Sunday, February 06, 2005


Here I am at LAFTI again. After a rather long journey - by air, by train and finally on board of a LAFTI jeep, kindly escorted by smiling Jagadheesan - I finally arrive in front of the LAFTI office where they are all waiting for me. Krishnammal welcomes me with her usual grace and warm smile, but tonight she is particularly shining with inspiration.

I understand that I've arrived on a very special day.

It all started on January 30th, known as Martyr Day. On that day, Gandhi was killed by a religious fanatic. LAFTI celebrates that day with prayer and by observing a fast. In Tiruvarur, they organized a rally that reached the riverside where there was a stone pillar indicating that, on 1948. Jagannathan dissolved the ashes of Gandhi in the river water. Every year, LAFTI folks hold a big rally and celebrate this day with prayer and fasting, and take oath to dedicate their lives to the country. This year the police refused to give permission for a big rally because of the tsunami. So they held a smaller rally, but the solemn prayer and collective oath to struggle for a better society have been pronounced again.

Immediately after that, LAFTI workers went to one area, Thalainayar, to participate in community work. During the time of the floods, the whole area was damaged by saltwater from the prawn farms. The prawn farm owners used to bring saltwater to cultivate the prawns. The saltwater reached the villages and standing crops were submerged under water. People from 17 villages, men and women gathered in that particular area and decided to build a wall to prevent the penetration of seawater. They started early in the morning, but were obstructed by the police. The whole crowd was waiting for LAFTI workers to come and start the work again. So it happened successfully and the wall was built.

But two days ago Krishnammal went to Thalainayar area again only to discover that the prawn farms are being restored , despite their catastrophic impact on the environment and the subsistence of so many people. Furthermore the landless poor who joined in building the wall were threatened that they would lose their harvesting jobs. So immediately, LAFTI organized a conference that has taken place today, February 5th.

Despite the short notice, a huge crowd came to attend the conference, denouncing the restoration of prawn farms despite the severe damage they cause to the environment and the people. For a whole day men and women sat and listened to Krishnammal and Jagannathan's inspiring words, confirming their determination to continue the struggle to stop the prawn farms along the coast of Tamil Nadu and restore the natural habitat.

Today with Krishnammal and some LAFTI workers I went to Porgalakudi, the village where I spent a month in 1992, when I visited LAFTI for the first time.

This is where LAFTI has started a hollow brick-making (cinderblock) unit. The project launched by LAFTI consists in the following: those in need of a house are encouraged to give their labor to make the 15,000 bricks and 350 cement blocks needed to build one house. LAFTI will contribute not only in the organiation, but also supplying each house with 35 bags of cement - worth 5,600 Rupees (roughly $125 U.S.), and 3 window-frames and 2 doors.

Thanks to the project it will be possible to build houses making use of manpower from the village during the summer months when there is little to do in the fields and people spend most of their time in social functions and festivals.

Today's visit was meant to encourage people to join in the project so that with their labour and LAFTI’s generous help and coordination they can afford to have a solid and decent house and therefore improve their living conditions.

LAFTI means your generous heart!


Today, the visiting Indian ecology Dr. Vandana Shiva and Krishnammal issued the following letter:

Dear friends of the tsunami victims,

The tsunami brought a wave of devastation - but it has also unleashed a wave of compassion to which you have generously contributed.

However, aid for rehabilitation is being used to evict the coastal communities from their houses, land & livelihoods. While people are being forcefully evicted in the name of vulnerabity, prawn farms, which contributed to the disaster by destroying mangroves & forest shelter belts are being rebuilt with money meant to rehabilitate the people.

You want to help the victims of the tsunami to rebuild their lives. Please join us in ensuring that :

a) Victims are not evicted from their homes;

b) Prawn farms which the Supreme Court ordered to be closed but which continue to operate illegally are shut down permanently. No compensation should go to them from rehabilitation money

c) Livelihood security of coastal communities, fisher folk, farmers, small traders are rebuilt through ecologically sustainable system

d) Mangroves and shelter belts must be immediately planted to protect the coastal communities. Wherever such biological shelters were not destroyed, people were protected.

Please write to the Prime Minister Sri. Manmohan Singh, & Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, Smt. Jayalaleetha, to ensure your generosity is not misused by vested interests who are trying to use the tsunami tragedy for their personal greed.

Dr. Vandana Shiva
Krishnammal Jagannatha


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