Second day in God’s own country, and it couldn’t have been more spectacular. We were driving along this beautiful stretch of road, surrounded by forests on both sides. It looked like a tunnel, a green tunnel. It was drizzling, and the rays of the sun were fighting rather subtly with the trees to give them way. “What place is this? It is so beautiful,” I sighed, looking at Syam – the YLTP (Youth Leadership Training Program) coordinator for Kerala — with enquiring eyes. “Uro Kadu, that’s the name of this place, and the beauty has a history to it,” he smiled mischievously. What history could it have, I wondered.
After a half km drive along the green tunnel, the car stopped. It had stopped drizzling. There was a man standing on the other side of the road, waiting for us. Babu had a thick moustache and the biggest smile I had seen since quite a while. After a short introduction and exchange of greetings, Syam, pointing at me with his thumb told Babu, “I was telling him that this beautiful place has a history to it. Who else would know better about it than you?” Babu looked at me with a smile and said, “This beautiful road, once upon a time was not like this. It was nowhere near to what it is today.”
“What do you mean,” I asked curiously.
“Well, why don’t you take a deep breath first.”
I inhaled quite a bit of the atmosphere, and it was absolutely refreshing.
“How was it?” Babu smiled, “Wasn’t it refreshing? Well, it wasn’t like this up till six months ago. This place was a nightmare, a stinking, dirty, garbage filled nightmare! This one and a half km stretch of beautiful, clean and refreshing environment you see was the garbage dumping ground of the nearby towns. You name it and it would be dumped here. Septic tank waste, meat waste from the slaughter house, dead and half dead dogs, household garbage, industrial garbage; one couldn’t walk without covering their nose, and feeling nauseous. It was bad, very bad.”
I looked around once again and couldn’t believe my eyes and my ears. It was hard to believe that this beautiful sight of panorama was once a dumping ground of human rather inhuman waste!
“They would come in the middle of the night, the trucks, dump the waste and drive off, they wouldn’t even stop,” says Babu, with a pinch of a not so good memory in his eyes. “It was getting enough. We had to do something. We formed a team, most of us YLTP graduates and yuvacharyas. Something had changed during the workshop, it was time we translated it into action. ‘Jana Jagruti Samiti’ was the outcome of the action. We were the ‘people of the night’. We went and spoke to the forest officials, the police and the village sarpanch, they all backed us completely, and gave us full authority over the forest.
First we cleaned up the whole place. What could be burnt was burnt, rest was buried in the ground. And then, we started patrolling the night, in groups of four and five. We hid in strategic places in the jungle at the side of the roads. The trucks and tempos would come in the heart of the night and we would catch them red handed. Initially it was difficult. We landed in a lot of fights. But we didn’t lose hope. We educated them, and told them that this place is a ‘non dumping area’. When needed,wewere assertive in our expressions. We had IDs, and showed it to whoever asked us about our authority. The forest officers and the police came whenever we needed them, at any time of the night. It was fun too,” he smiles, “we stood awake in shifts, throughout the night. The garbage dumpers sometimes came at dawn break—they thought they were smart—but we would be there, ready and aware. They stopped coming, all of them, one by one.”
It has been beautiful and clean since the last six months. The clean green stretch leads to a cozy, small village, the people there know about the adventurous Babu and his boys’ work. They applaud them, in conversations here and there. It is nourishing to the vision and the rest of the senses, even the mind and the heart, that such extraordinary acts of simple men exist, hidden in little beautiful places of God’s own country. Someday, you should pay a visit.
Writer: Eben Felix
The transformation happened with just few of them getting together with the intention to transform. If you would like to volunteer and bring about a change in your place, join in to Volunteer for a Better India.
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