Fond Remembrances of a Student Agitation to Protect Trees


The University College  , Thiruvananthapuram, is one of the oldest and prestigious Institutions of Higher Education in India, established in the year 1866 to impart English Education to the common folk of the erstwhile Travancore by H H Sri Ayilyam Thirunal Ramavarma Maharaja. The then Principal of the College was John Ross, a scholar of great repute. Having reached sequicententinnial  status  , the College stands tall ,bringing forth thousands of luminiaries such as the former President of India Shri K R Narayan, numerous Cabinet Secretaries, Ambassadors, Civil Servants, IT doyens,teachers,poets,politicians and the like.

The College has also been accorded with ‘’ College with Potential for Excellence” (CPE) status by the Univerity Grants Commission (UGC) and the Institution is also identified as a Heritage Institution by the Government of Kerala.

This College has some special remembrances for me too. My mother Dr C Thankam joined this College in the Botany Department in the year 1957, when the State reorganisation was completed

The College has a sprawling Campus filled with greenery, especially the big Mango tree in front, called the Grandmother tree ( now the tree is not there) and the ten Mahagony trees which were inside the Campus.

I joined the 1977-80 English BA batch of University College . It was a wonderful batch. I don’t remember the names of the Batch mate. But I distinctly remember the big movement & the agitation we had undertook to save the ten huge Mahogany trees that adorned majestically from one main entrance to the other entrance of the College.

During August to November the trees would shed all its leaves on the ground and it was really silken and soft and slippery too to walk on the pathway strewn with these golden leaves. During those fun filled days we used to bet with students to run in the pathway strewn with the silken leaves at least ten times to and fro without slipping or falling down. All students would miserably fail in the bet. Even we would also fail in the bet.

It was during one of these days in end 1979 that we noticed, one morning that some people digging some trenches near the Mahogany trees. When we checked they said that they were planning to move the trees to the road as part of the road widening. We said we would not allow that. We met the Principal and informed that we would not allow the trees to be moved out at any cost. We did a big campaign for that and arranged for a big protest meeting at the Centenary Hall  The Hall was full with students. The speech I made that day was the first speech I made in my life, I was a bit nervous and didn’t know what to say.

The decision taken in the meeting was to hold a very big rally from the College to the Secretariat demanding withdrawal of the decision of moving the trees to the road. The rally was really a huge one with participation of a large numbe of students. We shouted slogans like “ Save the trees, Don’t kill the trees by digging trenches and cutting the branches’’…..

Representatives of the students which included me also were invited by the Officials for a discussion at the concerned Minister’s Office then and we pressed our demands for stopping the work. The officials were heard saying that they should have started the work during the summer holidays when the College was not functioning. We had given a mass Memorandum to the Government Officials stating our demands. I do not remember the students who had joined in the agitation. But the group was big enough from the College.

The same evening the Trivandrum District Collector invited us for a discussion and I remenmber that the meeting was joined by my father Subramania Sharma too who took the lead in the discussion and demanded temporory stoppage of the work which the District Collector agreed.

The agitation would not have been a success without the moral and physical support of a lot of friends and relatives, both from inside and outside the College Campus.

We had passed out of the College in the year 1980 and till our times we had protected the trees. But with the road widening and straightening of the road the authorities have succeeded in moving the trees into the road and we have now lost one tree either to the gain of the authorities or to the vagaries of nature.

tree walk

Another memory I want to share is about the opportunity I had in sharing about the agitation we, students did then with the  movement called Tree Walk, which was formed in 2012   in memory of our dear mother, Dr C Thankam who was a Botany Professor who had worked in University College, Maharajas College and Women’s College. She was a lover of plants and all living beings and a treasure house of knowledge of all the Trees that were in Trivandeum.

We conduct Walks around the Trees in the Trivandrum City and help the participants identify trees and develop a feeling for their green and invaluable presence.  In one such Walk we had conducted around the University College I had the privilege of sharing the above experience with all the participants of the Walk which was really a nostalgic and positive experience sharing. I would like to end this very fond remembrance which cemented  the becoming  of an environmentalist in me, by quoting  four lines from the Matsya Purana, which  underline the importance of trees:

A pond equals ten wells, a reservoir

equals ten ponds,

A son equals ten reservoirs ,and a tree

Equals ten sons


Ashok Sharma, HR CONSULTANT, [email protected]





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