Scholar and Protector of Rivers, Latha Anantha (1966-2017)

Environmental justice activist, scholar and nature lover, Latha Anantha passed away on Thursday Nov 16 at the age of 51.  Renowned for her tireless campaign to save the Chalakudy river from the planned Athirapally power project, she was involved in educating communities from local children to global policy makers on the simple principle that rivers must flow, and all the social and ecological implications of that.  She founded the River Research Center in Thrissur and was a core group member of the Save Western Ghats Movement among many other interlinked water and biodiversity conservation initiatives both at local and policy levels.

Latha with her friends at Athirappilly Falls. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

AID is fortunate to have been associated with Dr. Latha, starting from the time of the Narmada Satyagraha in 2000, where she was one of many activists from across India who came to the Narmada Valley to stand with the people and extended solidarity with one another’s struggles.  AID supported her educational and awareness work which played an important role in protecting the environment of Kerala.  She introduced AID to several grassroots workers who continue to lead efforts in environmental justice and sustainable agriculture.

Her citation for receiving the 2014 Bhagirath Prayas Samman notes that “She has combined sound research with the mobilization of community, political and state agencies, to usher in a unique methodology of consensus-based conservation of rivers in the country.”

On her demise, Medha Patkar wrote, “I am sad and shaken to hear about the untimely demise of Dear Latha of Chalakudi. She fought for all rivers and nature with scientific and emotional involvement, till her last breath. A woman of strength, wisdom and vision…was needed the most today, when fake campaigns for rivers with corporate support are all in air. Let the Kerala government cancel and stop encroachment upon Chalakudi and all rivers as a tribute to Latha and let our strength and commitment grow with her spirit within us.”

Her Legacy Lives On

Shibu Nair and colleagues at Thanal, an environmental organization in Kerala have put into words the sentiments of many who have been lifted by the work and words of Latha Anantha:

A life dedicated to nature, rivers and people. She was one of the pioneers in founding environmental education in Kerala. She was in the forefront of the campaign to save Chalakudy river. She was an activist, campaigner and researcher who found River Research Centre at Thrissur.  She loved birds, butterflies and music.  She was active in global dialogues and discussions concerning water security.

An inspiring life for us and generations to come. She stood for a cause, dreamt a beautiful world. Let’s take it forward, that is our tribute to her dedication.

In loving memory of Latha,
Team Thanal

Her legacy lives on in those whom she taught and those who will continue to learn from her research and publications, and also from her song.  Here she and Zabna A.B from the River Research Centre sing a song that highlights the Narmada river, the Nila river in Kerala and Chilka as examples of beautiful riverscapes that are facing destruction, yet still striving to flow.

After being diagnosed with cancer, she spoke with the International Rivers Network about the call of the river and how it kept her going.

“After I went through this treatment last year, I didn’t imagine I’d again have the energy to fight this project for a fourth time,” she says. But after she returned to work, she found the energy returned too – flowing as steadily and surely as the rivers she fights to save.

“What drives me is not the politics, or the thrill of taking leadership in something. What drives me is that the river has to flow. A flowing river, for me, is a source of energy, spirit and inspiration to go on.

“It’s the river that drives me. Nothing else.”

Further Reading

Sarah Bardeen, Nature Gives Us Hope: River Guardian Latha Anantha, International Rivers Network, 08/28/2015
 Dr. Latha Anantha, CPSS and River Research Centre: For the rivers to flow, South Asian Network on Dams Rivers and People.
Banjot Kaur, Latha Anantha: The agricultural scientist who fought for unhindered flow of rivers, Down to Earth, Nov 16 2017

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