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Saving Mollem with art and hashtags

Social media pages for Goa’s Mollem National Park are creating awareness, campaigning against the government’s new projects, and lending heft to offline protests

VOICES ON THE STREETS (photo courtesy: Amche Mollem Instageam page)
VOICES ON THE STREETS (photo courtesy: Amche Mollem Instageam page)

On the Instagram page @mymollem.goa or Amche Mollem, there’s a striking artwork of a road, choc-a-block with vehicles and smoke slicing through a lush forest. Landslides mar one end, poaching and logging the other. Roadkill—a dead tiger, otter, monitor lizard; all species found in Goa’s Mollem National Park—lies scattered on the newly built street. Titled Fragmentation of a Forest, this work is by artist Jayee Borcar, and has over 5,500 likes. One of the founding members of the page, and an admin, Svabhu Kohli, 29, an artist living in Goa Velha, says this is the kind of work that truly represents Amche Mollem.

“Every piece this illustration shows is from research conducted to understand what happens when you slice a forest. If we had made this a text doc, it would never have garnered the same kind of interest, but when you interpret it as visuals you see the reach,” says Kohli. Started in June by concerned citizens of Goa—artists, scientists, lawyers, environmentalists and more—the page today has over 14,000 followers.

It was through another social media platform, Facebook, that 25-year-old Karleen De Mello, an LLM student from South Goa, found out about the government’s development project in Mollem National Park. It entailed the double tracking of a railway line, highway expansion and power line that will slice through Goa’s oldest wildlife sanctuary, the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and its sister the Mollem National Park, which was carved out of it in 1978.

According to those at the forefront of the campaign to resist these projects, there have been six proposals submitted, which amount to a diversion of 250.285 hectares, where 59,024 trees will be felled in and around Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary and Mollem National Park.

De Mello commented on the Facebook post asking how she could help with the campaign. “I got a call, asking me to help with the Save Mollem page on Facebook; all the legal petitions had been filed in the High Court by then.” Since July, along with a few others she has been sharing links, hosting webinars, promoting signature campaigns and more on the page.

Over the last few months, along with physical protests, social media pages dedicated to the cause and hashtag #SaveMollem have been conspicuous across platforms. Run by concerned citizens from the state, they have not only helped garner attention and mobilise protests, but also encouraged the national press to cover the issue, engaged the youth from across the country, and kept the conversation going. They have co-ordinated formal representations to ministers and wildlife boards with hundreds of signatories.

“Social media has been instrumental in triggering and amplifying the campaign to Save Mollem. The persistent and meticulous work of young citizens from Goa to highlight these destructive projects and the failure of environmental governance found a platform on social media channels,” says Cara Tejpal, Director of Conservation Initiatives at the nonprofit, Sanctuary Nature Foundation. “It also enabled thousands of Indian citizens from outside the state to discover the biodiversity of the region, and call for its protection.”

It’s a similar story for campaign pages like @mollem.memory.project or 'A Student’s Library', which are on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and curate artwork and performances. “Mollem holds a very special place in my heart because it gives me hope. It puts me at peace. And there is so much yet to be discovered,” says medical student Mithila Prabhudesai from Panjim, who choreographed an informative Bharatnatyam piece on the issue. She balances her online classes with the work of curating the page along with two other medical students. There is a rap song someone wrote, there are quotes and visuals created for the page. The most popular post has over 15,000 shares.

On Diwali, the group is planning a Rangoli Challenge around #Save Mollem. On Twitter, through their tweet storms, celebrities like Vir Das have taken note, and journalist Rajdeep Sardesai, Prabhudesai says, covered the issue on television.

The pages also have smaller goals that keep the action going. Kohli says they decided to use the page not just for calls to action, but to create a learning module since the Indian education system tends to miss a lot in terms of environmental engagement.

“We talk about everything from the procedural loopholes like not having an EIA notification or not taking consent from parties concerned before the projects began to the mental health repercussions of ecological destruction. We also have a linktree on our page that contains letters written by scientists, people can download, edit and send them to their MLAs with their views,” says Kohli. The artwork on the page Kohli manages will be converted into zines translated into Marathi and Kannada as well and handed out in schools.

Prabhudesai says people have been spending more time on social media during the lockdown and have taken up issues such as Black Lives Matter, the Amazon fires and caste atrocities “Similarly, our online activism has helped in mobilising people,” she says, “and when we mobilise people, it helps with formal representation. The government will have to take notice.”

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