Protest in Gujarat

(From: Vol 1 Issue 2)

It was raining as 6th August dawned. But that is usual; this part of south Gurajat gets a great deal of rains (75″/year) most of it during the monsoons.

Last year a rally was held at Bedkuadoor, about 3 Km from the site of the up coming nuclear plant at Kakrapar. This rally organised by Anu Urja Jagriti and Sampoorna Kranti Vidyalaya Vedchhi was to commemorate the Hiroshima vic-tims and to protest against the building of nuclear reactor in their midst. The police had resorted to lathi charge, tear gas and firing in an effort to crush people’s opposition.

With memories of last year still fresh in mind, most activists were reluctant to organise another confrontation this year. Throughout last year many attempts had been made to increase mass contact with the local villagers so that a disciplined nonviolent force could be raised. But most activists still felt unsure about the discipline and peaceful-ness of the people at large. Consequently it was decided to hold a large number of prayer meetings in different villages around the plant. It was felt that this decentralised form of protest would help in maintainance of peace and at the same time allow larger numbers to participate in the protest.

The police had other ideas. Their ‘bandobust’ was on a scale larger than last year’s. A comple-ment of 8 trucksfull of police; some brought from as far away as Bhavnagar and Valsad, with 6 horses and the usual number of officers descended on Kakrapar. They promulgated sec. 144 in the area and stopped all vehicular traffic. All this show of force was assembled, not at the site of the plant, but at the side of last year’s rally.

The authorities at the nuclear plant contributed their bit by conducting a survey of a 10 Km radius area in July. This was presumably done as part of an exercise in emergency preparedness. But as is the usual practice, people were not taken into confidence regarding the purpose of the exercise, the authorities fearing that information shall lead

to panic. Rumours of all kinds were thus rife and people were tense.

It was in this state of tension that 6th August dawned, raining as usual. People in villages near Kakrapar who had been contacted by the activists went about their daily tasks undeterred by the massive police contingent in their midst. They held prayer meetings, passed a resolution demanding closure of the nuclear reactor and sent letters to the same effect to the prime minister and the chief minister of Gujarat. But for the people from the far off villages, whom the activists had not contacted, the police conglomeration itself acted as a magnet. They felt that the police would not have gathered in such numbers unless a demonstration was hnmi-nant. About four thousand people walked 15 to 20 Kms in the night and gathered near the spot where the police were encamped.

The prescence of the police acted as a provoca-cation. They were encamped near a cycle shop. Last year too they had campad near the same place. The villagers considered the shop keeper to be a betrayer. Some of them picked up some cycle tyres from the shop and set fire to them. This was enough excuse for the police to launch tear gas shells. The crowd resorted to stone throwing. The police replied with bullets.

There were 16 arrests. Those arrested were kept in the Vyara police lock-up for four days, as presumably investigations continued. They were initially charged under the newly enacted terrorist act but the magistrate refused to entertain these charges due to lack of evidence.

The news released by the Surat rural police for the newspapers and the radio tried to involve Narayan Desai with the stone throwing incident. There were also rumours to the effect that the police made efforts to implicate Narayan Desai with the violance and to arrest him as a terrorist but the idea was later dropped.

Surendra Gadekar