My first, and hopefully not the last, visit to Mahan forest led me to a new discovery. A forest full of beautiful trees, animals, humans and the magical peacefulness in the air can be found nowhere else. I left for Mahan forest slightly fearful, after all the stories I've heard so far about the pro-company goons threatening the villagers, families fighting and turning on each other, I couldn't help but feel a bit scared.
Mahan, according to the facts, is one of the oldest Sal forests with more than 5 lakh trees. This fact alone is enough to not cut it down. Although, clearly, this particular reason doesn't seem enough for us.
Visiting Mahan has helped me witness the ground reality of a villagers life. I, along with another 23 people of the Mahan Mahua Camp, were fortunate enough to interact with the locals and the members of Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS).
Singrauli is one of the largest energy producing districts in the country. We are busy giving electricity 400km away but not really providing any electricity to the people of Mahan.
I happened to stay at Waidhan, just a few kilometers from Mahan. It was a devastating sight. One could see seven thermal power plants and six coal mines from one single, three-storied rooftop. I doubt if I or any other person who witnessed that could ever forget it. I wish each and every one of you could see what we saw. Mahan definitely doesn't need to turn into that.
I happened to stay at Anita Kumari Khusuwa's house, one of the most important members of MSS and a remarkably strong woman. She has been fighting for the cause ever since the beginning.
Anita Kumari has inherited the land from her father. She doesn't want to give up on it. All along this fight, she has had to face really tough times be it from physical abuse or threats to her and her children. But never for a moment has she thought about giving up.
I asked her, why the jungle matters so much to her? She said, "Van se hi jal, jal se hi jeevan, jungle rahenge tab hi baarish hogi aur kheti – baadi hogi. Hum jungle pe nirbhar hai. Ussi se rozi roti hogi. Hum apne jaan de denge, lekin jungle nahi chodenge." (Forest gives water, water gives life. When the forests survive, only then there would be rains and agriculture. We are dependent on the jungle. This is how we receive our daily livelihood. We will give up our lives, but we will not give our jungle away.)
On asking her if she is scared of losing the jungle or is perturbed by the constant threats she receives, she says that none of that scares her. If the people of India help them fight this battle, she won't lose the jungle, but the only thing she fears is seeing illiterate and helpless people in the jungle give up their battle because of the constant threats they are receiving.
Anita has been to different cities but she would never want to live in one. The jungle is her life and she will fight for her survival until the very end. She proudly claims that whenever a problem arises she tries to let the world know about it and spreads awareness through Greenpeace's citizen journalist mobile tool, Radio Sangharsh.
She says that they have been told many times that they have no rights at all in this land. Taking advantage of their helplessness, the company officials make weird statements and ask them questions like – 'land belongs to you, fine, but what's beneath the surface belongs to the government!' Once, she was even asked, "You wear gold, if you don't give up the jungle, how will you wear gold?"
On one side when a large number of people are trying to bring climate change and global warming under control, the rest of the people are turning a blind eye on serious issues like this. No compensation or afforestation can replace what shall be destroyed.
Facts have been repeated again and again. The struggle to fight against the corporate, government and the middlemen has been going on for a few years now. All sorts of methods to raise awareness about the on-going injustice have been used, but they don't seem enough.
We want each and every one of you out there to come forward and take this issue seriously. You must spread the word as far and wide as possible. These forests are being cut down for coal, for the company's own selfish purposes. However, people seem to be least bothered. How long do we plan to sacrifice the lives of the poor and our own nature for fulfilling our selfish needs and never ending greed for materialistic objects?
How long will you let a person lose his home, his family, his life, and his reason for survival for your own desire? Rise above and speak up. Each one of you is responsible for what's happening around us.
Mahan might be just one of the many other environmental land and dispute issues for you. But for the people of Mahan their land is their life. Lets unite once and for all and prevent these unjustifiable acts from taking place. All for the sake of a better future.
Ardhra Karayil is a law student and a volunteer with Greenpeace India.