aamakkar - a review

v g baburaj

Aamakkar is an unusual documentary on many counts.. It is a situation where many facets of complex human life come together.

The villagers of Kolavipalayam, a small fishing village along the coast of North Kerala, had known the sea turtles for a very long time. They, like the many who live in the sea shores used to hunt the turtles for its flesh and eggs. They used to enjoy the delicacy that came in their way (as the helpless turtles hardly offered any resistance). Until Surendra Babu, an auto driver from the village, read an article in the news paper about the Olive Ridley Turtles, a species facing extinction. He could almost immediately identify with the species of turtles as the one they were hunting and eating.

This moment of realisation touched some chords in the village youth and they took up another task of hunting. But this time around, not for eating the turtle flesh and eggs. The villagers camped at the shore during the breeding season, ensuring the turtle’s safe return to the sea after laying the eggs and protecting the eggs from the predators, animals and human. They shifted the eggs to a well-secured makeshift hatchery and guarded them till they were hatched out and the hatchlings were released to the safety of the sea. Thus they began to be called ‘the Aamakkar – the Turtle People’.

One of the village youth Babu, got a regular job with a lucrative pay in Oooty, soon returned back to the village, saying something was haunting him to come back. He could not keep away from his responsibilities at ‘Theeram’, a village forum set up to protect the endangered turtles. The deep sense of responsibility and dedication, one could read from Babu’s face. His colleague and fisherman Vijayan’s sensitivity turned him more philosophical and poetic: ‘Actually, these turtles have more of a right to this earth than humans, they are here much before us’. His eyes became ardent with compassion when he continued ‘the earth, of which two third is water, belongs to the turtles. They can go anywhere, even on the land. Compared to that, humans are insignificant’.

The emotional bond was evident when a village mother said: ‘The turtles will come back to these shores as long as the sea is there’. Mysteriously though, researchers agree that the turtles come back to their place of birth to lay eggs after 14 long years they take to maturity. The villagers sentiment, the turtles would come back as long as the sand-bed at shore remains there!

But they do not have much hope on the survival of the shore, the sand-bed or the village itself!!

Their beach was over a kilometer wide not very long ago. Today it has been reduced to a narrow strip, rapidly shrinking. A vide, sandy beach is necessary for the turtles to nest and is an integral part of a fishing village's economy. The people of Kolavipalayam fear, their beach and village are threatened because of illegal sand mining at the estuary sandbank.

The sand mining of greed and aggression.

The sand miners are plenty. It is a flourishing lucrative business. Every one from and around the place is turning to sand mining, lured by the quick bucks. They all are making most of it while they ‘can’. Truckloads of sand is being taken away everyday in daylight, where in there is a ban on sand mining. Thanks to the powerful construction lobby, the politicians and to the administration’s ‘intentional paralysis’.

Suresh, one of the turtle people, asks ‘What is the use of laws?’

‘There is no use of laws. Because going by the laws, nothing (destructive) can happen here. Sand mining can not happen. Polluting of the river can not happen. Destruction of the mangroves can not happen. There is a failure in enforcing the laws. There is no implementation of laws. Then, what is the use of it?’

But the fight goes on. The fight of the turtle people is also a fight for their beach, village and livelihood. Kolavipalayam, a strip of land between the river and the sea, is being swallowed by the sea as a consequence to the sand mining. What if the sea eats up the whole village? How would the fishermen survive? A fisherman replies sarcastically, ‘Perhaps the government would drop chunks of breads from the sky!’

The greed of development (sand mining) is threatening the survival of the fishermen, their livelihood and of course the Olive Ridley Turtles. Incidentally, the fight for preserving the endangered turtles has become a fight for their own survival for the villagers.

‘Survival or existence is a primary right of every creature’, says Suresh.

Some ten years ago, it was a piece of news that turned the villagers of Kolavipalayam into the protectors of the endangered turtles. It was the sensitivity, of the very ordinary village people, most whom are fishermen, made them to react on an information they came across.

Aamakkar – the turtle people – a film by Surabhi Sharma, will throw that inescapable question on us, the urban people.

How sensitive are we?

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