Krishnan left NDDB in 1978 and worked in the banking sector. He was for a number of years Senior Economist with the Central Bank of India, and the Reserve Bank of India Mumbai. After opting for voluntary retirement from the Bank in 2000,he has been actively involved in various environmental struggles in the Southern Western Ghats.Krishnan has also been involved in various RTI related issues in Kerala.He is presently settled in a small agricultural farm in Kerala and finds happiness in the company his rubber and nutmeg trees.
The blog titled ‘Aching Joys’which appeared a few days back in Vrikshamandir contained two photographs of a lady attired in a blue dress,surrounded by three others.Clearly,the lady in blue sort of looked out of place in the midst of three city slickers (an expression which I learned from Prof. Michael Halse!).
Soon after it’s publication,a few of my former friends and colleagues started contacting me to know a little more about rubber and other plantation crops.However,most were curious to know more about the mysterious lady in blue!
Surprise,surprise. Though unfamiliar to many of us,this mysterious character is one of the better known and widely recognized faces in Kerala as well as environmental activists. She is Geetha V.K, the first woman chieftain or ‘Oorumooppathi’ of a tribal settlement in Kerala,belonging to the forest dwelling Kadar community.
In Malayalam, Kadar means forest dwellers.They live in small communities and eak out a living from the forest.Today,there are only about 1800 Kadars in India and 90% of them live in nine settlements near our neighborhood. They do not undertake farming or any other form of agriculture. Essentially, they survive by collecting honey and medicinal plants from the forest in which they live. They consume a lot of fish too which is available in abundance in the Chalakudi river,on the banks of which most of their settlements are located.
Geetha is only 32 years old and is the first person from her community to complete schooling.Being the tribal chief –incidentally,as per protocol,any outsider,including government officials require her consent to enter the settlement.
Being the Oorumooppathy,many would imagine her to be aggressive and fierce.On the contrary, she is a rare and soothing presence in the middle of the dense Western Ghat forests. With her mild manners and soft spoken words, she has amazed each one of us who have known her and worked with her.
Top row from left to right; 1- Geetha with Bhoomika Award 2018 for environmental protection 2- Geetha leading the anti dam agitation at Vazachal settlement Bottom row from left to right 1- Wives of former NDDB employees with Geetha 2- Athirappilly Falls 3- Vazachal settlement 4- Another view of Athirappilly falls
The only time I have seen her assuming an aggressive avatar is when the officials of the State Electricity Board appears in the vicinity. This is explained by the fact that her community had to undergo three wholesale displacements during the past 100 years to make way for new hydroelectric electric projects in the midst of dense forests.
Today, her community is being threatened once more as the State Electricity Board has drawn up plans for a new project in the vicinity of their settlement. However, for the past 20 years she and her people have successfully prevented the state authorities from proceeding from the project and thereby preventing one more eviction.
For the purpose,she has successfully mobilized public opinion within the State and filed 2 suits in the Kerala High Court, which rightly points out the fact that the two new proposed projects are planned in land which has been legally entrusted to them by the very same government under the Forest Rights Act-2006.
Geetha was barely 12 years old when I met her for the first time in early 2000’s.During those days,we used to closely interact and work with the Kadar community under the umbrella of the NGO named River Research Centre. Initially,as a 12 year old, she was part of a children’s group known as ‘Kuttykoottam’ organized,guided and nurtured by one of Kerala’s prominent Environmentalist,the late Dr.Latha Anantha.
Realizing her potential, Latha took her under her wings and inculcated the spirit of idealism,empathy for her downtrodden Kadar community and love for nature.This was the beginning of Geetha ‘s celebrated journey which won her respect,awards and national recognition. We ,who have worked with her and known her see her as an embodiment of courage, determination and hope.