This is a guest post by Sriranjini R.
ISIS in Syria, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, Taliban in Pakistan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, ecological problems, climate change … the list of the world’s ‘security’ problems seems endless. India has its own share of course – the India-Pakistan conflict, India-China problems, Maoism and so on. In Kerala, police have been desperate to find ‘security threats’ of their own. They first tried hunting down a ‘druglord’ whose picture was found on T-shirts of young people suspected of drug use. His name is Bob Marley. Please give the man up if you find him anywhere. Then they tried looking for Maoists. Every state has some, how come we have so few, was their complaint. After going after thin, dark-skinned, bearded fellows, Kiss of Love activists, and sundry others, hoping that one of these will be a Maoist, finally they caught one. And he didn’t look like any threat to most Malayalis.
Police lost the game but the authorities in my city, Thiruvananthapuram succeeded in identifying a security threat – the ultimate one. Guess what? Trees! Yes, you read that right – trees in public spaces have been identified as possibly Kerala’s biggest security threat. Reading what I just wrote makes me imagine a big tree with guns in its branches, in a bulletproof vest, and smoking a cigar! But trees cannot do that. So what did they do? Well, recently, a tree fell on a school bus killing 5 children and injuring 11 on June 26, 2015 at Kothamangalam in Ernakulam district. A terrible tragedy, no doubt, but was it the tree’s fault? Since one tree caused deaths, cut every tree in that region if possible – that seems to be the logic. If a bus or a vehicle falls into a river do we ever fill up the river? Some years back, a similar horrific accident in which a bus fell in a river killing children had shocked us. Did we fill up the river? No, we built a fence. Rivers are jocks it seems, but trees are poor weak nerds who must suffer the bullies!
But do we ever take moment to think why trees are falling so easily in Trivandrum? Well, I don’t think it is because the trees want to kill people in some mad rage. It is because the people don’t take care of them. The roots of the trees on Trivandrum’s main roads are being cut off or blocked in the current road beautification and widening. The soil around its roots is being choked by tar or cement. The branches are not being pruned or maintained. In other words, the tree is treated as if it were lifeless. If it reacts to the lack of care, it is treated as a ‘security threat’.
I am not joking here. The government has evoked the National Disaster Management Act to chop off all the wayside trees at risk of falling after the incident at Nellimattom (as above mentioned). This decision was taken by discussing it in several meetings chaired by excise minister K Babu. Concerned citizens who go under the name TreeWalk called for a scientific assessment of tree-health instead of this senseless slaughter, but we are still sleeping. And there is evidence that the government wants to chop down perfectly healthy trees too.
Well, that’s what we see in the government’s eagerness to grab the land belonging to the Attakulangara School in Trivandrum city, one of the oldest city schools, founded in 1889. The trees there are very healthy and steadier than most people over here. But the government seems hell-bent on grabbing the prime land, chopping down the trees and building – no prizes for guessing- a bus bay and shops! And for what? Easing traffic in the East Fort area! Trees threatening people’s security, shops easing traffic and congestion — goodness knows what more wisdom we will be stuffed with!
This school is one of the most beautiful schools I have ever seen. Small buildings next to big shady trees, pure air, the feeling of being with Nature, cool breeze, the smell of wet mud and leafy vegetation during rain, coolness during summer, the pure green which relaxes the eyes. Just like a dream. Unfortunately that place is literally going to become a distant dream as the government of Kerala is giving away that land to TRIDA (Thiruvananthapuram Development Authority) – the wise people who realized that more shops mean less traffic! Even the High Court of Kerala nods in agreement, how come we can’t see it? TreeWalk is protesting; the school protection committee is working full-time against this brutal move; prominent citizens in Trivandrum have been expressing concern. Heritage conservationists have been pointing out the school’s undeniable heritage value. None of this deters TRIDA which is circling around the school like a vulture waiting for its prey to die. The elected City Corporation, which one would expect to be supreme with all our hype over local self-government and the 73rd Amendment, has only recently opened its eyes and seems powerless in front of TRIDA’s clout.
According to the Malayali historian A. Sreedhara Menon, Kerala was known as Cheralam in ancient times. It means ‘Mud-land’, probably referring to swampy, newly formed land. Then it must have changed to Keralam as we call it now, the land of coconut trees. Keralam was also known as Malabar which refers to ‘Mala’ (hill).
From what is happening in Trivandrum, soon there will be neither hill nor mud here. In this city at least, the buildings are probably more than coconut trees, and taller than them anyway. So maybe we should rename the state ‘Kettidam’ – since it will soon be no ‘Keralam’. Kettidam means ‘building’. But as someone pointed out, an even better name would be ‘Ketta-idam’, means ‘ruined place’, if things proceed like this. Whom to blame? TRIDA? The politicians? No, I think.
We get the rulers we deserve. Malayalis need to wake up from their fake slumber soon, or face the consequences.
Sriranjini R, is a higher secondary student from Trivandrum, Kerala. She is interested in animal rights, conservation of the environment and human rights.