E Amudhan R.P is one of the most noted contemporary documentary film makers and media activist.He has made several award winning films and his series Radiation Stories Part 1 & 2explored issues around the Kalpakkam nuclear project and Part 3 is an in-depth work on Koodankulam.
Shooting on location, staying with the locals over many years, this film presents stark reality.
The PMANE led peoples’ struggle against the Koodankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) has captured global attention because of its long, spontaneous and non-violent nature.
Recently, Amudhan was in Mumbai for the public screening of the Radiation Stories Part 3 – Koodankulam and shared with me his views on what has made the Koodankulam struggle such a success and the inside details about the struggle.
It should serve as a guide for other agitations and for film makers who can learn from the strategies used by the people of Koodankulam and those used by the government in this epic David vs Golaith struggle.
Q) The KNPP agitation is being said to be based around one person – S.P. Udaykumar. Is that accurate?
The agitation is not based on one person. Fishing community has been opposing the nuclear project since its inception. Inland farmers, traders and labourers joined the movement after Fukushima disaster. The movement has a large participation of common people who genuinely oppose the project with full conscience and understanding. The movement has a collective leadership of village elders, women, youth, students, farmers, fishermen, vendors, traders, agriculture workers and salaried class.
Q) Your documentary showed a huge participation of women. Was that a deliberately planned strategy or it happened coincidentally?
Participation of women in the anti-nuclear movement in Koodankulam is visible to anyone who visits the place. Even the policemen of Koodankulam would acknowledge that the local women oppose the project very strongly with their participation in the protests, meetings, rallies and fasts. In fact the movement could sustain so long only because of the active participation of women as someone said in one of the meetings that women generally do not walk out of anything in the middle once they commit themselves.
Q) Has the Koodankulam movement been completely apolitical? None of the political parties seem to be backing it now. Are they averse to support given past experiences?
The Koodankulam is very much a political movement as it questions the whole politics of the Indian state. The anti-nuclear movement of Koodankulam questions the way any development project is planned in Delhi and dumped on the people without their consent. The movement also questions the concept of energy requirement and the arrogance of the nuclear establishment of the country. Energy is not energy alone anymore; it is an unfair and imbalanced accumulation and exercise of power by corporate companies, scientists, officials and politicians over the common people. Besides nuclear energy can never be a peaceful activity as it is a war against the local people and as it kills people even during the routine day to day operation.
As far as the participation of the political parties, the anti-nuclear movement in Koodankulam has always welcomed any support from any political party. But the leadership will be of local people only. Political parties throughout the years have proved again and again that they are capable of sacrificing people’s interest during a critical juncture. Any political party has its own history, focus and agenda. Anti Enron struggle in Ratnagiri was a perfect example where the Hindu parties dumped the people after they struck a deal with Enron.
Q) What comprise formula can be reached (if any) for the government to save face?
Government of India does not seem to want to go for any compromise with anyone especially in the nuclear front. They want to open up more projects across the country irrespective of the resistance. They have this embedded electronic and print media in India which is co-opted, threatened and bribed by the Prime Minister’s Office to support the nuclear adventures unconditionally. It is an international conspiracy to go nuclear in India at any cost in which even the most powerful people in this country are partners. The amount of money involved is huge where even a 2 percent cut would come in millions of rupees. Why would the government think of a compromise? We the civil society should spread the news and knowledge and involve more people in the anti-nuclear struggle as it is not about one reactor alone. It is a question of our sovereignty.
Q) As shown in your documentary, there is likely to be permanent loss of livelihood for the locals. What options have they thought if the project is commissioned?
People would oppose the project till the end. The authorities are planning to bring in 4 more reactors. There will be more disaster if the people stop opposing it. In fact it is time for more people from outside to participate in the movement as it is a long journey. Because there is going to be loss of livelihood for the locals the project cannot be allowed to be commissioned. We should continue to oppose it.
Q) Did you face any threats – directly or indirectly while filming the documentary?
I didn’t face any threat directly during the filming. But the local activists faced problems for accompanying me during the shoot. In 2008, the activists could not talk to me openly as there were many legal cases filed against them by the police for taking part in the struggle. It was difficult for me to organize the shoot openly. I had to do everything discreetly. I was almost caught by the authorities during a shoot as I was seen talking to people with the camera on the road. Local activists alerted me at the right time to escape. Otherwise they would have confiscated the equipment or at least the footage as they are capable of anything. I received many calls from the CID asking my whereabouts and my plans during the editing as I had just finished my film on Kalpakkam. I had to switch off my mobile phones to avoid the calls as it was distracting my work.
Q) The agitation has been non violent so far. At any point, was it difficult to restrain the agitators – especially youth?
That is where the collective leadership of the movement worked very well. It is natural for the youth or even elderly people to get agitated and loose the focus. But they had set their target very clearly. They knew they were fighting against the state which is inherently violent, which can use force against anyone given a slight chance. It is a true Gandhian struggle where every individual is a force irrespective of his or her physical strength. It is a fight using will power and mental strength. You don’t need arms to fight against anyone. In fact arms make you vulnerable. The state tried its bit to bring in a fake Maoist connection to the struggle and wanted to use it as an excuse to use force against the agitators. But the people’s genuine nonviolent struggle prevailed.
Q) You stopped filming because of the Sec 144 (Curfew) being imposed. Do you plan to continue filming again and if yes, for how long?
I didn’t stop the filming because of 144. I finished the filming in February 2012 as I wanted to release the film as soon as possible. I released it in February 2012 itself. I have been screening it around now regularly. I am planning to travel across the country and screen the film or the series as much as possible. I was in Maharashtra in June 2012 screening the film at 10 places among all kinds of audiences. The response was terrific. The young people are really concerned about the whole situation. They can feel that things are becoming worse across all the sectors. They know very well that if they don’t act now, it will be very difficult for them and their children. It is a collective failure.
I am going to Kerala next week for a 10 days tour of screening my film. I also want to shoot an all India film on the nuclear related experiences. Let us see.
Q) One defining moment of the agitation.
Fukushima disaster was the defining moment. It really opened up so many minds in and around Koodankulam. The agitators picked it up very intelligently and brought everyone together. Besides that the anti-nuclear activists of Koodankulam put pressure on the whole activist family of this country to rally around the issue to create an atmosphere where everyone was forced to discuss about the issue. So many meetings, rallies, fasts, books, films, street plays and social networking happened in one year which is historical. Now the whole experience of Koodankulam can be replicated anywhere in this country. If they can do it, anyone can do it.
Q) One moment you personally would never forget about the agitation.
I have been visiting Koodankulam since 1998. I have been part of many meetings and rallies. But the local support to the movement always was very moderate. Fishing community always opposed the project. But the inland farmers and traders were not very sure about opposing it. They even threw stones at the agitators. But to see the same Udhayakumar and other activists in 2012 in a completely different mode was a breath taking experience. To see thousands of ordinary men and women coming out on the streets of Koodakulam opposing the project was overwhelming. I had tears during the shoot in 2012. It somewhere vindicated my whole journey as a documentary filmmaker who believed in making only activist films.
Q) Your advice to others who are filming or covering such agitations – especially over extended periods of time.
I don’t have advice for any one. Every one’s experience and make up are different. I am a much laid back and low profile film maker. My experience would not be useful for all. But I am an activist first who genuinely supports many agitations. My film making is an extension to my activism. My film-making is only a part of my activity, to put it in other words.
(The article was first publised in the DiaNuke)