All shops, schools and even the community health centre remain shut

No public property was damaged, neither was anybody hurt. There was no stone throwing, neither was anyone complaining, at least loudly. Yet, the peaceful protest by the Vilappil grama panchayat demanding the closure of the Vilappilsala garbage treatment plant on Monday belied the rage simmering beneath.

The manner in which members of the public turned out to show solidarity with the indefinite hunger fast launched by panchayat president Shobana Kumari; and the way in which every shop owner, right from Vilappil to Peyad, decided to keep shutters down; or the unity with which schools in the entire panchayat locked their gates — though Monday was the first day of the indefinite hartal, the public conveyed their feelings in as much.

Even the Community Health Centre (CHC) in the panchayat, which usually receives about 300 patients a day, lay empty on Monday. None of the four doctors could turn up for duty, because there was no way they could reach the CHC. That was the way vehicles kept off the streets of Vilappil.

A bare minimum of two-wheelers and less than a dozen vehicles carrying media personnel were all that plied in the village, which however hogged headlines in television channels through the day and also was the topic of hectic parleys between representatives of the protesters, poet Sugathakumari, Mayor K. Chandrika and Urban Affairs Minister Manjalamkuzhi Ali. Even water supply in the village, which is now reluctant to taste its groundwater and is facing a severe shortage of drinking water, was hit. This was because water supply in the village, for the past few months, is via mini-four wheelers arranged by the panchayat which go door-to-door, and these vehicles too remained idle on Monday.

At the panchayat square, meanwhile, various dignitaries from different walks of life, but predominantly political, voiced their support for Shobana Kumari, who is leading the Samyukta Samara Samithi that had called for the hartal. The panchayat president, meanwhile, brushed aside talk that her health was failing after two days of fasting and told the gathering that she was “perfectly okay” and that nothing except closure of the garbage plant would make her withdraw the fast.

The Janakeeya Samithi, led by S. Burhan, too continued the protest that it had launched last year at Nedumkuzhy near the plant.