A professor of Malayalam at the Nehru Arts and Science College Kanhangad, Ambikasutan Mangad has been closely involved in the fight against the use of the pesticide endosulfan. The pesticide’s usage in the cashew plantations in the Kasaragod district of Kerala, run by the Plantation Corporation of India, adversely affected the biodiversity and the health of those in the region. Residents of Kasaragod experienced severe health issues, ranging from sores to respiratory disorders, as well as conditions such as infertility and congenital deformities. Various others died due to the poisonous effects of the pesticide. The Supreme Court banned endosulfan in 2011, but the struggle against it has continued in the region—both for the recognition of the damage caused and for rehabilitation to the affected. Though several court-appointed commissions of inquiry have looked into extent of the damage and the involvement of the PCI, few have found in favour of the affected residents. In December 2010, the National Human Rights Commission took cognisance of the damage caused by endosulfan, and recommended that the state government pay compensation to the victims. In January 2017, many of these payments were yet to be made, and the Supreme Court directed the government of Kerala to compensate those affected within 90 days.
Swarga has been translated from Malayalam by the historian and researcher J Devika, and is based on Mangad’s observations of the struggles of the endosulfan victims. It is the story of Neelakantan and Devayani, a couple residing in the forests in Enmakaje, in north Kerala—in what seems to be “swarga,” or heaven. But after Devayani brings home a baby whose health has been affected by endosulfan, their lives become intertwined with the struggle against the use of the pesticide. The following is an extract from the novel.
Darkness enveloped the Jadadhari Hill.
Neelakantan lit the lantern and placed it on the veranda. He had a pamphlet to read: Jayarajan had given it to him that morning in Swarga. He read the title again: “Endosulfan: Problems and Facts.”
He was opening the handbook by S Usha on the subject to read it a second time, when Devayani got up from where she sat, a bit nervous.