'Quarrying horror in Ayyappan's Abode'- The News Minute brings you an investigation into Kerala’s mining country Pathanamthitta
Natarajan –a former daily wage worker- lives in the hilly area of Konni in Pathanamthitta just next to the biggest granite crusher of the district -Darshan Granites.
For the last many years he has been a prominent face among the anti-quarrying activists in the district.
When faced with the looming threat of the quarry mafia taking over all the nearby land, Achan bought 50 cents (21780 sqft) of land with his lifetime savings.
He then proceeded to gift five cents each to ten families while continuing to stay in a one-room shed made of aluminium sheets. He is yet to give them the title deeds as he is scared that the land may end up in the hands of the quarry mafia.
“This was how I registered my protest. I can be proud that I protected at least 50 cents of land from them. How could I just sit back and watch the land around me usurped by bull-dozers?” he asks.
“I have not given them the title deeds even though it is ready because I’m scared that they may take it away from them,” he adds. In the title deeds, Achan has clearly mentioned that the person who owns it can transfer the deed only after 70 years.
“My intention is to protect the land -that is why the 70 year-clause. Otherwise the quarry mafia will threaten them into submission. If I give them the title deeds now, I’m sure those goons will get hold of it. They are a powerful lot,” he said.
Achan has had no formal education. He lives on his daily earnings and never sought to accumulate anything for the future.
“Since childhood I live in a one-room hut. I wear only clothes necessary to protect me. I have not saved a single penny. Why do I need a lot of money!” he says with pride. All his earnings were spent in environmental activism and to marry off his two girls.
Natarajan along with his 75-year old wife lives in the area amidst serious threats from quarry mafias. The quarry owners don’t want any more families to come and settle in the neighborhood as it will further pose a problem in acquiring surrounding land.
“They threaten me at this age,” he chuckles and adds, “They said they’d kill me. I’ll anyway die one day, so am not scared. They try their best to stop me from giving away the land. They offered me a huge sum, but I don’t need it. ”
“Hills constitute Pathanamthitta’s identity. We have hills that touch the sky. But now there are very few left. They are mowing down our hills. I am not an educated person to gauge the scientific after-effects, but I am sure that it is not good to kill the earth,” he said.
He is pained that people don’t unite in comprehending these hazards and to stand up to the quarry mafias. “Why don’t they understand? They fall for the money and gifts offered. How will our grandchildren live here?” he asks.
He has easily tackled all that was thrown at him by the mafia till date.
“One day the village officer and some police officers came here saying that I had cut down a teak tree from government land. But that was my place; the wood was not as massive as they claimed. It was a false case. They tried to take away the wood and were not willing to listen to me. That’s when I understood it was a plan to evict me. I then went on to pour a can of kerosene on myself and sat down on the wood. I threatened to set myself aflame. They had no choice but to go back,” he smiles.
Achan affirms: “I have protected these 50 cents of land from them to give it the landless poor. Everyone has an equal right to this earth. One cannot own everything.”
There was neither water nor electricity at Achan’s house. When word got around of his protest-gift, some social activists strongly intervened and he managed to get an electric connection for his house around six months back.
But like any other quarrying-affected village, the land on which he lives faces severe water scarcity. People have to walk kilometres to fetch water.
But nothing seems to dim the fire of love burning in him for his land.