, he says.

Udayakumar points out that cases were filed “for charges such as arson, shouting of slogans against then prime minister Manmohan Singh, attempt to murder, sedition, and waging war against the country.”

While a Supreme Court order in October 2014 whittled down the number of cases from 380 to 240, neither charges of sedition nor 121A were among those withdrawn.

Son of a retired railway employee, Udayakumar did his Master’s in English Literature from Kerala University and after working in Ethiopia as a school teacher, earned a doctorate in Peace Studies in the US. Inspired by the green movement in Germany, he launched a Green Party in 2000 after his return from the US. Soon he came to head the PMANE. He lives in Nagercoil, 40 km from Idinthakarai, with his teacher wife and runs a school. His wife is also named in one of the sedition cases after she attended one PMANE meeting.

Image from the peak of the agitation in September 2012 Image from the peak of the agitation in September 2012

Another accused in the first sedition case, Father Jesuraj, had come to Idnithakarai to join the protests from Cheranmahadevi, 80 km away. He has been part of the Kudankulam agitation since his student days, he says, and after 2011, “requested the Church to relieve me of my parish duties to let me join the protests”.

Father Jesuraj got repeated warnings from both the Tirunelveli bishop and the Monsignor in Delhi for his actions, even as he kept evading arrest.

Idinthakarai is a mostly Christian village, with less than a hundred Hindu families. The white board marking the day of the protest, changed every day by hand — now at the 1,850 mark — stands at the entrance to a thatched canopy in front of the village’s St Lourdes Church, which can accommodate up to 2,000 people at a time. A Mariamman temple is right across the road.

Sundari, who served the maximum time in jail among women protesters, at home with her husband Sundari, who served the maximum time in jail among women protesters, at home with her husband

Initially the Church kept its distance from the protests. “But the parish priest, Father F Jayakumar, had no choice but to support us when the entire village came together against the plant. Nobody took permission for the huge canopy in the church compound for the protests,” says Sundari, one of those accused of sedition who served the maximum time in jail among the woman protesters.

“Father Jayakumar too got calls from the Tirunelveli bishop house to leave the village. But he had to stand by us,” says another sedition accused, Antony Kebiston.

Soon, each time there was a police attempt to enter the village, the bells at St Lourdes Church would be rung, to alert residents to converge in front of the building.

In 2014, Father Jesuraj contested the Lok Sabha elections from Tirunelveli on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket, like Udayakumar. Jesuraj told the Church that unless they had representation in Parliament, a solution couldn’t be found to the problem. However, the Church wasn’t convinced, and he was suspended. Eventually, Jesuraj lost the elections by 18,650 votes. Back serving as a priest, at Palayamkottai near Tirunelveli, Jesuraj says he doesn’t regret being part of the protests, though “still there are some 135 cases, including more than a dozen sedition cases, against me”.

Antony Kebiston says the presence of the priests made their agitation “successful and peaceful”. “While Father Jayakumar was the parish priest, it was Father Jesuraj who played the role of both a priest and protester. He led from the front”.

Sedition case on November 22, 2011

No. of people booked: 17, “another 600”

Sedition case on April 22, 2012

No. of people booked: 17, including 2 women, “another 425”

On May 7, 2012
No. of people booked: Udayakumar, and 2,265

On May 7, 2012

No. of people booked: Udayakumar, and 565

Ahead of the scheduled opening of the first reactor in 2012, villagers expanded their protests, to nearby villages and towns, including Valliyur and Nagercoil, attracting up to 20,000 people at times.

The government though withheld arrests till the 2012 by-election in Sankarankovil, after which the crackdown began.

sedition-6 Youths in the village booked for sedition have stories of blacklisted passports, forcing many to give up plans to go abroad.

In these FIRs and the others that followed, the names that kept repeating were of Antony Kebiston, who was a stationery shop owner at Idinthakarai; Pushparayan and Mugilan, activists who came to Idinthakarai to support villagers; Milton, among the leaders of the protest; Sundari; Mildred, 46, who led rallies outside the village and Tamil Nadu for PMANE; a 65-year-old, partially blind daily wage labourer, Aadi Lingam; and Father Jayakumar.

The FIRs show that all the cases were registered at three police stations. A senior officer, who was deployed at Kudankulam at the time, says the cases were registered at the Kudankulam police station upon directions from Pazhavoor station and Radhapuram station.

