By Jagjit Singh
Los Altos, CA: The pillar of a democracy is the right of free speech and assembly.
This basic right is rapidly eroding when the interests of private businesses and state policy are being threatened.
Amnesty International, the worldwide human rights organization, has recently reported that 15 people are fasting in protest against a nuclear power plant project in Tamil Nadu, They are in mortal fear for their safety after thousands of police and paramilitary forces surrounded their coastal village of Idinthakarai. At least 180 people have already been detained in two days for their roles in the protest. The 15 people include seven women and belong to the People’s Movement against Nuclear Energy (PMANE), a campaign group led by Dr. S.P. Udayakumar, a teacher.
They have been fasting as part of the protests against plans for a Russian-built nuclear power plant project next to the coastal village of Kudankulam, because they fear that it poses a danger to local communities. The plant will affect at least 15,000 people living close to the site. The Idinthakarai villagers have faced shortages of essential goods and services as police and paramilitary forces starving the community by blocking their delivery. Police have arbitrarily detained at least 180 people in two days in connection with the delivery of these goods. Fishermen have been unable to reach the village.
The police and paramilitary have ordered the media to evacuate the area to minimize the exposure of the brutal crackdown. Some of those detained have reportedly been assaulted and may be at risk of being tortured. Some of the protestors, including Dr. Udayakumar already face charges of sedition (crimes against the state) and waging war against the state and, if convicted of these charges, they could face sentences as high as life imprisonment. Others have been charged with conspiracy and rioting with deadly weapons.
Amnesty International be-lieves the charges are false, and constitute a deliberate attempt by the authorities to silence the protests. Dr. Udayakumar states that the expert panel established by the Indian authorities has failed to respond satisfactorily to several site and safety concerns raised by an independent group of experts.
I urge readers to write or send e-mails of protest to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh through his website: http://pmindia.nic.in/feedback.php, urging him to release all peaceful demonstrators and drop the charges and ensure that those detained not be subjected to cruel and degrading treatment, allow free passage of food and other supplies, and lift the ban on freedom of expression in accordance with international law.