Ecologists are protesting a move to demarcate 2 km of the bird sanctuary to allegedly allow the expansion of a pharmaceutical company.

artwork by chennai school student 14 year old dhavedha on vedanthangal bird sanctuary
news Art Monday, July 20, 2020 - 17:04

“We’ve to understand that birds and animals too have feelings. The whole ecosystem would collapse if one species were to go extinct. Although we can’t see the change immediately, we can eventually… Maybe after three generations. We must stand as role models for them (future generations). If we create a world that’s not suitable for sustainable living for future generations, how would that make them feel?"

14-year-old Dhavedha Darishini’s words leave an impact long after she’s finished saying them. The youngster recently submitted her artwork for The Ecology Project’s ongoing artivism (art and activism) campaign to throw light on the threat faced by the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary near Chennai.

Activists and ecologists from across the country have been raising awareness against the Forest department’s move to demarcate 2 kilometres of the sanctuary area, to allegedly allow the expansion of a pharmaceutical company.

Sara Mohan, who spearheads The Ecology Project, is organising the artivism activity along with nature educator Yuvan, roping in schoolchildren to record their thoughts on environmental issues. So far, students from two premier schools in Chennai have participated in it.

Dhavedha’s artwork stands out with its vibrant colour palette and draws our attention immediately to details like a human baby hatching from a bird’s egg and a water body being polluted with chemicals and biomedical waste.

“I’m not a bird watcher or a bird lover but I do have a reason for participating in the activity. For me, feelings are very important – affection and love. I believe animals and birds too have the same feelings like we do. We may not be able to understand what they feel, but they do,” Dhavedha begins.

Admitting that her painting might come across as ‘bizarre’, Dhavedha, a Class 9 student from Christwood School in Chennai, says, “There are two meanings to it. One is just as babies are important for humans, it’s the same for birds.”

“Second meaning is that the birds feed us indirectly. You can see a grey heron in my painting trying to feed a fish to the child,” she adds, explaining the layers in her painting.

Dhavedha continues, “Birds, especially in wetlands, feed on fishes from the lake. Pharmaceutical companies pollute the lakes and the fishes are in turn poisoned. While the bird can sense that there’s something wrong with its food, it may not know that it might kill it. Birds help us lead healthy lives. Their droppings are used as organic fertilisers. But what do we do to them in return? We’re killing them.”

Dhavedha, who has been to Vedanthangal once when she was 12, hopes to visit again this year.

Deanna Maria Michael, also a Class 9 student, who has not been to Vedanthangal, tells us that she shares a deeper bond with the place because of her love for birds. “I love birds because the place where I live is full of birds. Six years ago, I remember noticing many different species but now I don’t. Many buildings have come up,” she tells TNM.

But Deanna has also had the opportunity to observe about 10 birds from when they were hatchlings in their nests. “From outside my room’s window, I’ve seen birds build nests. It was about a year ago when I first saw a nest with eggs. It was a beautiful sight and made me want to protect it.”

It was this feeling of wanting to protect the vulnerable that Deanna shares about Vedanthangal.

“The bids may not have another place to migrate to like Vedanthangal if something were to happen to the place. They have been protected by farmers for nearly 250 years,” she says. Therefore, with her artwork, Deanna says that she has tried to project what 2030 may look like if the pharma company is allowed to expand.

“Birds migrating to Vedanthangal in the future may not be able to recognise it, with all its factories. That was the idea behind my artwork,” Deanna shares.

Yuvan, who has been encouraging students from Abacus Montessori School to participate, explains, “Close to 150 pieces of artwork have come in so far. The fact that children are campaigning for Vedanthangal is a very powerful thing. Because as much as it is an ecological site, it is also an educational one.”

Sara Mohan concurs. “On any given day, you can see hundreds of schoolchildren at Vedanthangal on a class trip. So this artivism project is very much for the good of their future,” she says.

“If children are able to grow up thinking that it’s for their future and that they can and should say what they want about it now, and when they are able to see that their actions can make a difference, it will be something that will stay with them for long. They will know what it is to be accountable in a society,” Sara adds.

Here's a selection of their artwork

All those interested to save Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary can join this email campaign, initiated by Jhatkaa.org and Chennai Climate Action Group, and express their dissent.

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.