M K Prasad the Silent Valleys voice. Kerala has lost a doyen of environmental advocacy in M K Prasad’s death, at a time when a significant ecological problem looms on the horizon — the impact of the K-Rail semi-high-speed railway line’s proposed 292-km long and eight-meter-high “embankment.” On January 22, he was a notable signatory to an open letter to Kerala Chief Minister sent by 37 progressive intellectuals requesting a halt to the project.
Since 1967, Prasad has been a prominent member of the Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP; founded in 1962). “A people’s movement is emphasizing the role of science as a vehicle for self-reliance and popular participation in development, libertarian pedagogical approaches, the dignity of all persons, appropriate technology, and a bottom-up approach to development. They see science as a vehicle for transformative education,” according to an international biographer of the KSSP. The membership of the KSSP is made up of specialists from many fields and progressive campaigners. Prasad, a botany professor, was the group’s top biologist.
After reading an essay by Prasad in Mathrubhumi, the late poet Sugathakumari wrote that she was drawn to the Silent Valley movement. She was one of the poets and authors who, in 1980, created an organization to rescue the Silent Valley under the leadership of N V Krishna Warrier. It was a once-in-a-lifetime movement in which writers banded together to fight environmental damage. The only other analogous example I’m aware of is the “Group of 100,” created in 1985 by the famed Mexican writer Homero Aridjis.
Prasad published several books to inform Kerala’s civil society about environmental challenges. “Climate change and ecosystems,” a thesis he wrote in 2012, is one of them. He teamed up with ecological lawyer Harish Vasudevan to publish “Western Ghats: Gadgil-Kasturirangan Reports and Reality” in 2013, at the height of the boiling arguments over the Madhav Gadgil Committee report on the Western Ghats.
Writing and activism are not necessarily synonymous. The activist must be in the midst of the people, organizing and motivating them while gathering scientific data. A writer must be confined to his study to research, read, think, and write for long periods. P T Bhaskara Panicker, Krishna Warrier, M P Parameswaran, Prasad, and many other KSSP founders and readers united these skills. KSSP is constructed on the foundations of their scientific rigor and knowledge.
The K-Rail project will need the excavation of hundreds of millions of tonnes of dirt, sand, gravel, and granite, endangering the state’s biodiversity, which climate-related disasters have hit since 2017. At this point, Prasad’s presence would have been crucial. Those in civil society who continue to fight for an environmentally sustainable, socially just, and democratic Kerala will miss him greatly.