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No Time To Waste: From Koodankulam to Vilappilsala

By Anitha.S

07 November, 2012

Photo by Joji : Vilappil Panchayat President Shobhana Kumari speaks as women from Koodankulam looks on Rakhi: Lalithamma( with mike) and Leelamma on November 3rd

The 2 grannies walked the hot morning in search of YWCA Hall in Thiruvananthapuram on November 3rd 2012. Clad in the off white mundu and neriyathu with only one of them wearing a foot wear, they looked fresh and energetic. When asked what the scene is in their village – Vilappilsala, 17 kms from the city, both of them grinned widely.

“ We have gained so much attention because of our fight to save our village. How dare they bring the machine to purify the leachate water so late at night.We have kept vigil day and night to stop garbage from entering the plant and we will continue to do so.”

Settling comfortably in the chair, the elder of the two, Lalithamma reminisced her childhood in the village:

“ I used to run up the Theendappara every morning and sweep the rock. The small stream originating from this carried such pure water all through the year. There were many yams and tubers in the surrounding hill which we used to collect, cook and eat with relish”. Her sister Leelamma spoke about how every night she would walk to the Samara Pandal and join the meeting the whole of last year.

“ My old man would be alone at home. But I had to go as there was need for every one in the village to come together to fight this factory”

As the meeting started with a procession, the two grannies along with the Panchayat President Shobana Kumari and member Shobana decided to walk to Secretariat along with women from Koodankulam. Shouting slogans and covering their heads from the sweltering sun, the grannies found renewed strength in being part of the program. They felt honoured to be part of the program called “ From Koodankulam – Vilappilsala- Messages of Survival” as much as each participant felt that day to have met and listened to them.

The photo-exhibition on Koodankulam struggle was jointly inaugurated by Monrose from Idinthakarai village and Shobhana Kumari of Vilappilsala. The initial address by Shobhana Kumari broke all formalities and caught the attention of the audience by its simple, honest revelations. Shobhana Kumari narrated with conviction that the struggle in Vilappilsala for the past 12 years has been for life and a clean pure environment. It has not been for power and position. The struggle was held together by women and children who realized that they want to die in their own village and not be thrown off by the Waste Treatment factory. The struggle gained momentum when the villagers realized that they have been cheated with promises of jobs and that this is just a waste dumping yard and not a treatment factory. The social impacts of this factory and the stigma attached to the very name of the village brought fear and insecurity in the minds of the people impact on marriages and social events were triggered off by the huge number of flies that would alight on even a glass of water. The skin diseases and respiratory ailments that has afflicted the villagers has caused more unrest. The brutal ways in which the initial opposition to the plant was suppressed defies description. This could be why we are able to stay together beyond political parties and vested interests for so many years. The struggle is to be able to live well. On September 13th , when the machine to complete work on the leachate plant was brought into the village at midnite in accordance with High Court orders, the people of Vilappilsala woke up at 3am and stood together. It was then that the decision to fast unto death was taken.

“ I have never ever fasted in my life for any reason. I took the decision because I knew I would get the strength as it is for a just cause. Now that we have got a verbal assurance that the Waste Treatment Factory will not be opened, we know that people who used to be ashamed about Vilappilsala are proud of it. I know that the strength of the struggle is the women and children who were always there”

The beauty and richness of Kanikanumpara and the streams flowing from it towards the Meenampalli rivulet along with the abundant agricultural produce from this suburban village is already a memory. The 73 year old Lalithamma laments that her 8 cows which were a source of income for her family died with infections on their hoofs and udder being bitten by flies. She cannot forget the words of the then Mayor of Trivandeum Corporation who said that the land is being purchased for a flower garden.

“Did he mean the flowers would be to create wreaths to place on our bodies as our village slowly dies” she asks caustically.

This is our land. We want our children to grow here. We have no other place to go. We take care of our own waste. Why can’t the city take care of the waste it generates? The learned people have to find solutions. We will not let this continue” said Leelamma strongly.

The words echoed back and forth from the women from Koodankulam too as the women in two of the most significant struggles in recent times came together to share and care for the things they value most in life. To die for the right to live.

For more details of the program “ From Koodankulam to Vilappilsala” please contact
Anitha.S ( anithasharma2007@gmail.com)





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