Raising a Stink

How people power forced a waste-management revolution in Kerala

01 May 2017
People in the Vilappilsala village protest against Thiruvananthapuram Corporation’s waste-treatment plant in the area. The agitation would go on to change the power dynamic between cities and villages in Kerala.
COURTESY MADHYAMAM
People in the Vilappilsala village protest against Thiruvananthapuram Corporation’s waste-treatment plant in the area. The agitation would go on to change the power dynamic between cities and villages in Kerala.
COURTESY MADHYAMAM

IN FEBRUARY 2012, trucks of the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation, loaded with garbage, made their way out of Kerala’s capital, with several hundred policemen in tow. The garbage was to be dumped at a site in Vilappilsala village, about 15 kilometres outside the city.

At the Vilappilsala panchayat limit, the trucks were confronted by around 5,000 protestors, mainly women and children, led by the local panchayat’s president, Sobhana Kumari. They had formed a human wall several hundred metres long. The policemen, deployed to disperse the residents, lathi-charged and lobbed tear gas, but the protestors refused to make way. Kumari and others were arrested. Prohibitory orders under Section 144 were imposed in the panchayat. But the Thiruvananthapuram Corporation had to take its trucks back.

It was a do-or-die situation, Kumari told me when I met her in December, and her side had prevailed.

Kushanava Choudhury is a former Books Editor of The Caravan. He is the author of The Epic City: The World On The Streets of Calcutta (Bloomsbury 2017).

Keywords: Kerala sanitation waste management Health Thomas Isaac Thiruvananthapuram urban studies dumping yards waste treatment
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