Monsoon report

Why landslides continue to wreak havoc in Kerala during the monsoon

Seven people were killed in a landslide in Kozhikode district on Thursday. Heavy rain is expected to continue in the state till Sunday.

Landslides caused by heavy rain wreaked havoc in Kerala on Thursday, killing seven people, including three children, in Kozhikode district. Unconfirmed reports said that 10 people were trapped in debris.

The incident occurred in Karinchola village in Kattippara gram panchayat, 40 km north of the district headquarters.

Heavy rain has brought life to a standstill in many parts of the state. On Friday, landslides blocked two roads that pass through the western ghats – the Iritty-Makkootta inter-state highway that connects Kerala and Karnataka, and the Thamarassery-Sultan Bathery highway.

With heavy rain expected to continue till Sunday, the State Disaster Management Authority has issued a red alert for six districts – Kasargod, Kannur, Kozhikode, Wayanad, Malappuram and Thrissur. These areas face the likelihood of both floods and landslides.

Landslide season

The landslide season in Kerala starts with the onset of the south-west monsoon every year. Landslides include debris flows, rock falls, rock slides and mud slips. Apart from claiming human lives, they destroy hills and vast tracts of agricultural land.

According to the disaster management plan published by the Kerala State Disaster Management Authority in 2016, as many as 295 persons have lost their lives in 85 major landslides in the state between 1961 and 2016. The most casualties were reported from the Amboori landslide in Thiruvananthapuram district on November 10, 2001, where 38 people died.

The document, which described the reasons for landslides and preventive measures that can be taken, stated that 14.4% or 5,607 sq km of the state’s total area is susceptible to landslides. Of Kerala’s 77 taluks or administrative divisions, the document said, 10 taluks are highly vulnerable to landslides, 25 taluks are in the moderately vulnerable category, and 14 taluks are the least vulnerable.

(Credit: Special arrangement).
(Credit: Special arrangement).

Construction work to blame?

According to scientists, landslides occur when human intervention – such as building high rises, stone quarrying and the construction of roads – increases in landslide prone areas. They say prolonged and intense rainfall can trigger major landslides in these areas, and deforestation, obstruction of streams and cultivation of crops whose roots lack the capability to hold the soil together on slopes accelerates this process.

Geologist KG Thara, former faculty head at the Institute of Land and Disaster Management in Thiruvananthapuram, said those who promote unscientific development practices should be held accountable for landslides. “It is a major cause of concern that Kerala has been witnessing an increase in the number of landslides,” she said. “Construction of resorts and high rises has increased in landslide-prone areas. It is unscientific, and bureaucrats who grant permission for these projects should be held accountable for the loss of human lives and property.”

The 2016 disaster management plan also pointed fingers at construction work in landslide-prone zones. It recommended that all activities that trigger landslides should be regulated strictly.

(Credit: State Disaster Management Authority).
(Credit: State Disaster Management Authority).

Effects of quarrying

Scientists say the use of explosives to blast through rocks in quarries is another important cause of landslides in Kerala. “Quarrying causes rapid landscape changes,” said TV Sajeev, a senior scientist at the Kerala Forest Research Institute. “It also blocks the natural hydrological pathways. This stress causes large rock bursts and hence landslides.”

In 2017, Sajeev mapped granite quarries in Kerala along with his colleague CJ Alex. This study identified 5,924 big, medium and small quarries in Kerala. With 867 quarries, Palakkad topped the list among districts, followed by Ernakulam with 774.

The study also assessed the proximity of quarries to earthquake epicentres. Between 1986 and 2013, Kerala witnessed 115 earthquakes measuring between 0.8 magnitude and 5 magnitude. The study found that 78 quarries lay within 1 km of the epicentre of the earthquakes.

Thara said quarrying and construction should not be allowed in landslide vulnerable areas. “I think Thursday’s landslide was caused by illegal construction of a rain pit on top of the hill,” she said. “A detailed inquiry will establish the reason.”

(Credit: Special arrangement).
(Credit: Special arrangement).

How to avoid landslides?

Scientists believe that micro-level mapping of landslide prone areas and efficient disaster management system are the need of the hour.

A teacher with the Institute of Land and Disaster Management said on condition of anonymity that Kerala depends on the maps prepared by the National Centre for Earth Science Studies, also based in Kerala’s capital, to assess landslide-prone areas. “But the maps do not provide the actual location of the vulnerable zones as they are of high scale,” he said. “We need maps with small scale.”

Sajeev said that the National Centre for Earth Science Studies should share its maps with the public. “Let the people identify the landslide prone areas,” he said. “It will help authorities to communicate better with the people.”

He lamented the fact that Kerala only has a crisis management system at the moment. “That is why we act only after disaster strikes,” he said. “What we need is a disaster management to avert mishaps in future. It needs long-term planning.”

(Credit: Special arrangement).
(Credit: Special arrangement).
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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.