13 August 2014

Rakhis tied to a tree in Mahan.


Indore, Mumbai, Bangalore, Aurangabad, Delhi, Dharnai, Lucknow, Madurai and Coimbatore - what do you think these 9 places have in common? They all sent rakhis to pledge to save one of Asia's oldest and densest sal forests - Mahan in Singrauli, Madhya Pradesh. Mahan is under threat because of Essar and Hindalco's proposed coal mine.

Volunteers from these 9 places across India marked the occasion of Rakshabandhan by showing their solidarity with the people of Mahan fighting the hawkers and their cronies of a 'development' that's only for an elite few. Intense planning and coordination went on during the final weeks of August as volunteers in all the cities met each week. Their passion and resolve never faltered and they were dedicated to spreading the message about saving the forests of Mahan – home to over 5 lakh trees and numerous species including endangered wildlife. It also has over 50,000 people living in 54 villages dependent on it. The excitement of the volunteers was palpable. They collected an enormous number of hand-made rakhis made of waste paper and cloth and also spent countless hours making rachis. They then hit the streets and spoke to people about the issue. They discussed the plight of the people of Mahan and asked for a show of support by pledging a rakhi.

Walking in at all hours into the Mumbai office, the volunteers would occupy a small part of it, intently making rakhis and also making detailed plans for activities on the whiteboard. I had volunteers from Indore calling me at 1:30 am and asking me for suggestions. Also, mentoring the Pune volunteers to not let the initial lack of numbers deter them and to keep pushing ahead was a great experience. What a boisterous and motivated bunch they were! From college students to working professionals, and from teenagers to senior citizens, these forest warriors made thousands of rakhis and made sure every single one of them was pledged. A thousand rakhis even came in from the people of Dharnai. The volunteers went to stations, schools and colleges. They went to de-addiction centres, old age homes and malls. They braved the rains, they braved people calling them names and anti-developmental. The never-say-die spirit of the volunteers stayed strong through it all. Just as the never-say-die spirit of Mahan will forge on! Zindabad!

Pranay Jajodia is an activist with Greenpeace India.