“A DSP-rank officer stationed at Radhapuram issued final orders to local stations upon directions from his superiors. An inspector general of police and a deputy IG of South Zone directly monitored the situation,” he says, refusing to be named.

Kebiston, who is facing over a hundred cases, including of sedition, handled the “media wing” of the protests. “I had a BSNL dial-up connection to post live updates of our protests,” he says. One of the videos he posted that went viral was of his daughter Nilopher, 3, singing anti-nuclear songs.

“She used to sing and shout slogans. She would also scold Jayalalithaa. One day, some miscreants came and set fire to our shop. After that incident, Nilopher got scared,” says Kebiston’s wife Maheswari, who fasted for over 10 days as part of the protest.

“Kebiston could not leave the village for over three years as there were threats he would be arrested if he ventured out (the only road that connects Idinthakarai with outside world is through Kudankulam, except a few forest paths). On the day his sister got married, we had to take her to the bridegroom’s village through a forest path,” she says.

Mildred Raj, 44, and her three children continue to be part of the protests. “We can’t stop coming until we succeed,” she says Mildred Raj, 44, and her three children continue to be part of the protests. “We can’t stop coming until we succeed,” she says.

Mildred Raj, 44, and her three children are part of the protests. Despite the sedition charge and nearly a hundred cases against her, she comes to the site at the church every day, mostly with them. While her sons are 18 and 20, her daughter is 19. The sons have a diploma in engineering and maritime studies, and her daughter is in college. “We can’t stop coming until we succeed,” Mildred says.

Mildred admits she doesn’t know the technicalities of nuclear energy. But, she asks, “Why have there been a dozen emergency shutdowns and abrupt drops in output if it is that safe? Why have commissioning tests failed repeatedly and deadlines postponed? How many scientists have been punished for violating safety guidelines that led to accidents?”

Leela, 68, also booked in many criminal cases, had been with Mildred when they were attacked by Hindu Munnani cadres at the Tirunelveli Collectorate, who levelled allegations of foreign funding and called Udayakumar an agent of Christians.

“They came with helmets and attacked us,” says Leela, who also spends almost every day at the protest site. “Do you think I will die at this place?” she laughs.

Six sedition cases in September 2012

Sept 10

No. of people booked: in one case, 49 named and “100 others”; in another, 48 named and “300 others”; in third, 18 named and “50 others”; in fourth, Udayakumar and “5,000 others” (after altering from “2,000 others”)

Sept 11

No. of people booked: A dozen, “along with 3,400”

In September 2012, police lathicharged women and children as they tried to enter the protest site at St Lourdes Church.

On September 10, four sedition cases followed, in which around 5,500 people were booked, more than 5,000 of them in Crime No. 345 alone. September 11 saw two more sedition cases, with over 3,000 booked.

Sundari, 40, who served 98 days in Trichy prison and is facing over 300 cases, including at least a dozen of sedition, was arrested in the September 10 sweep. Sundari was the head of the women committee of protesters, which had around 85 members, and which coordinated with hundreds of others.

While Sundari was in prison, it fell to her husband, a fisherman, to look after their children, a nine-year-old son and a daughter who is a year older. “Police would not let my children come near me when I was brought to court. They would start crying, run around the police van till we left,” Sundari says. “That was the only time I cried,” she adds. While she was living up to her beliefs, she felt she was failing her duties as a mother.

Later, she wrote a book on her time in jail,The Fiery Struggle of Idinthakarai. Among chapters on prison life and tales of fellow inmates is one on how she would dictate recipes over the phone to her husband, who didn’t know cooking.

Sundari served the maximum time in jail among other women protesters due to the sedition charge. “I was among seven women and 63 men arrested on September 10, 2012. While four women got bail in 45 days, another two were released after 80 days. Since I was a ‘terrorist’, I had to move the Madras High Court to get conditional bail after 98 days.”

The bail condition was that she would sign at three police stations in Madurai, 240 km from her village, every day for almost two months. She stayed at a Madurai women’s hostel during that time, before returning to the village, where she was required to sign at the Kudankulam police station for another six months every day.

“Every one, the police, government and even the court, worked together to defeat our struggles. Neither the government nor the judges enquired about the charges imposed on us. Instead, they sent us to faraway prisons to get harassed further,” she says.

sedition-7 On alleged safety violations and postponed deadlines, he says they were all partially incorrect complaints.

The family is still boycotted by Sundari’s in-laws for the “anti-national” tag stuck to it.

