17-year-old's video gets Kerala talking of impact of sand mining
Around three weeks ago, Kavya S, a Class 12 student who lives in the coastal village of Alappad in Kerala’s Kollam district, took a video speaking about the environmental impact about the decades-long black sand mining activity in her village. After sending it to her sister’s friend on WhatsApp, she forgot about it.
Today, the same video by Kavya is widely seen as being responsible for placing an important anti-mining campaign at the heart of Kerala’s public discourse. The video, in which she relays a village’s strong fears about falling off the map due to extensive dredging and excavation works by two public-sector firms, has become a huge talking point on television news channels, radio stations, and social media networks.
Alappad and several villages on the coasts of Kollam and Alappuzha in southern Kerala are rich repositories of black sand that contains important minerals like monazite, ilmenite, rutile and zircon. Sand mining activities began in Alappad in the mid-60s, mainly under the auspices of the Centre’s Indian Rare Earths Limited and the state-owned Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited. Though there have been protests by locals over the years citing the environmental fragility of the area, the mining companies remained undisturbed. Until now.
Sitting in front of a thatched hut that serves as the anti-mining protest venue in Alappad, Kavya is nothing but modest about what she has managed to do.
“In the video, all I have done is express the pain of the people in my village. It’s not a political speech. In my own little way, I’m happy I could contribute to the cause and I’m glad that the public of Kerala are supporting us,” she says. “To see the land beneath our feet sink away is an extremely sad sight. Today, the mining works are at the northern end of Alappad, but there’s a fear in people’s minds that very soon the JCB will land at our doorstep,” she said, referring to the earth moving equipment.
An indefinite hunger strike by the locals, demanding an immediate stop to all mining activities in Alappad, has now completed 70 days, with widespread momentum on social media.
Alappad, home to fisherfolk, is sandwiched between the sea and the national waterway, making it extremely fragile for coastal erosion, say people behind the protests.
“During the floods in August 2018, when people were stuck in their houses in areas like Chengannur and Pandanad, 465 fishermen from Alappad alone took their boats and rescued thousands. Before anybody asked us, we did our duty… Today, we are asking Kerala to save our land,” says K Chandradas, a former fisherman and the chairman of the protest body. “During protests in earlier years, the mining companies were able to coerce our leaders to end the fight by offering them plum posts. But the youth of today cannot be bought. We have worked very hard,” he says.
Kavya, on her part, knows her facts and is careful not to speak with political undertones. Plastered on television channels as the virtual face of the campaign, she has become a household name by now.