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The Forest’s Cry

I have a small family he shares, “only two brothers and two sister”!

Prosper Marak lived the simple life in Bhagmara, in the South Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Three years ago, when Prosper was only 23, he rose to a challenge that turned this dynamic leader of the Garo Students Union (GSU) into a eco warrior. GSU is the apex body of Garo Youth.

Despite his young age and no formal training, his knowledge and passion for India’s environment and wildlife has seen him endure many hard-fought conservation battles. Prosper and his young compatriots have taken on the mining mafia that dominates much of the north eastern state of Meghalaya.

The southern edge of the Balpakram National Park is rich in coal and in 2008, yet another illegal coal mine was in the making. Proper couldn’t’ stand the sight of bulldozers mowing down large tracts of community owned forest land. In a matter of days they intended to destroy an eco system that had been thousands of years in the making.

So he organised a group of young activists to petition the state government against the miners. Their attempts were met with apathy and aggression from the authorities. Not surprising since the local government was the primary beneficiary of the Coal Mafia‘s operations. Half way through 2009, their patience and all the by-the-book efforts had been exhausted. Led by Prosper, an army of young green warriors seized a bulldozer used by the miners and handed it over to the police. A long legal battle ensued, and in the meantime, the young men and women cleared the debris of fallen trees and construction rubbish and began to swiftly reforest the area. These dedicated young citizens then took to sharing patrolling duties on the restored land to ensure that the goons hired by the miners did not return.

Like all coal mining operations in Meghalaya, no environmental clearance or permissions had been sought. All coal in our country was nationalised in 1967. With as many as seven laws under which clearance has to be granted by state and central bodies before any mining activity can be initiated, the coal Mafia was pillaging the forest unchecked. The blatant violation of the law of the land, and with no impetus to control the illegal coal mines by the state authorities, Prosper was forced to intervene.

“The villagers inspire me. They have supported us every step of the way, many of them depend on the forest for their livelihood and it has been very sustainable so far. They want to preserve their land and their future should be determined by them and not by corrupt officials or private contractors with deep pockets” says the young man.

Illegal coal mining and logging is flourishing all over Meghalya. Along with the trees, the miners are hacking down the connection people have to the land and are stealing the habitat from the dwindling wildlife in the region. Apart from being a rich and varied ecological hotspot, Balpakram National Park is also a sacred place in Garo mythology. The locals call it the ‘land of the eternal death’ and it is believed that the spirits of their ancestors rest there.

The GSU’s act of bravery and solidarity soon began to influence the youth across the state and culminated in an organisation, headed by Prosper, called the Chitmang Hills Anti Mining Forum. As a result of their relentless work, the state of Meghalaya has been forced to put together a mining policy, which is being closely monitored and will have an impact far beyond Balpakram.

When he’s not demanding accountability from local authorities, Prosper is busy training teachers and students from across the state. He shares, that in mid April, he will be conducting a workshop for 17 schools to educate them about their rights and responsibilities towards the environment and the repercussions that may follow if they stand by idly as the bulldozers arrive.

It’s a lesson we could all learn from Prosper.

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17 Responses to “The Forest’s Cry”

  1. ruhi dang says:

    i read ur article in HT, came online to google more. what a great project, may you find success and many more heroes.

  2. tarun sikka says:

    you would like the story of Aparajita Datta, she was nominated by NGC as one of the outstanding naturalist from India

  3. mahi d says:

    enjoying ur north east stories…

  4. jatin pojh says:

    read about this dude in sanctuary mag some yrs back

  5. naina tanwar says:

    there is nothing more beautiful than the forest of north east india. i went to boarding school and go back there at least once in 2 yrs. so much changes with every visit. fewer people in villages and fewer trees on the mountains

  6. Dhanya says:

    how are you finding these people?

  7. not impressed says:

    how does doing his duty make him a hero?

  8. dheeraj panigrahi says:

    wonderful story. i have been following your journey all the way, best of luck for onwards hunt

  9. Khursheed K says:

    May he ‘prosper’ to bigger and better missions…

  10. Hanish Ahuja says:

    how can i get in touch with prosper and do i need a permit to visit meghalaya or other north eastern states?

  11. veru lakhani says:

    ur donate button is not working, pls do update when fixed…

  12. fiona capri says:

    aaah tithiya, just found ur link weeks after we spoke. it will take me time to read all the stories, but it looks great. send us more stories on MS. cheers

  13. kp says:

    nice story

  14. shroomati says:

    i like that ur stories are not just centered on the cow belt like all others

  15. vasu says:

    GREAT WORK T, still reading/finding more on ur blog. best of luck

  16. gunjan says:

    our dad told us about ur website. we are two sister studying in Delhi University. I think he left a comment on your about page also. we enjoy your stories every week. more travel articles pls. we are a family mad about travel… thankz, gunjan and gitika

  17. Luis Perez says:

    Hello,

    I was wondering if you could provide any contact information with Prosper Marak or the GSU. I am a foreign student whose topic is mining projects in indigenous and tribal areas and I would like to know more about the project that is been taking place in the region.

    Thankyou

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