On a foggy December morning two years ago at Arikkulam panchayat, 10 men stepped into the knee-deep Veliyannur chelli (swamp) hand in hand.

They had little time. They had to attend a court hearing at 10 a.m. The case dealt with a recent street violence between workers of two major political parties at Koyilandy town. The showdown had resulted in blows. Blood spilt on both sides. The police had registered criminal cases against the workers of both parties. Tension was high.

No tension

But none of the 10 men, sowing the swamp that wintry morning amidst jolly backslapping and loud laughter, showed any sign of the tension surrounding them.

Politically, the 10 men were split in half. While five of them were accused in the criminal case, the other half was the supposed victims.

But this morning the men cast aside their political differences to become brothers-in-arms for the chelli. For the chelli knew no politics.

If the men did not sow in time, there would be no harvest. Politics and its violence had no place in the swamp.

“So, we decided to work together on the land before the court opened for the day. We never fought after that,” Ravindran Palissery, one of the 10, said.

This is one of the anecdotes the 37 members of the Nenmani-Arikkulam Padasekhara Samithi oft quotes to strangers to demonstrate how land and farming can be a dispeller of disputes.

The samithi is a band of local people who took 10 acres of the swamp on lease in 2012. The members contributed Rs.10,000 each and consolidated a capital of over Rs.3 lakh to buy seed.

They were men from all walks of life – each with a different worldly view – in the samithi.

“We have veteran farmers, who were forced to stop cultivation, due to financial crunch or debts. We had youngsters, excited about farming. Electricians, plumbers, housewives, schoolteachers – all passionate about the land,” Chiruvoth Raghavan Nair, samithi’s president and retired soldier, said.

Young Gireesh Moolath, who regales the swamp with his crackling humour during harvest time, recalls how they tried to bring in a tractor to till the swamp.

“Every time, we brought the tractor, it would sink in the swamp with the driver screaming at the top of his voice. Then we would have to hire a crane to pull the tractor out. Finally, we decided to do it ourselves… the old-fashioned way,” he grins.

Samithi members hope that one day the 600-acre swamp, spread across parts of Kizhiyoor and Arikkulam panchayats and Koyilandy municipality, will regain its lost glory as the district’s rice basket.

“In 1977, when they opened the Kuttiadi irrigation canal, the land was bountiful. There was plenty of water and every inch of the swamp was taken on lease by small farmers. It was a wonderful time. As years passed, lack of manual labour, rising costs, lack of access, and change in attitudes to white-collar jobs, etc saw people leave the swamp. It became fallow,” Abdullah Moosa, another veteran member, said.

Ample support

The samithi says it gets ample support from the Krishi Bhavan and has submitted a proposal for more sops to draw people into farming.

“The paddy we harvest, we use at our homes. Oru thulli English valam idilla (Not a drop of pesticide is used),” Mr. Nair said.

But veterans such as Mr. Nair know it is an arduous job to get the young generation back into farming.

“Today children don’t like the rice cooked from the paddy we harvest. They want rice from the shops,” he said.

But as of now, the harvest is on. Members are planning a two-day tour with their families after they reap the fruits of their labour.

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