ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Crusade Against Sand Mafia

Elizabeth Philip (laluelizabeth@gmail.com) is a part of Sahaja, a feminist group in Kerala and is currently living in JNU. 

Jazeera's struggle against the sand mafia of Kerala cannot be seen in isolation from her own fight to safeguard her children's as well as her own right to life as a marginalised citizen. In this, what Jazeera sets forth to achieve is uniquely embedded in individualism, yet her case for the protection of environment is universal. 

The ongoing protest of V Jazeera  against the sand mining mafia in Kerala, has become a real irritant for Government of Kerala, as Jazeera  moved into the national capital's ”allotted space for dissent” - Jantar Mantar, since 6 October, 2013. Jazeera admits that she does not want to project her home state in negative light, but claims that she was left with no choice. She had been vocal against the concerned authorities at various levels of governance to point out the gross exploitation of the coastal ecosystem despite having  different laws and Acts that could be invoked to protect the coastal areas.

One Woman Struggle

Jazeera's single demand for the past one year and eight months has been to implement the Coastal Zone Regulation Act, 2011 (CRZ), with immediate effect. Her fight is two-pronged, ie, the implementation of the CRZ Act in its entirety in all the coastal districts of Kerala and against the malpractices of the sand mining mafia. The politics of Jazeera's struggle is very unique for so many reasons. This struggle has no mass following, (but is partaken by her three children), with no ”functional” solidarity group, no particular agenda for action. Not just thatthere are many unique details that unfold when one closely interacts with the political subject that makes Jazeera.  

Initially Jazeera apporoached the  Pazhayangadi village office of Kannur district with a complaint against the violation of the coastal zone regulations at the coastal hamlet of Neerozhukkumchal by the sand mafia.But as no action was taken by the authorities,  she approached the local police station at Pazhayangadi. After the the formal registration process of her complaints, her frequent visits to the police station was futile as the police seemed “too busy” to even listen to Jazeera. She recalls that, there was one police sub-inspector , who could identify some of the culprits engaged in illegal sand mining and those who had attacked Jazeera in broad daylight when she reacted against them. He even brought them to book, but incidentally, he was transferred the very next week itself.  

These and various other instances of both the police and the public jeering at her, letting off of the identified perpetrators, the police themselves helping the vehicles plying with sand to escape the law enforcer's own eyes, all  made Jazeera  to comprehend the very obvious nexus between the police, the local government authorities and the sand mafia. Jazeera herself was attacked many a time. Her children were beaten on their way to school, her one room house was pulled down, and she was attacked even with a spade.

Prior to these attacks on Jazeera and her children, Jazeera's mother and sisters were supportive of her actions against sand mining, but later they withdrew their support, and  Jazeera claims it was due to fear of being attacked.  In spite of her family's reaction, and the apathy from the authorities, Jazeera went ahead with her fight for justice, charged with the fact that sand mining was illegal, and that it had in less than two years, depleted her beach from being bigger-than-a-football field, to a narrow foot path.

Sit-in Dharnas

Jazeera thus moved into the next phase of her struggle, a sit-in in front of the Pazhyangadi police station for seven days. The local government authorities, on the seventh day, tried to “settle” her problem by putting a police check-post within one kilometre of her house, so that no mining would take place in this stretch. Jazeera felt cheated with this gesture, because in the vicinity of her house, there was no sand to be mined anyway; and to add to this, sand mining continued unabated on both sides of the place Jazeera inhabited.

Thus, Jazeera went on to the district headquarters -- Kannur collectorate. Outside the collectorate, Jazeera sat in dharna for 27 days.  Disappointed by the remarks made by the member of legislative assembly in the locality, and by other comments belittling her fight to implement a law that was already there, Jazeera  moved on in protest to the secretariat, in Thiruvananthapuram with her children. In spite of the chief minister's verbal assurance on the third day of her protest in the state capital, nothing really happened in favour of her demand. . After 64 days of sit-in outside the secretariat, she boarded the train to New Delhi. On 6 October 2013, she reached New Delhi and headed straight to Jantar Mantar, near Kerala House with her three children.

