The quintessential Mumbaikar’s life is hectic and eventful, with the next day beginning before the previous can end. Last year, however, these citizens were found abandoning their schedules to amplify the voice of ‘The Save Aarey Movement’, which has been resiliently protecting the forest from encroaching destruction for about 6 years now.
“Efforts of the people have really managed to fill up the lacunae between the numerous environmentalists who worked within their silos” said Anand Pendharkar (SPROUTS) an ecologist and an urban researcher.
“When the hearings were going on, parents came to court along with their six-month old in the peak of summer, saying it was the fight for the children’s future and they must be involved. Senior citizens came there too and sat throughout the day; a homeschooling group decided to bring the children to court for some days as to them, that was education too” he said, explaining the efforts of the people.
To that, Yash Marwah, a media professional and founder of letindiabreathe added, “We got the Chief Minister to notice our human chain at Marine Drive, and sent about 18,000 mails to tree authorities. We also managed to gather 3000 people for ‘Sundays for Aarey” and social media played a crucial role throughout all these. The participating people were all citizens and a very small percentile of them were NGOs.”
The movement also saw sleeping protests, where people simply lied down on the ground in Dadar. Pictures of Ganesh were drawn on the trees and Rakhis were tied to them too, portraying the solidarity of humans and nature.
“A cycling event was conducted in Aarey, to help us witness the beauty of the space. They wound the area of tree felling into the route of cyclathon. On reaching there we saw logs kept on the ground, covered with a white sheet and painted blood. The sight struck my conscience; the land could not be just taken away like that. This was how it all started out for me,” said Abhay Azad, a citizen activist and an urban farmer, who now moderates social media for Save Aarey.
“Then we took up on creating graffiti and painting walls at the Aarey amphitheater; events for photography, nature trails and Warli lunches were organized where
50-100 people showed up on an average, and then spread the word.”
Most Mumbaikars go to Aarey as children, then often it gets pushed away by the hustle the city has to offer. The movement reintroduced Aarey to many of them.
“I have now come to appreciate Aarey even more than before” explained Reema Shah, a psychologist and a nature lover. “I remember walking along the stretch of the whole protest, there were people singing, playing instruments, performing street plays, holding up charts, cycling up and down the stretch, and every once in a while, I even bumped into a friend, and make several new ones too.”
People who were involved in other cities and other movements also came together as a collective, this is a kind of issue which cannot be isolated. Developments bring about concerns for human rights as well as environment, we need holistic solutions. The number of trees cut really does not matter here, it is a synthesis. Out of 12 sqkm, we are getting protection for about 3.5sqkm as of now, rest of the area needs to be looked at as well. Aarey is the catchment area for Oshiwara and Mithi river, with excellent biodiversity, hence plans HAVE to be worked out. I am asking for conservation through eco sensitive zones and community rights. - Amrita Bhattacharjee from the Aarey Conservation Group.
Save Aarey the best example of democratic process. Citizens made sure to keep the movement cooperative and disciplined, the honor of the cause was maintained. People with different political and religious hats came together. Artists, researchers, radio jockeys, teachers, activists, have all supported the movement in their own capacities. - Anand Pendharkar (SPROUTS) an ecologist and an urban researcher.
Around this time last year, I was taken to Dahisar Police Station for protesting, and was only let go next morning before my examination, but then as I started out for the college from my home in Jivachapada, I was arrested again. We were not allowed to walk into the metro site (despite being residents of Aarey) and were blatantly lied to about the felling of the trees. People from the city really helped us through it, those who were unable to make it to the protests spread the word through social media. Press conferences also gave us a chance to speak our minds, however at times a part of our message would still get truncated. We worship nature here and it holds sentimental value for all of us. The houses of nesting birds and reptiles were wrecked by felling of trees too. Our parents have grown up around here, climbed these trees and played around them, it is like heritage. - Manisha Kisandhinde, student and resident of Aarey