By Umang Sonker*
A significant tragedy struck a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal in 1984, and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 was a wake-up call for the entire world. The debate over nuclear power has kindled ablaze. Nuclear energy and its dangers became more well known. The difficulties of such people, their movements, and the involvement of nuclear activists Surendra and Sanghamitra G and how
Dr Surendra Gadekar is a well-known Indian nuclear activist and physicist. His wife, Mrs Sanghamitra Desai Gadekar, daughter of Narayan Desai, is a physician and worked in the government medical service for some years before focusing her efforts on helping others. They live in Vedchhi, a remote tribal community near the Kakrapar atomic power facility in Gujarat, western India. Mr and Mrs Gadekar run the Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya, or Institute of Total Revolution, a Gandhian school for young activists that focuses on practical training in non-violent revolt against injustice who also monitors the Indian nuclear industry, conducting surveys of power plants, uranium mines, and nuclear-testing facilities to determine the efficacy of nuclear power.
With the span of time, the focus of the school has also broadened to focus on teaching sustainable development for livelihood, organic farming, handloom. However, the critical focus of these schools has not been lost. In case of arising of an issue affecting the livelihood of people, just like the nuclear, so focus shift swiftly towards training for the case, creation of posters, pamphlets in Hindi or English to increase awareness, even central section of the recognized magazine “Anumukti Patrika” to create greater reach. They established Anumukti, a journal dedicated to the establishment of a non-nuclear India, in 1987. Anumukti (Liberation from the Atom) is India’s and perhaps South Asia’s leading anti-nuclear publication. Anumukti has been opposed to India’s nuclearization, whether to produce electricity or weapons, since the outset. The Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya (Institute) publishes Anumukti. Moreover, these magazine and public donations ensure that the school and its activities are not dependent on govt funding and can provide an unbiased dedication to the actual cause. This motivation to help others can be understood by Mrs Sanghamitra Desai Gadekar’s journey against nuclear power stations in India.
A few of the world’s largest nuclear power stations are in India. The Kudankulam nuclear power station is India’s most significant. It has a total energy capacity of 2000 MW. In addition to Kakrapar, Rawatbhata, Kaiga, and Tarapur, there are atomic power plants in Kakrapar, Rawatbhata, Kaiga, and Tarapur. People in India were aware of the grave threats that these nuclear projects posed to those living nearby. Even during ordinary operations, small groups of people began attempting to determine the risks posed by such plants. In Gujarat, one such group was Anu Urja Jagruti (Awareness about Atomic Energy). People questioned the government about the information about these power plants during discussions and rallies. The response of the authority was typical of atomic power facilities across the world. They bombarded the public with jargon, and when the public refused to listen, police repression was used. In the midst of their agony, the residents of Kakrapar felt helpless and alone.
Movements also erupted in other parts of India. People protested against proposed nuclear power facilities in the states of Karnataka and Kerala. The effort against the Kaiga power project was led by Dr. Kusuma Soraba. The movement drew a lot of attention, and the police blocked all the roads leading to the protest site. Dr. Kusuma, however, was able to reach the location with the help of a group of 30 female volunteers by going through the dense tropical rain forest. She embodied reckless zeal and served as an inspiration to India’s anti-nuclear movement.
Citizens for Alternatives to Nuclear Energy (CANE) compelled the Karnataka government to have a national debate on the proposed Kaiga nuclear power facility in December 1988. This argument demonstrated that India’s atomic establishments were not interested in hearing other people’s opinions. There was no basis for a scientific judgement because there was a scarcity of evidence on the consequences on people’s health. The CANE party from Rajasthan was invited to view the situation by the locals of Rawatbhata. A nuclear power plant influenced the community, but there was no electricity or safe drinking water. However, despite the town’s growth, the residents faced a slew of major health challenges. People discussed their health issues and problems with Dr. Sanghamitra Gadekar because she was the first doctor to visit the Rawatbhata town. The CANE group conducted a survey to learn more about the consequences of the nuclear power plant on the public’s health. The survey was conducted by volunteers who were surveying professionals. A considerable number of women volunteered to help with the surveying and data analysis. People from neighbouring villages and towns also pitched in to offer shelter and food for the gathering.
The survey’s findings were astounding. After analyzing the data, it was determined that persons who lived near the power plant grew older faster and were more likely to die ten years younger. It also revealed that people suffer from long-term illnesses, particularly those affecting the skin and digestive system. People also complained of a sense of debility and constant exhaustion, which resembled the symptoms of Hiroshima’s bura-bura illness. Many miscarriages, stillbirths, newborn deaths, and infants born with congenital impairments occurred within one day of delivery, indicating that women were also afflicted.
Following data analysis, the organization created a survey report and distributed it to all nearby families in Hindi. Despite the fact that more than 75% of the people in the area were illiterate, others read this summary to them. The residents in the neighbourhood staged a protest against the nuclear power facility. “We do not want power if the price of that energy is a deformity in their offspring,” one tribal woman said in an area where most women are afraid to speak in front of men.
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 government’s reaction to the poll report was expected. They denied the issues in public. Many newspapers and other outlets have since visited the site and recorded some of the issues. As a result, the government is no longer denying that a problem exists. Poverty, starvation, ignorance, and superstition, according to the administration, are to blame for the problems, not nuclear power facilities. They also attempted to depict the group as anti-nationalists and a hindrance to the country’s prosperity. People within the nuclear establishments, on the other hand, have acknowledged the issues but have stated that someone must pay the price of growth.
In India, public awareness of anti-nuclear groups and projects is still in its infancy. People who live near nuclear power plants have a basic awareness of the problem. This awareness, however, has not yet reached middle-class families in other cities. Women, as the worst sufferers, have a critical role to play in giving this knowledge. It is simpler for people to see through the deceptive rhetoric of authority and get to the root of the problem, which is the assault on current and future generations’ health and well-being. Women are among the most active members of anti-nuclear organizations.
Various anti-nuclear initiatives have been organized in various regions of the country by Dr. Kusuma, Krpa, Ratna, Shyamali, Ajeetha, Aradhana, Mona, Nandini, and Gabriella, among others. But their focus has not only been limited to this. Dr Desai-Gadekar has been practising khadi weaving and natural colour dying for decades and is now actively helping in reviving Udupi saris and promoting of Khadi and Handloom fabrics. This is been done under the bucket of Asli Handlooms created by a group who recognize themselves as Chenetha Chaitanya Vedika (roughly translated from Telugu as “platform for revitalizing of handloom).
Mrs. Sanghamitra Desai Gadekar has dedicated her life to pursuing a sustainable livelihood for people in need. Walking on paths, many would turn a blind eye, but in the end, if the purpose of life isn’t towards helping each other and growing towards a sustainable world, then maybe we are heading in the wrong direction?
*Second year MBA student, IIM-Bangalore