78 people face charges for protesting against waste plant
The short walk from the bedroom to the front door is an ordeal for E.T. Sainabi. But for the past three years, the 60-year-old woman has been travelling frequently to the Marad court for cases against her ranging from obstructing traffic to destruction of public property.
She is one of the 78 people from Njeliyanparamba who have various cases foisted against them for participating in a people’s agitation against the waste treatment plant that has been a source of diseases for the people here.
“It is a struggle for me to travel all this distance to appear in court. What is the wrong that we have done? We only tried to raise our voice in a democratic way against the injustice meted out to us. We did not resort to violence. But now we are treated as if we are hardened criminals,” says Ms. Sainabi.
Out of the 78 having cases against them, 23 are women of which five are past 50.
“I have to take time out of my tailoring work for the court appearances. I don’t make much money out of this and coupled with that I have to keep aside some for the bus fare to and from court,” says V. Sabitha.
The women were scared enough after the cases that they do not participate in the protests now even though they want to. Most of them also refused to be photographed fearing repercussions. The plight of the men is no better. Some of them like H. Zakeer have it even worse because their work places are far away.
“I work in the construction industry in Thiruvananthapuram. Sometimes I have to get here on short notice. On few occasions, I did not even know of the court dates and got a warrant against me. There were other days when I travelled all the way for nine hours only to find that the case has been postponed to the next day,” says Mr. Zakeer.
Two of the 78 pleaded guilty and escaped with a fine. But the rest refused to, as they believe that they have done no wrong. However, some more are thinking of pleading guilty but does not have the money to pay the fine.
They say a samara munnani (protest committee) supported by a fledgling youth organisation hijacked their protests in 2010.
“This organisation, which has been taking up issues like this elsewhere, worked against the movement that was already gathering storm. Even when the protesters were arrested, none of their leaders were charged. It is only the common people without any party allegiance who have cases against them,” says Ms. Sainabi.
This affected the working of the Paristhithi Samrakshana Samithi, a collective of the local people, which has been spearheading the agitation against the plant since 2005.
“The people are scared to come out for the programmes against the plant. This is how the state and vested interests clamp down on legitimate people’s movements all over the country,” says O.K. Koya of the Parisththi Samrakshana Samithi.
With the schedule of the court cases instilling such chaos in people, the only constant seems to be the occasional gusty wind that still carries the stench from the Njeliyanparamba plant to the houses around.