Raise your voice for Piyush 1

(Reposting from Facebook)

I have been posting a lot on Piyush Manush in the last few days and many of you may be wondering why.

Piyush was arrested for demanding that proper procedure be followed for the construction of a flyover at Salem, which was causing traffic congestion. He and two of his colleagues from Salem Citizen’s forum were arrested and were charged with non-bailable offences. While his colleagues were subsequently granted bail, Piyush was denied bail. What more, his wife and lawyer have reported that he has been assaulted severely at the prison.

I feel raising our voices for Piyush is the most important thing to do at this moment. He keeps saying that fighting injustice is his (and everybody else’s) primary duty. And now, severe injustice has been meted out to him. It is in many ways, injustice to everybody who cares for fellow humans.

I am reposting a note I had written in March,2015 to give a background about Piyush. [I have met him a few more times after that at Salem and Coop forest, and my respect for him has continued to grow. He and his team had also done an exceptional job during the Chennai floods, sending everything from boats to bamboo houses.]

/While returning from the Vikalp Sangam conference at CESCI, Madurai, Piyush had offered to drop us at the Dindigal bus stand, from where we could take a bus to Coimbatore. Our conversation got interesting, and so we decided to travel another 80 kms till Karur. Then, he asked, why don’t you come over to Salem and stay for a couple of days. I am glad we obliged.

Piyush has helped form the Salem Citizen’s Forum, which has been at the forefront of trying to transform Salem. They have been desilting and reclaiming lost lakes – almost entirely with support from local volunteers, many of them school children. We visited a couple of lakes – they looked fascinating with the novel idea of creating tree-islands in the middle of the lakes. One of those lakes, which was still receiving the drainage water from the nearby region, wasn’t stinking at all, and Piyush attributed that to those tree-islands.

Sanitation is key to keeping the lakes and the city clean. And sanitation is not just about taking a broom and wishing a Swachch Salem. Piyush was working actively with the grassroots workers who were engaged in sanitary work. He had created an activity centre in their colony and was trying to set up a library, conduct music classes and such. He even mediates caste wars. He has been challenging the government machinery on the inefficient practices around sanitation and the mindless privatization.

Piyush had a visitor from UK also staying along with us (Naresh, named so by Osho, was an expert on creating transition towns, and was there to learn and offer his advice). No 5-star treatment, corporate style, for the gentleman. He also had to happily share the food at the roadside eateries, along with us.

The next day, we headed out to Coop forest, a cooperative initiative that Piyush had been spearheading with support from his friends. They had acquired a large tract of land in one of the driest areas, near Dharmapuri. On the way to the farm, we could hardly see any greenery. But inside the farm, fittingly called a forest, the landscape changes dramatically with trees abound. Started 5 years ago, Coop forest has been developed despite a severe drought for the most part of its existence. With excellent rainwater harvesting techniques, they have managed to coerce Nature to give birth to a stream on the forest.

Also on Piyush’s agenda, is to revive Nature worship. The lakes are already called as Mari Sthalam. Mari is the deity for rain. By getting people to pay respects to Mari, Ayyappan (deity for forests) and Murugan (deity for mountains), Piyush believes that they can be weaned away from destructive ritualistic religions towards a constructive spiritual experience that will make them one with Nature – thereby, protecting both the Nature and the people. Thanks to the rationalist in me, I had my healthy disagreements on the process but respect his intent and beliefs.

The big success for Piyush seems to be his ability to get ordinary people, especially school children, to rally around common causes. He has managed to take on the government and private giants like Vedanta, and successfully enforce environmental friendly measures and pack them up altogether. Despite a flurry of constructive work that he has managed to accomplish, Piyush defines himself as an activist first. I challenged him on that, and asked why not view himself as a constructive worker who will take up activism when he encounters injustice in his constructive work. But it was clear that Piyush is of a different mould. Not for him, a passive wait to encounter injustice and defend. Injustice is an predator that has to be sought out actively, fought and subdued.

Not to be missed amongst his many hats, is his entrepreneurial spirit (with a strong social tinge and responsibility, of course). He is a pioneer in making arecanut plates, and designing and selling machinery to manufacture those plates. He now makes bamboo furniture. He is planning to setup a bamboo based ecosystem which will create and nurture entrepreneurs in that space. His idea of spiritual tourism to protect nature, apart from its inherent spirituality and environmentalism, has the potential to appeal to the masses. I would gladly encourage friends, keen to invest in social entrepreneurial ventures, to have a look at what Piyush is doing.

As a friend, it was tempting to advise the fiery, feisty Piyush to slow down and calm down. But then, he may not be the same Piyush anymore. Our situation demands more of him, and more like him. /

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