Arjun Santhosh is a 14-year-old resident of Perumbalam, an island in the Vembanad lake of Kerala. Every day, the Class 9 student used to take one of the Kerala Water Transport Department’s boats to reach his school located in Poothotta, in Ernakulam district. But recently, instead of taking the boat like his schoolmates, he started swimming for about three kilometres to attend classes.
Why? He swam to mark his protest and to join other villagers in their demand that a bridge should be constructed to connect their island to the mainland.
Picture for representation only. Source: Flickr
“We have only two boats in this route. If the service is disrupted then the students have to rely on country boats to reach the mainland. These boats are jam-packed, and many students are not trained swimmers, posing grave danger. This led me to start the protest,” Santhosh told The New Indian Express.
Perumbalam panchayat has more than 10,000 people and the residents have been demanding a 700 metre bridge to connect them to the mainland for 25 years now. Currently, it takes people about one and a half hours to cross the river, and the bridge could help reduce this time.
“Usually boats are not on time and I get punished at school for being late. Some boats are very small in size and there are too many people. It is indeed a cause for concern,” he told India Today.
After 10 days of constant protest, the authorities have assured the villagers that they will look into the matter. MLA A M Ariff and District Collector R Girija convened a meeting and told them that the authorities are ready to prepare a feasibility study for the bridge. Arjun decided to stop the protest when they sent him a notice asking to withdraw the protest, but he is confident that he will start again if no action is taken soon.
“He is a minor and it is dangerous to swim in this season. If something tragic happens, we would be held responsible for not stopping him. Hence we decided to send him a notice,” said the district collector of Alappuzha.