Remembering Swaminathan, Who Was in The Forefront of The Struggle To Force Coca Cola To Quit Kerala

By K.P. Sasi, Countercurrents.org

Veloor Swaminathan is no more. He left Plachimada forever on March 14, 2015. Swaminathan along with Mylamma were the initial foundations of the historic struggle of Plachimada in Kerala. The struggle initiated by a small group of these Adivasis with Dalits and farmers forced one of the largest corporate powers in the world, Coca Cola to bend down and quit Plachimada. If anybody asks, how did such a small force of marginalised people achieve such a herculean task, I would say, study Mylamma and Swaminathan, for any strategy for any people’s movement raising issues of marginalisation.

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They welcomed all shades of people with dissent against Coca Cola and made them comfortable under the shades of the struggle, in front of the Coca Cola plant. Thus, people belonging to diverse political parties, NGOs, religious groups, radical left groups, Gandhians, Lohiaites, environmental groups of different shades, representations from other people’s movements, middle class activists, film makers, journalists, intellectuals, researchers from India and abroad flowed to Plachimada in support of the struggle. But both Mylamma and Swaminathan were sitting there protesting against the plant along with villagers for hundreds of days. Looking back, one can rightly say that it is this `inclusive’ character of the movement for which both Mylamma and Swaminathan deserve major credits, which brought the tentative success of the struggle, inspiring many people’s movements and activists all over the world.

Veloor Swaminathan had an innate and organic political and intellectual search. He had strong convictions on Adivasi identity as well as rights. He was open for discussions on all these areas. With strong convictions on Adivasi identity, he spoke in Malappuram when activists organised a public programme in memory of film maker Sarat Chandran, soon after Sarat died. He said: `We Adivasis never felt that Sarat Chandran was from an outside community. We always felt that he was an Adivasi like us.’

I have listened to many people speaking in public about Sarat Chandran, who along with P. Baburaj made a number of documentary films on people’s movements and screened them widely. But I had never heard something like this coming from an Adivasi who had strong convictions on Adivasi identity. When he was speaking these words about our dear friend Sarat, Swaminathan was cryng in front of the mike. For the long standing work of film activism and by being part of many people’s movements, this was Sarat Chandran’s life time achievement award, for no Adivasi will normally tell that in public, about anyone who belonged to an outside community. No film maker in India has received this historical award as per my knowledge. And ultimately, Adivasis like Swaminathan, Sarat Chandran and Mylamma reached their destination.

Swaminathan had a small workshop in Plachimaada. His wife and two children were supported from meagre earnings from this small workshop. As far as I understand, during the later stages of his life, he was extremely bothered about the ill health of his elder child and the expenses for treatment. These freedom fighters do not get any pension for their survival, unlike the freedom fighters of the earlier times. Therefore I guess, compassion from those who relate with the sufferings of those who struggle, is the need of the hour.

The people of Plachimada are still struggling, with the support of the crystal clear foot prints of many who left us. These footprints must not be rubbed by history. These footprints must be preserved for the new generations who try to learn to walk on the roads of struggles for justice. It is from such footprints that new roads will emerge.

I request all my friends to preserve these foot prints, for the sake of the unborn and newly born children, who are yet to confront the pains and pleasures of walking.

In memory, respect and solidarity with the foot prints of Swaminathan.

K.P Sasi is an award winning film director and a political activist. He is also an Associate Editor of Countercurrents.org. He can be reached at [email protected]