Youths in the village booked for sedition have stories of blacklisted passports, forcing many to give up plans to go abroad. Many had to wait for their passport applications to get processed. An engineering diploma holder, K Vinod, 26, got his passport two months ago, after it was blocked for four years. “I had three job opportunities in Dubai, including one offering Rs 1.5 lakh a month. I lost all. They refused to clear the passport despite having no clear answers on the charges against me.”

August 10, 2016: 1,000 MW Unit 1 of KNPP commissioned

Sedition cases still standing: 21

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa jointly announced commissioning of Unit I of the Kudankulam nuclear plant, assuring it was one of the safest atomic plants in the world. It was done by video-conferencing, with Modi in Delhi, Putin in Moscow and Jayalalithaa joining in from Chennai.

KNPP Site Director R S Sundar says villagers having no clue about nuclear energy have been raising allegations. “We met them several times, tried to tell them they are safe. But they asked questions of which they have no knowledge,” he says.

On alleged safety violations and postponed deadlines, he says they were all partially incorrect complaints. “Multiple agencies and experts from the Centre have certified all the necessary clearances. Unfortunately, villagers refuse to believe people like A P J Abdul Kalam.”

At the end of the winding road, down which lies Idinthakarai, on the day of the commissioning too, a handful of women gathered near the church to mark their protest. A dozen also sleep here every night.

Sundari, who is among those who comes to the protest site often, says her journey from a homemaker to a “dreaded leader” took all of one year. “I was a woman who used to watch only movies and TV serials. Now I watch news bulletins first.”

Government promises of nuclear power being safe don’t reassure her, Sundari says. “For people who live in cities, we are all illiterates as they think they are intelligent with their English education. So they want a nuclear reactor in our backyard to run their air-conditioners, to run their offices and luxuries. But we know why we are unsafe, how incapable is our government. When the tsunami struck in 2004, no one came to rescue us or our boats. The government didn’t even know it was coming despite all its big rockets and satellites. They are not even capable of tracing a missing aircraft and Army men from the seas. And they want us to believe that everything is fine with the the plant? We need to fight our battles alone anyway.”

An IG-rank official aware of the cases against the protesters admits they usually close such cases in six months. “We write on the files ‘Further Action Dropped’. But Kudankulam and Idinthakarai were most peculiar cases as we needed to keep a check on the villagers. Retaining these charges will help douse their anger; over 8,000 people booked under charges will scare them to not initiate similar protests again.”

Asked about further action, he says there is nothing to be probed or chargesheeted. “These were all cases to scare them. When I look back after five years, I see that those 121 and 124A charges on 8,000 random people did serve the purpose.”

Sundari says the State shouldn’t be so sure. Standing next to the shore in Idinthakarai, whose name means “broken coast”, she says she is not bothered about the cases against her anymore. “They call us terrorists, let them. We know who we are.”ON SEPTEMBER 5, the same day as the Supreme Court said criticism of the government isn’t sedition, a figure on a white board in a village on the distant southern tip of the country was changed — to Day 1,846.

sedition-8 Most of them have no idea of the status of their cases; many haven’t even seen the FIRs against them.

The Supreme Court ruling was on just one case, won by S P Udayakumar of Idinthakarai, but there are 140 more such cases against people in the village. In India’s sedition map, Idinthakarai is ground zero. In the protests against the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) that have been on in this village and adjacent Kudankulam village since 2011, led by Udayakumar, 8,956 people have been slapped with 21 cases of sedition — the maximum such number charged in the country.

Nobody expects these cases to amount to anything — least of all the police. Almost all the 380 FIRs lodged (240 were withdrawn in October 2014 following an SC order) first named Udayakumar, then five or 10 accused, and ended with the line “and another 300” or “3,000 people”. A senior police officer who doesn’t want to be named says this was for two reasons — to “scare people” as any one of them could be among the unnamed; and because naming “all the hundred or thousand was impractical at a time when we were registering multiple cases implicating over 2,000 or 5,000 people in each”.

So, for five years now, Idinthakarai, a village of over 10,000 people in Tamil Nadu, has lived under the shadow of Section 124A, the law governing sedition. Most of the accused are also booked in 21 other cases registered under Section 121 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), for “waging, or attempting to wage war, or abetting waging of war, against the government of India” — a crime that can fetch the death penalty.

Most of them have no idea of the status of their cases; many haven’t even seen the FIRs against them. No sedition case has so far been dropped.

