By Geetha and friends
14 March, 2016
I am Geetha, the Chieftain of the Vazhachal tribal settlement of Kadar Tribes people living in the Vazhachal- Athirapilly forests in Chalakudy river side located in the Thrissur district of Kerala. I had written to you a few months back when there was threat of giving Environmental Clearance to the Athirapally Hydroelectric Project by the Environmental Appraisal Committee for River Valley and Hydroelectric projects. Now we face the threat of losing all trees in the submergible area as Government of Kerala has asked the Forest Department to mark the trees and assess their seigniorage value.
We do not understand the meaning of words like seigniorage and valuation. But we are aware of the true value of trees. For us, all of the Kadars in the 9 settlements in the Vazhachal Athirapally Forest division the trees are part of a large and contiguous rainforest ecosystem. We value them for the coolness we feel as we walk for hours in search of food, fuel and fodder. We know and sense trees through their continuous life process by which water is rejuvenated in the ground and flows out as streams and rivers. We feel the trees in every drop of water that the river carries down feeding and watering the lives of so many downstream Panchayats. We see the strength and generosity of trees in the honey filled flowers and the honey combs that bees make that earn us our livelihood. We sense the nutrient rich humus that leaves shed from trees growing by the river bank that emerges as the diverse fishes and other life forms that reach our hearths. We know trees through the heat and energy of the fire that helps cook our food and warm our tiny huts on cold nights. We understand that dead and dying trees are needed for special denizens of the forests like the hornbills and woodpeckers to nest and raise their next generation. We have realized that it is the roots of the trees that hold the thin layer of fertile top soil in the forests. We feel the trees and their amazing roots as we dig up many tubers and roots that make up our diet. We stand humble before the creatures of the canopy that walk the tree highways – the liontailed monkeys, the Malabar giant squirrels and other mammals with whom we share this green forest home. We touch the power of trees through the bark,leaves and roots that heal us and maintain our health.
We are proud to be the inhabitants of this rich and giving ecosystem which we have not destroyed in spite of years of living in it. We are proud and honoured to be granted the Forest Community Rights which is a Constitutional right of us tribals who do not know and do not want a life away from the trees and river. This is what made us come together on 13th March to tie bamboo friendship bands around the trees. For weeks, our children and youth with support from many others have been painting and writing on the bamboo pieces that we made for this special event. Through this we are declaring to the world the inalienable right we have over the forests, the trees, rivers and animals that we share our home with. Through this we are also proclaiming our protest and indignation in not being consulted when decisions are taken regarding resources that belong to us.
We marked 150 trees joined by people from all over Kerala. We are so grateful to the many young men and women who came to support us. We took a moving pledge to conserve the forests and the trees. We want to share with you our wish to continue living in this life giving forests, near the river which should be preserved for future generations. We invite you to come and see this ethereal forest river not as a casual tourist but as a citizen concerned about pure water, air, soil and right to life.
Anitha.S in conversation with Dr.Latha, Geetha and Dr.Sankar 0n 13th March 2016 http://www.countercurrents.org/geetha140316.htm