June 17, 2011

The Wyanad Tale - Young Men on the Move

Vinayan is from Wyanad, one of the northern districts of Kerala with a substantial indigenous population and a degree of backwardness that is an aberration to the overall growth oriented outlook of Kerala but it is not infact backward in the Central India sense of the word.

There are hardly any destitute poverty stricken people hanging around. Visiting here from Eastern Uttar Pradesh, one would amaze at the number of vehicles, number of public buses, innumerable bakery shops and so many umbrellas, that popular umbrella companies infact have their showrooms in most of the towns of the district. But Mananthwady, Sultan Bathery and many more small towns and villages have a story to tell.

The story is that Wyanad did a fast forward leap to modernity, sidelining the vast populations of indigenous people, who could not adjust to modernity in the modern sense of the word.

Wyanad was and still is, one of the least densely populated districts of the state of Kerala and it is people like Vinayan (whose family originally brought about destruction of the forests) as they, along with thousands of other immigrants from central and southern Kerala have taken up cudgels to preserve the remaining forests of the district.

Vinayan sees the forest as an integral part of Wyanad, a sea change from early migrants who viewed the then vast forests as a resource to be logged and burnt and pillaged. For then, the forest was a dark brooding competitor in the land starved minds of most people. Encouraged by the government, the tale of Wyanad's forest is a tragedy of the present times leading upto this situation where barely some parts of the original forests remain as per the original habitat.

Vinayan's father and Sujin's father settled in Chettapalam and Thrissilay close to the town of Mananthawady.

Saneesh's father also was a migrant from Ernakulam. Infact, when it comes to Wynad, almost everyone is a migrant in the correct sense of the word. Nobody belongs to Wyanad as Wyanad Belongs to None.

While Wyanad is no one's ancestral home, except for the indigenous people who have lived in the primeval forests for long, it is now referred to as home by many who live here.

Saneesh, Vinayan and Sujin are but a few amongst the growing tribe in the region who are passionate about the pearl and not averse to irking the establishment in order to get their demands met.

These three are infact are a part of the story that turns the familiar cycle round and round - the fathers destroyed large areas of forests, the sons are now rebuilding the forests as is laying fresh plaster on a dilapidated house.

They are birders, take part in animal census regularly, conduct environmental education classes, together with more friends maintain one of the best libraries, small town India might have ever known - the Youth Library at Manathwady.

These boys and their many friends are working towards restoring the lost primacy of Wyanad’s natural heritage into the lives of the ordinary people - they are not frazzled by the infrequent progress and take it as part of the larger game.

What they do and are attempting to do is simply one of the earliest known solutions to turn back deforestation. Educate all and sundry. Hold classes for students in natural; settings, take them on nature walks to Kuruvadwip island, take part and exhort citizens to be active members in tree planting ceremonies and much more.

This strategy of educating people is seemingly one of the least attractive measures to confront deforestation, but the high thinking promoters of complete closure of protected areas and/or complete autonomy of indigenous populations are slowly taking up this path.