Published: 24th May 2021
Last year, this boy wrote to President Kovind about sea erosion in his Kerala village. Now, they're bracing for another violent monsoon
Edgar Sebastian is a Class X student of St Mary's High School, Chellanam, in Kochi. The hamlet faces bad floods, storms and sea erosion every year
We do not know if he has heard of the author Edgar Allan Poe or the filmmaker Edgar Wright. Maybe he wasn't in the state of mind to go ask his father Jinson for the reason why he named his youngest son Edgar Sebastian. When we wondered if he knew its meaning, he said 'no', shyly.
Edgar is a Class X student of St Mary's High School, Chellanam, in Kochi. He was born in the coastal hamlet 15 years ago, into a family of fishermen. However, his family of four may pack their bags soon to leave Chellanam. Location unknown. Why? Because they don't want to lose their lives to the incoming sea and the floodwaters from behind. The erosion remained a constant source of worry.
As far as he is concerned, at least if they move, for one rainy night, he will get to sleep peacefully, without the fear of being engulfed by the furious waves of the Arabian sea. His father Jinson has been looking for a house to rent, at least until the monsoon ends in Kerala, the day we spoke to Edgar. "But all the searching was in vain. The rent was too high and right now, I don't have the means to pay so much money," says Jinson. The fisherman says that he has been unemployed since the lockdown began and he temporarily depends on other vocations for bread.
Edgar was in the news last year, for writing a letter in Malayalam to President Ram Nath Kovind, seeking his immediate intervention to build a seawall to save his village from flooding and sea erosion. The residents of the village have been, for years, complaining about the issue and say that despite budgetary allocations, there has been no intervention by the government. "I may not be alive by the time you receive my letter. We have been trapped in between COVID and floods," Edgar said in his letter. The letter got a lot of attention across the country. "Since the time I can remember, twice a year, my parents would run away from our house taking me and my brother. Due to the sea erosion, during summer and monsoon, water will gush into my house. It is to escape from that we run away. This year also since July 16 sea erosion has been there. As usual we prepared to go to our relative’s house, but we could not due to the COVID-19 transmission in our region," he wrote.
Edgar wrote to President Kovind last year (Pic: PTI)
Surprisingly, he received a response from the President's Secretary after his letter, promising a proper intervention. This was 10 months ago. "Even after receiving the letter, there was no action from the government's side. I wrote to the President because the State government hadn't done anything," he says. He says that since the Ockhi cyclone of 2017, the people of Chellanam has been living in fear. "We were promised that a geotube sea wall will be constructed within three months. However, nothing has happened until now," he says.
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My school is a relief camp
It has been a long time since Edgar, like all other children in the country, has gone to school. He says that he attends his classes via television, watching the Kerala government's KITE VICTERS channel. For the people of Chellanam, St Mary's High School, where Edgar studies is not just a school. When the waves enter their house every year, they rush to the school building, which serves as a temporary relief camp. Recently, videos of houses getting washed away during cyclone Tauktae had gone viral on social media.
St Mary's High School, Chellanam
Edgar shares photographs of the floor of his house, covered in sludge. He had only gotten back there on Wednesday. "Like every year, this year too, waves had entered our house. Luckily, we could run out and stay in a two-storeyed library nearby. We could see our house from there. Father, mother, my brother and I stayed there for almost a week," he says. The house isn't clean yet. Jinson says that it easily takes a few days to get it cleaned fully. He has been doing this for years now.
However, he couldn't contribute much to the cleaning himself. He had to set out and hunt for another house, one that's not too away from the sea, but far enough for the waves to enter. "Even if the sea wall is built, it won't happen anytime soon. Not until September. Monsoons start in June and last until August. Until then, we have no option but to live somewhere else. We have to save our lives first," he says.