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When anti-nuclear groups are portrayed as anti-nationals, as roadblock to progress

Yash Khanapure* 

In 1984, a severe disaster occurred at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, and in 1986's Chernobyl accident was eye-openers for the world. The debate on the use of nuclear power sparked a fire. The people became aware of nuclear energy and its consequences.
During an extensive conversation with me, Sanghamitra and Surendra Gadekar talked about the struggles of such people, their movements, and the role of the nuclear activists.
Dr Surendra Gadekar is a well-known Indian nuclear activist and physicist. His wife, Sanghamitra Desai Gadekar, daughter of Narayan Desai, is a physician and has worked in the government medical service for some years. They live in a remote tribal village of Vedchhi near the Kakrapar atomic power plant in the western Indian state of Gujarat.
The Gadekars run a Gandhian school called Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya, or Institute of Total Revolution for young activists and monitors the Indian nuclear industry, conducting surveys of power plants, uranium mines, and nuclear-testing facilities to determine the effect on the public's health. In 1987, they founded Anumukti, a journal devoted to establishing a non-nuclear India. Anumukti (Liberation from the Atom) is the leading anti-nuclear journal in India, perhaps all of South Asia.
Since the beginning, Anumukti has been opposed to the nuclearization of India, either in the guise of producing energy or making weapons. Anumukti is published by the Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya (Institute for Total Revolution), a Gandhian institute that promotes non-violent social change.
India is home to a handful of the world's largest nuclear power plants. Kudankulam nuclear plant is the largest nuclear plant in India. It has a total capacity of 2000 MW of energy. Other notable atomic power plants are situated in Kakrapar, Rawatbhata, Kaiga and, Tarapur. Some people in India became aware of the severe dangers posed by these nuclear projects to the people living in the vicinity.
Small groups of people started trying to discover the risks posed by such plants even during routine operations. Anu Urja Jagruti (Awareness about Atomic Energy) was one such group in Gujarat. There were discussions and demonstrations where people questioned the authorities about the information of these power stations.
The authority's response was typical of the atomic power plants around the world. They bombarded the public with jargon, and when the people became insistent, they use police repression. A 13-year-old boy was killed in the police lathi charge. This continued for months, and police beat up the public to terrorize them. The people of Kakrapar felt helpless and alone in the misery.
The movements erupted in other parts of India as well. In the states of Karnataka and Kerala, people protested against the proposed nuclear power plants. Dr Kusuma Soraba led the movement against the Kaiga power station. The movement garnered much attention, and the police blocked all the roads to prevent the protest from reaching the site. 
However, with a group of 30 women volunteers, Dr Kusuma managed to reach the place by traveling through the thick tropical rain forest. She was a representation of fearless zeal and an inspiration to the anti-nuclear movement in India.
In December 1988, the Citizens for Alternatives to Nuclear Energy (CANE) group forced the Karnataka government to organize a national debate on the proposed nuclear power plant at Kaiga. It was evident from this debate that the atomic establishments of India were not going to listen to other's views. Because there was a scarcity of information on the effects on people's health, there was no basis for a scientific conclusion.
The villagers of Rawatbhata invited the CANE group in Rajasthan to witness the situation. The village was under the influence of a nuclear power plant, but there was no electricity or clean drinking water. However, contrary to the town's development, the people faced many serious health issues. Since Dr. Sanghamitra Gadekar was the first doctor ever to have visited the Rawatbhata town, people shared their concerns and problems about their health with her.
Dr Sanghamitra wrote about the issues that the people of Rawatbhata faced to the government. However, the government denied the allegations and stated that there were no such problems. Soon after, the CANE group surveyed to understand the effects on the public health of the people living in the proximity of the nuclear power plant.
Anti-nuclear awareness in India is at a nascent stage, though there is some understanding among those living near nuclear plants
The survey was carried out by volunteers who were experts in surveying. A large number of women turned out as volunteers, helped in surveying and analyzing the data. People of the nearby villages and towns also helped the group to provide shelter and food.
The results of the survey were staggering. Following data analysis, it was discovered that people living near the power station were aging faster and were likely to die ten years younger. It also showed that people suffer from prolonged ailments, especially of the skin and digestive tract.
The people also complained of a feeling of debility and perpetual fatigue, much similar to the bura-bura disease symptoms found in the victims of Hiroshima. The women were also affected, which was evident from many miscarriages, stillbirths, deaths of newborns, and infants born with congenital disabilities within one day of birth.
Many couples in the area did not have a child. Because of this, there was tremendous pressure on the women to produce children. Men were remarrying in the hope of having healthy children, and the women were blamed for the state of affairs. The birth rate was much higher near the plant as compared to the controls.
After data analysis, the group published a survey report and summarized the findings in Hindi to all the neighbouring households. Although more than 75 percent of the area's people were illiterate, others read out this summary to them. The people of the area carried out a protest against the atomic power plant. In a place where most women do not speak in front of males, one tribal woman gave a statement in which she stated, "We do not want power if the price of that electricity is a deformity in their children."
The reaction of the government to the survey report was pre-assumed. They publicly denied the problems. Many presses and media houses have subsequently been to the site and have documented some of these problems. As a result, the government no longer denies that there is a problem.
The government blames the problems due to poverty, malnutrition, ignorance, and superstition, but not because of nuclear plants. They also tried to portray the group as anti-nationals and as a roadblock on the path of the country's progress. However, the people within the nuclear establishments have admitted to the problems but have said that somebody must pay the price of development.
The awareness about anti-nuclear movements and programmes in India is at a very nascent stage. There is some understanding of the issue in the people living near some nuclear power plant sites. Still, this understanding has not percolated to the middle-class families in other cities.
Women have an essential role to play in providing this understanding since they are the worst sufferers. It is easier for them to see through the false rhetoric of power and get to the heart of the problem, which is the assault on the health and wellbeing of the present and future generations.
Women are among the most active members of the various anti-nuclear groups. Dr Kusuma, Krupa, Ratna, Shyamali, Ajeetha, Aradhana, Mona, Nandini and Gabriella, among others, have organized various anti-nuclear activities in different parts of the country.
But the country needs many more.
---
*PGP 2020-22, Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bangalore

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