As politicians try to gain political mileage out of the controversy over the sharing of Cauvery river water between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, Codavas – the original inhabitants of Kodagu – have embarked on a novel journey. This could one day give Cauvery river, the lifeline of South Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the ‘living entity status’ like Ganga, Yamuna and Narmada. It will be also on the lines of the special status that Whanganhi River of New Zealand, which is very dear to the original inhabitants Maori tribe, enjoys.
Called “Codavas separatists”, these inhabitants have been demanding a separate state since 1957. In fact, Kodagu enjoyed ‘C’ Grade statehood before Independence. Consecutive state governments in Karnataka have not protected the antiquity of Codavas and did nothing to give them special status despite being a miniscule minority in terms of population, allege the Codava National Council (CNC) activists.
Several times they had objected to the way river Cauvery is being abused and overexploited for socio-political and economic reasons. “We have been pointing out to the government that Cauvery river is not in her full health and we need to take corrective measures, but none of the governments did anything. Which is why we have organised a vehicular jatha, a convoy of vehicles with Codavas and Codavathis (women Codavas) from Talacauvery (birthplace) of Cauvery river to the last point of the river in Poompuhar in Tamil Nadu. This is an awareness campaign to let people know how the Cauvery is shrinking and how to nourish her back to her pristine beauty and girth,” said CNC president N U Nachappa.
River Cauvery is one among seven sacred (sapta nadi) rivers of the Vedic period and they are Ganga, Yamuna, Sindhu, Saraswati, Narmada, Godavari and Cauvery. Thankfully, other rivers are now under rejuvenation process with Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledging his full support to the rejuvenation and cleansing of Ganga. This has motivated the states like Haryana, Punjab, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Goa and Maharashtra to take up rejuvenation of their rivers seriously.
However, Karnataka has not done anything to protect Cauvery river despite the river losing girth and inflow steadily. At many places, it is being polluted. “This apathy has hurt us, and after many failed appeals we have decided to kickstart a people’s movement to save Cauvery. She takes birth in our district and nourishes several lakhs of hectares of land and quenches the thirst of the crores of people. It becomes our responsibility to let the people know her condition. She nourishes our crops and has two southern rice bowls for India, one in Mandya in Karnataka another in Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu. She is the lifeline of the south,” says Nachappa.
There are already instances where the governments in Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and even New Zealand are giving rivers a new lease of life by according “living entity” status. River Saraswati disappeared centuries ago and such a thing should not happen to Cauvery, say Codavas, who took part in the expedition.
The CNC has urged the governments of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the United Nations Organisation and the International Water Dispute Tribunal to accord special status to the Cauvery river. The five-day jatha to Poompuhar from Talacauvery also witnessed visits to temples of Tamil Nadu that are built along the course of the Cauvery river. “It was not just evoking the divine grace for the river’s welfare but we also talked and engaged with the local people on the importance at Salem, Rasipuram, Tiruchirapalli, Thanjavur and Myiladuthurai.”
As per the legends, great Sage Agastya had his seat of learning in Kodagu on the banks of Cauvery. Until 1956, Kodagu was politically a powerful C grade state of the Indian Union. Codavas consider the reorganisation of states under the State Re-organisation Act, 1956 a great geo-political catastrophe of the 20th century for them. Cauvery and Kodagu were synonymous with each other.
R Sridhar, a scholar on Cauvery in Bengaluru, analysed why Cauvery is losing girth. “In the name of development, we have reduced the value of our rivers, which is a general situation. In the Cauvery basin, we have killed many tributaries like Arkavathi and Kanva rivers. While Arkavathi was killed at its source in Bengaluru by drying the river and creating housing projects, Kanva river has been reduced to a rivulet, and most part of the year except in monsoons, it is dry. I remember the Tamil Nadu government making a case with the Supreme Court stating that the Cauvery river was contaminated with sewage and industrial effluents and chemicals. But I still think the Cauvery river gets an inflow of 740 thousand million cubic feet (TMC) water during a typical monsoon season. But the utilisation of river water has trebled in the last 20 years, which is why Cauvery has slendered down in girth. Check dams have been constructed in many districts along the Cauvery’s course in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu to store water, another reason for it to become slender. But it is never too late for taking up a drive like the CNC has taken up, which is laudable.”
However, things are presently fluid as the governments have demanded constitution of a Cauvery river water management board of which shape of things to come is not certain, Sridhar said.
President of the Delta Farmers Forum at Tiruchirapalli, Pandit Ramdas, hailed the expedition. “This is the first effort that has kindled hopes of better future for the river Cauvery and also to the users of her waters. I am sure the governments will take notice of it. Codavas are not only martial heroes but also die-hard conservationists of their heritage land, their efforts to conserve the river Cauvery was a heroic event just like their innumerable wars with invaders which they won”.
*Route Map of the Mission on Cauvery was Talacauvery in Kodagu – Mysore, Hogenakkal, Dharmapuri, Mettur Dam, Salem, Rasipuram, Namakkal, Paramathiveleur, Mohnaur, Tottiyam, Musiri, Mukkombu, Srirangam, Tiruchirapalli, Thanjavur, Ayyampettai, Papanasam, Kumbakonam, Mayiladuthurai, Sempanarkoil, Mudikandanallur, Melayur and Poomphar (Cauvery Pattinam) the final destination.
*Cauvery jatha as they called it was fascinated by the site where world's first dam built over sand by the legendary Tamil emperor Karikala Cholan during 1st century AD. This grand Anekat, dam is built across river Cauvery Vennar at Kallanai and still stands.
*With this expedition the Codavas have begun a new people to people friendship with Tamil Nadu, while the politicos on both states choose to take the political route to the Cauvery water sharing and in the bargain foment and fuel inter-state unrest.
*What is living entity?
The concept of river being given the same rights and duties as a human being is new to India, the first to do was Equador in South America its constitution provided this right to many rivers within in its geographical area, recently New Zealand gave such rights to Whanganui River. The river will have all the rights and duties that a citizen has. The rivers endowed with such status will not be treated as property of the state or a nation but will have right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. The river will have its own identity and will get the same protection that the human beings get.
Raghuram hails from coastal Karnataka and writes on communal politics.
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