 First sedition case (Crime No. 315): Oct 15, 2011

No. of people booked: 10

The protests against the 6,800 MW Kudankulam nuclear plant, in the works since 1988, and located just half a kilometre from where the white board marks Idinthakarai’s protest, had erupted in 2011, ahead of a reported date of commissioning. The protests were led by women as the men in the largely fishing village were mostly away at sea.

Advocate C Rasarathinam, known mostly as Chemmani even in the case documents, says the first case of sedition was registered on October 15 that year following a road roko near the Kudankulam junction. Chemmani is associated with the People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), that is leading the protests.

Among those named in ‘Crime No. 315’ was Udayakumar, the PMANE convenor, and a priest, Father Michael Pandian Jesuraj.

Udayakumar would go on to be named as ‘Accused No. 1’ in over 300 FIRs, including all the 21 sedition cases and all the 21 cases under Section 121, besides nearly 100 criminal cases. And that is just a rough estimate, Udayakumar laughs. The Indian citizen facing arguably the largest number of sedition cases ever is himself not clear on the number after five years.

Protesters, including Udayakumar, were also accused of taking funds from the Church to lead the agitation. This fanned allegations of foreign funding behind PMANE.

V Narayanasamy, then Union minister of state in the PMO and currently Chief Minister of Puducherry, was among the Congress leaders who attacked PMANE. Asked about the allegations now, Narayanasamy says, “I said all that when I was in the ministry. You should ask the present government.” But does he still believe PMANE is getting foreign funds? “Why are you talking about all that now?” he replies. “All that is over.”

Not for Udayakumar — though despite all the cases against him, he has not received summons from court in any. He has never been arrested and was only detained by Central agencies while on the way to Nepal for a conference two years ago. He says “sources” have told him of 35 cases in the process of turning into chargesheets; of the others, he has “no clue”.

Chemmani says that is not surprising, as there was “no violence or even disruption of public life”. “They just wanted to scare the protesters.” Many of those booked, for example, didn’t leave the village for up to two years fearing arrest, he says.

Udayakumar points out that cases were filed “for charges such as arson, shouting of slogans against then prime minister Manmohan Singh, attempt to murder, sedition, and waging war against the country.”

While a Supreme Court order in October 2014 whittled down the number of cases from 380 to 240, neither charges of sedition nor 121A were among those withdrawn.

Son of a retired railway employee, Udayakumar did his Master’s in English Literature from Kerala University and after working in Ethiopia as a school teacher, earned a doctorate in Peace Studies in the US. Inspired by the green movement in Germany, he launched a Green Party in 2000 after his return from the US. Soon he came to head the PMANE. He lives in Nagercoil, 40 km from Idinthakarai, with his teacher wife and runs a school. His wife is also named in one of the sedition cases after she attended one PMANE meeting.

Another accused in the first sedition case, Father Jesuraj, had come to Idnithakarai to join the protests from Cheranmahadevi, 80 km away. He has been part of the Kudankulam agitation since his student days, he says, and after 2011, “requested the Church to relieve me of my parish duties to let me join the protests”.

sedition-9 “Father Jayakumar too got calls from the Tirunelveli bishop house to leave the village. But he had to stand by us,” says another sedition accused, Antony Kebiston.

Father Jesuraj got repeated warnings from both the Tirunelveli bishop and the Monsignor in Delhi for his actions, even as he kept evading arrest.

Idinthakarai is a mostly Christian village, with less than a hundred Hindu families. The white board marking the day of the protest, changed every day by hand — now at the 1,850 mark — stands at the entrance to a thatched canopy in front of the village’s St Lourdes Church, which can accommodate up to 2,000 people at a time. A Mariamman temple is right across the road.

Initially the Church kept its distance from the protests. “But the parish priest, Father F Jayakumar, had no choice but to support us when the entire village came together against the plant. Nobody took permission for the huge canopy in the church compound for the protests,” says Sundari, one of those accused of sedition who served the maximum time in jail among the woman protesters.

“Father Jayakumar too got calls from the Tirunelveli bishop house to leave the village. But he had to stand by us,” says another sedition accused, Antony Kebiston.

Soon, each time there was a police attempt to enter the village, the bells at St Lourdes Church would be rung, to alert residents to converge in front of the building.

In 2014, Father Jesuraj contested the Lok Sabha elections from Tirunelveli on an Aam Aadmi Party ticket, like Udayakumar. Jesuraj told the Church that unless they had representation in Parliament, a solution couldn’t be found to the problem. However, the Church wasn’t convinced, and he was suspended. Eventually, Jesuraj lost the elections by 18,650 votes. Back serving as a priest, at Palayamkottai near Tirunelveli, Jesuraj says he doesn’t regret being part of the protests, though “still there are some 135 cases, including more than a dozen sedition cases, against me”.