Daughter of the Sea

Jazeera's struggle cannot be seen from the stand point of the representation of any particular identity, but generally that of a citizen; she calls herself “daughter of the sea”.  She grew up playing with the sea; the smell of the sea is as important for her as the air she breathes. Jazeera recalls that earlier, when illegal sand mining was not so rampant, she used to see local people and also outsiders having fun at the sea shore,  playing and running around, and even just sitting on the beach,. Children used to play happily  in the sand. During those days also Jazeera used to keep guard of sand at the sea shore even when more than 50metre  of beach was left.She says, “each grain of sand in our coast lines belong to  citizen and not for the economic gain of a few. This young mother of 31, who is an autorickshaw driver by profession, believes that nurturing one's environment is as important as bringing up one's children. Jazeera's conviction is that whatever we enjoy of nature we have to pass on to the next generation. The pain she feels from within herself when the shores are depleting by  day has been inculcated in her children too. It is commendable that Jazeera's political space/endeavours whether of protests, or of documenting illegal mining with her cell camera, retaliating to the police who hastily shoo her off on the slightest pretext, of standing up against the sand mining labourers when they overtly and covertly attack Jazeera and her children, more than once and their house too, have always been shared by her three children. They not only stand by her in times of stress, they also report instances of mining whenever they see it and the older daughter has even completed an incomplete note left there by Jazeera to hand over to the press.

Right to Life

She vociferously upholds her children's right to life, over and above their right to education. This in no way means that she neglects their schooling. In fact, she insists on them getting at least informal classes, from friends who visit them, as they do carry their textbooks to the various protest sites they have shared with their mother. Jazeera's daughter, Rizwana (12) and Shifana (10) are currently enrolled in a school in Chala,Thiruvananthapuram. She will soon be making arrangements for their leave application, if the protest in Delhi takes longer than she expected. From the very beginning of the protest sit-ins Jazeera waged, both in Pazhayangadi and in Thiruvananthapuram, her children used tocome back to the dharna site, from school. Even outside the Kannur collectorate, for all those 27 days, Jazeera's children accompanied her; they were enrolled in a school in Thiruvananthapuram when the protest continued there; and now, Jazeera says, in Jantar Mantar, they are getting lessons for life, survival strategies in this strange and alien world, where only few speak their tongue. There are friends including some children from the Kerala schools in New Delhi who come regularly to give Rizwana and Shifana their lessons.
 

It is interesting to note the responses of the various sections of society - political parties, as well as the media- to the unique trajectory of the Jazeera protest. Jazeera was often wary of the comments of the majority who visited her to declare solidarity, expressing more concern about the well-being of her children being in the protest for so long. Though Jazeera very diplomatically accepts the expressed concern, very often I could hear her say, “It's very convenient for everyone to 'feel' so much for my children and thereby ignore what I really fight for; this tendency of the majority in the mainstream, belittles my fight for justice and overlooks the real sacrifice I as an individual undertake, and we as a family endure”. Even the National Human Rights Commission, which took cognisance of Jazeera's case suo moto, made it a point to note that action could be taken against Jazeera, for violating the rights of her children, as per the Right to Education Act, 2009. The NHRC, also issued notice to the Kerala Chief Minister's office, to the collector of Kannur and the Kannur superintendent of police, calling for a response on the human rights violations meted out to Jazeera. The state has also been asked to provide information about the action taken by it to prevent illegal and indiscriminate mining. 

Besides the NHRC having come to Jazeera to hear her grievances, she accompanied women activists from National Alliance of People’s Movements, People’s Union for Civil Liberties, New Trade Union Initiative and Sahaja, feminist group  to see the resident commissioner in Kerala House. They gave him a petition to acknowledge and facilitate the stoppage of illegal sand mining in Kerala, along with a copy of Jazeera's letter to the chief minister. On the same day, accompanied by the same women activists, Jazeera saw the Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh. Fully convinced of the demand being made by Jazeera, Jairam Ramesh wrote a strong letter acknowledging the merit of Jazeera's struggle, and also asking to constitute a credible and independent authority to address the issue.
 

