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Women at centre of anti-nuclear battle, from Bhopal to Fukushima
Tanushree Bhasin  16th Mar 2013

Japanese women demanding better relief for some 30,000 children exposed to nuclear radiation by the Fukushima meltdown, in Tokyo, 2011

hen I went to Bhopal in 2009 as a part of a student group, to visit the Union Carbide factory site and meet victims of the 1984 gas tragedy, I was struck by the strong presence of women in the protest initiatives. In fact, they were the ones who seemed to be leading the movement against Dow Chemicals. Whether on the streets, shouting slogans against nuclear power, or at home taking care of children who suffer from mental and physical deformities, it was always the women negotiating with the consequences of nuclear power at every point. Exposure to the gas left many young girls and women barren or caused terrible developmental problems in their children. In the space of their homes too, the legacy of the tragedy surfaced each day when they'd be forced to drink contaminated water — a result of nuclear waste having been left at the factory site due to which toxins over the years seeped into the groundwater. In a moment of moving delicacy, a mother in one house served us tea prepared with this water while talking about water contamination, only to find terror stricken students refuse her generous offer. It became clear to us that though the gas had not spared anyone, in the wake of this tragedy, it was the women who were left with the most gruelling battles to fight.

On 11 March, the two year anniversary of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant disaster, a group of concerned students and academics got together at the Jawaharlal Nehru University to talk about the politics of nuclear power and how women were at the centre of anti-nuclear protests. Making her stand absolutely clear at the outset, Nivedita Menon, Professor, JNU said that "Nuclear energy is neither clean nor cheap, nor is it safe. Let's not kid ourselves into believing that nation states develop nuclear power peacefully and nuclear bombs are byproducts. Rather, a nexus between states and the weapons industry makes the production of nuclear bombs the primary objective. Peaceful harnessing of nuclear power is nothing but a garb."

A nexus between states and the weapons industry makes the production of nuclear bombs the primary objective. — Nivedita Menon

Many of us here in India are not too familiar with what actually followed after the disaster in Japan and the screening of the film Women of Fukushima helped put things into perspective. The film essentially traces the journey of six Japanese women who were in one way or another affected by the nuclear disaster. They offer brutally honest views on the state of the clean-up, the cover-ups and untruths since the nuclear accident in Fukushima. All women in one way or another became a part of the protest against the proliferation of nuclear power. "It's important for us to realise that such protests are a big deal for Japanese people. This is a population that actually believed that nuclear was the way to go. No questions asked. Fukushima has suddenly shattered their faith in both the kind of developmental politics Japan follows as well as the country's government", said Caitlin Stronell, the moderator of the discussion who has also spent a long time in Japan.

Lalita Ramdas, environmental activist and former Board Chair of Greenpeace International, speaking to the gathering via Skype added that "Whether it's in India or Japan, we need to stop romanticizing nuclear power as a symbol of national pride and strength."

The discussion wasn't wholly one sided and many students wondered whether it was possible to turn back time and ignore nuclear technology which to many is the technology of the future. Menon responded by making it clear that "the technology of the future is actually renewable energy. By opposing nukes we are rejecting seventeenth century ideas of progress and development which are in fact regressive."

The second film titled Voices from The Daughters of the Sea looked at the Koodankulam anti nuclear protests. In the songs and slogans, whether Indian or Japanese, women always spoke about how nuclear energy was a reproductive issue, a health concern and an end to a certain way of life. They spoke of the arrogance of the modern man who dared believe that he could control nature by bringing uranium out of the soil, when it should have been left there, never to be touched.

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