Antony Kebiston says the presence of the priests made their agitation “successful and peaceful”. “While Father Jayakumar was the parish priest, it was Father Jesuraj who played the role of both a priest and protester. He led from the front”.

Sedition case on November 22, 2011

No. of people booked: 17, “another 600”

Sedition case on April 22, 2012

No. of people booked: 17, including 2 women, “another 425”

On May 7, 2012

No. of people booked: Udayakumar, and 2,265

On May 7, 2012

No. of people booked: Udayakumar, and 565

Ahead of the scheduled opening of the first reactor in 2012, villagers expanded their protests, to nearby villages and towns, including Valliyur and Nagercoil, attracting up to 20,000 people at times.

The government though withheld arrests till the 2012 by-election in Sankarankovil, after which the crackdown began.

In these FIRs and the others that followed, the names that kept repeating were of Antony Kebiston, who was a stationery shop owner at Idinthakarai; Pushparayan and Mugilan, activists who came to Idinthakarai to support villagers; Milton, among the leaders of the protest; Sundari; Mildred, 46, who led rallies outside the village and Tamil Nadu for PMANE; a 65-year-old, partially blind daily wage labourer, Aadi Lingam; and Father Jayakumar.

The FIRs show that all the cases were registered at three police stations. A senior officer, who was deployed at Kudankulam at the time, says the cases were registered at the Kudankulam police station upon directions from Pazhavoor station and Radhapuram station.

“A DSP-rank officer stationed at Radhapuram issued final orders to local stations upon directions from his superiors. An inspector general of police and a deputy IG of South Zone directly monitored the situation,” he says, refusing to be named.

Kebiston, who is facing over a hundred cases, including of sedition, handled the “media wing” of the protests. “I had a BSNL dial-up connection to post live updates of our protests,” he says. One of the videos he posted that went viral was of his daughter Nilopher, 3, singing anti-nuclear songs.

“She used to sing and shout slogans. She would also scold Jayalalithaa. One day, some miscreants came and set fire to our shop. After that incident, Nilopher got scared,” says Kebiston’s wife Maheswari, who fasted for over 10 days as part of the protest.

“Kebiston could not leave the village for over three years as there were threats he would be arrested if he ventured out (the only road that connects Idinthakarai with outside world is through Kudankulam, except a few forest paths). On the day his sister got married, we had to take her to the bridegroom’s village through a forest path,” she says.

Mildred Raj, 44, and her three children are part of the protests. Despite the sedition charge and nearly a hundred cases against her, she comes to the site at the church every day, mostly with them. While her sons are 18 and 20, her daughter is 19. The sons have a diploma in engineering and maritime studies, and her daughter is in college. “We can’t stop coming until we succeed,” Mildred says.

Mildred admits she doesn’t know the technicalities of nuclear energy. But, she asks, “Why have there been a dozen emergency shutdowns and abrupt drops in output if it is that safe? Why have commissioning tests failed repeatedly and deadlines postponed? How many scientists have been punished for violating safety guidelines that led to accidents?”

Leela, 68, also booked in many criminal cases, had been with Mildred when they were attacked by Hindu Munnani cadres at the Tirunelveli Collectorate, who levelled allegations of foreign funding and called Udayakumar an agent of Christians.

“They came with helmets and attacked us,” says Leela, who also spends almost every day at the protest site. “Do you think I will die at this place?” she laughs.

Six sedition cases in September 2012

Sept 10

No. of people booked: in one case, 49 named and “100 others”; in another, 48 named and “300 others”; in third, 18 named and “50 others”; in fourth, Udayakumar and “5,000 others” (after altering from “2,000 others”)

Sept 11

No. of people booked: A dozen, “along with 3,400”

In September 2012, police lathicharged women and children as they tried to enter the protest site at St Lourdes Church.

On September 10, four sedition cases followed, in which around 5,500 people were booked, more than 5,000 of them in Crime No. 345 alone. September 11 saw two more sedition cases, with over 3,000 booked.

Sundari, 40, who served 98 days in Trichy prison and is facing over 300 cases, including at least a dozen of sedition, was arrested in the September 10 sweep. Sundari was the head of the women committee of protesters, which had around 85 members, and which coordinated with hundreds of others.

sedition-11 Sundari served the maximum time in jail among other women protesters due to the sedition charge.

