Born in Vannamada village on the slopes of Nelliyampathy hills, which constitute a crucial portion of Western Ghats, KV Jayapalan always identified the mountain ranges as a towering presence in his earthly existence.
For the school dropout who later became a supplier at a local toddy shop, there was an inseparable bond between his personal life and the fragile mountain environment around him.
So, he learned rudimentary environmentalism from conservationists in his native Palakkad district in Kerala, and became a strong voice of environmental activism.
He also developed nature photography as a passion.
And as a result, he contributed immensely to the protection of the flora and fauna in biodiversity-rich Nelliyampathy.
The 53-year-old Jayapalan consumed pesticide on Saturday, 7 January, at his home. He was rushed to a hospital, where he breathed his last on Sunday.
He left behind a 10-page suicide that accused the Kerala government of abetting the destruction of the Western Ghats by taking a stand favourable to forest plunderers and land mafia in the highly sensitive buffer zone.
This may be the first time a conservation activist has committed suicide highlighting the government’s failure to protect the environment.
Family members said Jayapalan collapsed on Saturday afternoon after consuming pesticide kept in his home for spraying in the coconut trees.
Though he was taken immediately to a nearby private hospital, doctors failed to save his life.
On Friday, he visited Tamil Nadu’s famous hill station Valparai, and is believed to have prepared the suicide note while there.
In the note, Jayapalan said he was ending his life as nobody could protect the Western Ghats.
In Valparai, he spent several hours in the grassland area of Akkamala.
Over the past three decades, Jayapalan engaged assiduously in spreading awareness among people across the region about the importance of protecting the biodiversity of the Western Ghats.
In 2016, he was instrumental in floating a collective called Green Guards of India, which used to collect and remove all the plastic waste generated by tourists visiting Nelliyampathy every month over the last five years.
In addition, he organised several campaigns in Nelliyampathy asking visiting tourists not to use plastic.
Across schools in Palakkad, he used to organise awareness programs against the use of plastic.
Jayapalan was also active in the Plachimada agitation, in which the affected local community waged a protracted survival struggle against aerated drinks major Coca-Cola, which depleted their water resources by establishing a bottling plant.
He was also part of the campaigns against the intense use of banned pesticides like Endosulfan in the orchards of Kerala’s mango hub Muthalamada, which is also located on the foothills of Nelliyampathy.
Survived by his wife Lata, son Jayesh, and daughter Puja, Jayapalan started feeling depressed ever since Kerala witnessed large-scale protests against implementing the recommendations of the Madhav Gadgil committee on the ecological restoration of Western Ghats.
As the buffer zone issue became a matter of enormous controversy, he became uncomfortable.
Jayapalan’s associate and environmentalist S Guruvayurappan termed his death a severe loss, especially when the buffer zone issue was becoming a matter of intense debate.
Hayapalan always believed that the Supreme Court order on buffer zones would not impact livelihood, farming, and any sustainable developments in the forest fringe areas of Kerala as propagated by vested interests.
“He believed that there was an organised lobby trying to initiate a smear campaign to twist facts,” said Guruvayurappan.
Ever since the controversy erupted, he continuously explained to farmers that the court order only regulated large-scale constructions and mining activities in the forest fringe areas, and would not affect farming and the typical survival requirements of small and medium-scale farmers, recalled Guruvayurappan.
Help to prevent suicidal thoughts are available on the health helpline 104 apart from Sneha’s suicide prevention helpline of Maithri – 0484-2540530, Thanal Suicide Prevention Centre – 0495-2760000 and Direction Interventions System for Health Awareness (DISHA) – 1056.