Amid talk of foreign funding and inducements to agitators to continue protests against the Koodankulam nuclear plant,the activists,mainly fishermen,have devised a system of their own to keep the sit-in going. The initial days of indefinite fast,with fishermen skipping work and children schools,has given way to protests by systematic rotation.
At 10 am every day,agitators gather in front of a thatched shed in front of St Lourdes Church at Idinthakarai. Barring a few local organisers,most of the protesters are old who no more go for fishing. Others in the locality join the sit-in at the venue when they do not venture out to sea.
Women engaged in beedi rolling carry with them the leaves required to finish the job while some men are seen repairing their fishing nets sitting at the protest venue.
Official of an English-medium school in the vicinity said the parents realised that long absence from classes would affect studies. The teachers at school were also afraid of joining the agitation fearing government action.
While the days agitation ends at 4 pm,three dozen women and their children sleep at the venue at night. We are worried that someone might set the thatched shed afire, says Peter Milton,protest coordinator.
The Indian Express visited the venue three consecutive days at different times and saw no indication of food or liquor being distributed as inducement. We dont need anything to be part of the struggle as it is a question of our very existence, said Seline,a 67-year-old widow from Idinthakarai.
Unlike popular perception,Idinthakarai is not a poor coastal village. Most houses are pucca structures,and many even display signs of prosperity.
Over the last seven months,since the beginning of this leg of the protest,the agitators have collected over Rs 25 lakh. The accounts maintained by a committee show that fundraising began with each family chipping in Rs 200. Now,fishermen societies in the region are contributing 10 per cent of their earnings every week, said G Stanley,treasurer of the fund committee.
As per the accounts,the protesters had collected Rs 25,17,991 as of February 28 while the expenditure had been to the tune of Rs 17,64,238. The committee says it has a balance of Rs 7,53,753.
Each of the 430 fishing boats is registered under one of the 12 fishing societies,and each boat has an average of five men on it. It is a wrong campaign that we dont go to sea and have no money to sustain the protest. We didnt go for work in the initial days of protest… We venture into the sea for six days a week, said William,a fisherman.
Stung by the allegation that the protest was sponsored by NGOs and the Church,the committee is planning to make public the detailed accounts. Fishermen say that they did not have to struggle to raise money for the show so far as it synched with the fishing season. But we are hopeful of tiding the difficult times once the ban period is over. From June,the contributions will again start flowing, added Milton.
The charges of foreign aid and inducements are not backed even by local Congressmen,who are otherwise supportive of the commissioning of the plant. X A Walter Edwin,former president of Vijayapati panchayat,has few friends left at his native place Idinthakkarai which he was forced to leave after he offered support to the plant. The charges of foreign fund,liquor and food are not going to help solve the impasse. Those who know the region would not raise such allegations, he said.