While Sundari was in prison, it fell to her husband, a fisherman, to look after their children, a nine-year-old son and a daughter who is a year older. “Police would not let my children come near me when I was brought to court. They would start crying, run around the police van till we left,” Sundari says. “That was the only time I cried,” she adds. While she was living up to her beliefs, she felt she was failing her duties as a mother.

Later, she wrote a book on her time in jail,The Fiery Struggle of Idinthakarai. Among chapters on prison life and tales of fellow inmates is one on how she would dictate recipes over the phone to her husband, who didn’t know cooking.

Sundari served the maximum time in jail among other women protesters due to the sedition charge. “I was among seven women and 63 men arrested on September 10, 2012. While four women got bail in 45 days, another two were released after 80 days. Since I was a ‘terrorist’, I had to move the Madras High Court to get conditional bail after 98 days.”

The bail condition was that she would sign at three police stations in Madurai, 240 km from her village, every day for almost two months. She stayed at a Madurai women’s hostel during that time, before returning to the village, where she was required to sign at the Kudankulam police station for another six months every day.

“Every one, the police, government and even the court, worked together to defeat our struggles. Neither the government nor the judges enquired about the charges imposed on us. Instead, they sent us to faraway prisons to get harassed further,” she says.

The family is still boycotted by Sundari’s in-laws for the “anti-national” tag stuck to it.

Youths in the village booked for sedition have stories of blacklisted passports, forcing many to give up plans to go abroad. Many had to wait for their passport applications to get processed. An engineering diploma holder, K Vinod, 26, got his passport two months ago, after it was blocked for four years. “I had three job opportunities in Dubai, including one offering Rs 1.5 lakh a month. I lost all. They refused to clear the passport despite having no clear answers on the charges against me.”

August 10, 2016: 1,000 MW Unit 1 of KNPP commissioned

Sedition cases still standing: 21

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa jointly announced commissioning of Unit I of the Kudankulam nuclear plant, assuring it was one of the safest atomic plants in the world. It was done by video-conferencing, with Modi in Delhi, Putin in Moscow and Jayalalithaa joining in from Chennai.

KNPP Site Director R S Sundar says villagers having no clue about nuclear energy have been raising allegations. “We met them several times, tried to tell them they are safe. But they asked questions of which they have no knowledge,” he says.

On alleged safety violations and postponed deadlines, he says they were all partially incorrect complaints. “Multiple agencies and experts from the Centre have certified all the necessary clearances. Unfortunately, villagers refuse to believe people like A P J Abdul Kalam.”

At the end of the winding road, down which lies Idinthakarai, on the day of the commissioning too, a handful of women gathered near the church to mark their protest. A dozen also sleep here every night.

Sundari, who is among those who comes to the protest site often, says her journey from a homemaker to a “dreaded leader” took all of one year. “I was a woman who used to watch only movies and TV serials. Now I watch news bulletins first.”

sedition-10 When the tsunami struck in 2004, no one came to rescue us or our boats. The government didn’t even know it was coming despite all its big rockets and satellites.

Government promises of nuclear power being safe don’t reassure her, Sundari says. “For people who live in cities, we are all illiterates as they think they are intelligent with their English education. So they want a nuclear reactor in our backyard to run their air-conditioners, to run their offices and luxuries. But we know why we are unsafe, how incapable is our government. When the tsunami struck in 2004, no one came to rescue us or our boats. The government didn’t even know it was coming despite all its big rockets and satellites. They are not even capable of tracing a missing aircraft and Army men from the seas. And they want us to believe that everything is fine with the the plant? We need to fight our battles alone anyway.”

An IG-rank official aware of the cases against the protesters admits they usually close such cases in six months. “We write on the files ‘Further Action Dropped’. But Kudankulam and Idinthakarai were most peculiar cases as we needed to keep a check on the villagers. Retaining these charges will help douse their anger; over 8,000 people booked under charges will scare them to not initiate similar protests again.”

Asked about further action, he says there is nothing to be probed or chargesheeted. “These were all cases to scare them. When I look back after five years, I see that those 121 and 124A charges on 8,000 random people did serve the purpose.”

Sundari says the State shouldn’t be so sure. Standing next to the shore in Idinthakarai, whose name means “broken coast”, she says she is not bothered about the cases against her anymore. “They call us terrorists, let them. We know who we are.”