Political Support

Politicians in general, with the exception of a few, both in Kerala and in Delhi, chose to look down on or even scorn at Jazeera's struggle, as her genre of protest was not seen by them as wielding any political or intellectual clout. Besides this, Jazeera being a purdah-clad woman, the  Minister of Revenue, Kerala,  Adoor Prakash  chose to  tarnish her image by saying that she has connections with a terrorist organisation. Jazeera was quick to challenge the said minister by demanding proof of his baseless allegation.

A large number of Left party members/leaders have declared silent solidarity with the cause of Jazeera's struggle, in the absence of any official stand being taken by the Left parties. Some politicians from the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have come to Jazeera's protest both in Kerala and in Delhi, vouching they will do what they can do  to take her case to the chief minister, but this  seems to be only to feed into the infighting in their respective parties, or to make political mileage, for themselves. The BJP tried to cash in on this situation by telephonically requesting Jazeera to give them a written petition, saying that they will thereby help her fight unto victory. To this, Jazeera asserted, that she has not in the course of her struggle, or even before starting out, ever thought of giving a petition to any one political party as she thinks it is not an issue to be settled party-wise, but by the state for the welfare of the people in general., At this juncture, the involvement of Annie Raja, a social activist, in helping Jazeera fight in Jantar Mantar needs special mention. She walks over very often to Jazeera's tent, and talks to her at length, extending support.

The Muslim community continues to reach out to Jazeera in a largely humanitarian and in other supportive ways. This gesture is definitely appreciable as it means a tremendous lot to Jazeera herself, having grown up in an orthodox Muslim family. She has had to confront the authority of her very patriarchal father (who is no more now), and in very many instances, abusive brothers. She recalls that as a young daughter, she did not know she had rights. She does have very disturbing stories of how on different occasions, she was beaten up, locked up, for doing things which girls in her community were not allowed to do then. Jazeera could attend only two months of her tenth class, as her brother, realising that she had attained ”maturity”, did not allow her to go to school. Thereafter she was not even allowed to go out to play with other children; she was not allowed to read, or see movies, or even to possess story books or poetry books. Jazeera, thus recalls the very many instances of difficulties she has had to endure in her parental home, which continued even after she got married at the age of 17 and  when lived in the joint family of her husband. Jazeera who did not want to continue in her first marriage for long, was forced to continue for the honour of her family. Currently, she is married to  a madrassa teacher.
 

Feminists, environmental activists, human rights activists and students from schools, colleges and universities, both in Kerala and Delhi, are the ones who have extended their all-out support to Jazeera's personal struggle for a political cause of such huge magnitude; support in various forms, all directed towards making Jazeera heard by the concerned authorities, providing material help, giving informal lessons to Jazeera's children, and engaging in discussions with Jazeera, are only some of them. 

Jazeera is overwhelmed by and grateful to the media for giving her ample coverage. The conviction as well the anger with which she presents her case, is well worth all the attention she gets. There can also be an inherent danger in this kind of reporting, which quite often highlights her mothering role as well as her lone fighter image; wonder if this may contribute to fostering Jazeera's  image as a mother of three waging a fight against a powerful mafia, in a personal vein.

The politics that Jazeera sets forth is uniquely embedded in individualism, and yet her cause is universal. She has fought the Delhi police sharply in her mother tongue more than once as recently as in December 2013. She rebuilt the tent which the police pulled down in this winter with no notice at all; she even captured the vagaries of the police with her own cell-phone camera to hand over to the media later on. Jazeera continues her fight for Kerala's coastal life in the biting cold of Delhi, very unfamiliar to her in all ways, evolving her own strategies as she intensifies her struggle.  

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