What started out to be an inconceivable, dull and a damp day turned into massive gathering that reverberated with the message to stand up and fight for the forests which thousands of people depend on. The energy in the air was palpable and the number of people streaming in for the event nothing short of staggering.

13 August 2014


It was the 10th of August and it was Raksha Bandhan! An auspicious day meant for forging bonds that protect. In a way it was an occasion to pledge to protect all that is important to us. It was also a celebration of the strong bond and faith among the people of Mahan. The best way to celebrate it was with people from the various villages in Mahan. Mahan Sangharsh Samiti (MSS) is the banner under which community members from five villages (Amelia, Bandhaura, Budher, Suhira and Barwantola) in the Mahan forests have organized themselves to protests against Essar’s proposed coal mine. MSS members went door-to-door in more than 32 villages distributing pamphlets and information regarding this big day. The theme of the event was to emphasise the unity and sense of togetherness amongst the people of Mahan and their supporters all over India by tying Rakhis to a holy Mahua tree in the forest. This gesture symbolised each person’s resolve and pledge to protect their forests - their only source of livelihood!

The rain gods however seemed to be in no mood to cooperate. With the heavy rainfall that went on for several hours without a pause, our hopes began to dwindle. But we decided to take a chance and head out to the villages anyway. As we approached the village of Amelia, the rain gods seemed to have had a change of heart and the rain subsided. It stirred a tiny bit of hope in us.

As soon as we entered the village of Amelia, we found ourselves being escorted by a police van tightly packed with men and women in uniforms. Though we had informed the local police in advance about the activity, the presence of a police van did come as a surprise to us and for the villagers too. As we drove along the muddy roads in the village, we were greeted by kids running alongside the road yelling ‘zindabad’ and people streaming out of their kutcha houses.

The police van turned and stationed itself under a tree making way for us to witness a sight of more than 200 villagers, some half-drenched and others sheltered under umbrellas, waiting for our arrival. The crowd began to swell quickly and soon we were a group of over a thousand colourfully-dressed people gathered amidst India’s last remaining sal forests. The villagers streamed in from many different villages, most of them on foot coming in from the high slopes and also from the valley.

A 54-feet long rakhi was created and sent all the way from Mumbai by volunteers who could not be in Mahan personally for the event. As we moved deeper into the forest carrying bright, yellow banners of MSS, it was the enormous rakhi created by Junglistan supporters that led the way. The women held it aloft and marched ahead, while the men and children followed them shouting and singing slogans in support of their forests and their rights. The winding lines of villagers sent the slogans echoing across the forest landscape. It was a spectacular sight and an unforgettable experience!

As soon as we reached the spot designated for the event, MSS members decorated the area with banners and flags, turning it into a vibrant venue. The chant of slogans and the singing of songs continued as even more villagers gathered. The momentum was building and getting bigger and stronger. We then shared over 8000 rakhis with hand–written messages sent by volunteers from various parts of the country, pledging support to the people and forests of Mahan. The people of Dharnai, the village in Bihar with India’s first community-led solar village project had also sent rakhis to the people of Mahan. The event began with women tying rakhis to a long piece of thread which was later to be tied to the majestic mahua tree. Soon men and children joined in and long threads were filled with shiny, bright rakhis to be tied to the top of the tree. The villagers also tied rakhis on the wrists of MSS members, Greenpeace activists and to the Police that were present. The police also in return tied rachis to the kids. The event came to an end with MSS members sharing their experiences on the struggle for Mahan so far and emphasised on the need to stand united and fight hard for their rights.

Jagnarayan, a young MSS member from the village of Amelia spoke about Dharnai in comparison with Mahan. He highlighted the contradicting nature of realities between the two communities which exist within the same country and called for the government to create more Dharnais and not to support forest destruction.

As the event wound down, Mahan Sangharsh Samiti flags fluttered in tune with the gusty winds in the valley and the huge Mahua tree proudly stood decorated with rakhis in the background. It is evident that the fight to save Mahan is only getting bigger and stronger!

Aishwarya Madineni is a campaigner with Greenpeace India.