Spreading climate change awareness in Lakshadweep through the ‘Melem Keezhem’ (Above & Below) comic panels online campaign
Team members: Kevin B George, Malvika Tewari, Somesh S Menon, Rohan Arthur, Rajeswari B.T. & Al Badush
Project timeline: 2022 - Ongoing
Begun in 2018, OCP's outreach work in the Lakshadweep has essentially involved mingling with the community, holding interpersonal meetings, organizing public events, communicating scientific concepts in an easy-to-understand language, and establishing long-term social bonds which allow us to work together with the islandsers towards combating the looming threat of climate change.
However, of late,the Covid-19 pandemic along with local socio-political upheavals has made accessing the Lakshadweep a trickier prospect than it already was, thereby hampering our ability to work directly with the community through face-to-face means.
At the same time, the last few years have seen a rapid proliferation of smartphones and computers into the islands. This, coupled with a gradually improving internet infrastructure, has ensured that locals have managed to stay connected and be active online in different ways. Youngsters upload Lakshadweep-related content quite prolifically and are in tune with most viral trends, not unlike their peers on the mainland.
All of this has led us to conclude that a realistic, achievable and impactful way to communicate the climate change message in Lakshadweep during these precarious times would be by adopting a geography-agnostic approach, such as through a sustained engagement via WhatsApp and other online tools which don’t necessitate our continuous presence on the islands or meetings with large groups.
About Melem Keezhem:
Our first attempts at navigating these online waters and riding on their flow to enhance our outreach is currently being realized through the Melem Keezhem comic panels campaign (with future online outreach plans involving the creation of a website functioning as a free digital archive on Lakshadweep).
Melem Keezhem, meaning above and below in Malayalam, is our title of choice as it poetically captures our intention to convey stories, facts and data about the Lakshadweep through separate comic panels which will each contain tiny nuggets of information, both from above land and below water.
This online comic series, which will touch upon the main themes of Lakshadweep’s history, geography, society, economy and ecology, will see us harnessing digital tools like WhatsApp and Instagram to circulate these panels freely through the community.
We believe this will be a rather innovative manner of representing Lakshadweep life and the messages we transmit through the panels will therefore wield greater impact in our attempts to spread awareness about climate change, regardless of whether we are able to visit the islands or not.
Rationale and Objectives:
The idea behind Melem Keezhem is inspired less from the fact that there isn’t enough information available about Lakshadweep and more from the fact that not a lot of it is presented in a well-designed, easy-to-understand manner.
The reason behind making the panels colourful and catchy is to separate them from existing works of dry prose, and subtly allow them to inculcate a sense of pride in islanders about how vivid and vibrant their history, their geography, their way of living, and their surrounding ecology is.
We believe such an approach, of creatively depicting island life through colourful infographics, will resonate well with the islanders and allow us to engage them in sensitive local topics like reef fishing, development, employment, tourism impacts and more over the long-term in a non-confrontational and appealing manner.
Circulation will take place via existing island Whatsapp groups as also through a separate NCF group specifically created for this purpose.
Melem Keezhem isn’t intended to be a form of one-way communication alone. A key factor in choosing WhatsApp as the mode of transmission is because it works well as a two-way medium. As our comic panels make their way across different WhatsApp groups and reach more and more individuals across islands, we will also gradually be making this into a more interactive process by conducting periodic quizzes, soliciting feedback, topics and images from islanders that we can integrate into these panels, breaking down complex academic papers and representing them, and also circulating audio notes from time to time which carry more detail about particularly important panels.
Parallelly, we will also be creating a repository of these panels on our Instagram page, and these can be visited at leisure by islanders and others interested in learning more about the Lakshadweep.
Each panel will contain the Melem Keezhem logo and information about supporting funders and NCF’s contact details. The panels will be independent but also flow in a thread, i.e., each panel will provide a separate informational nugget but will also be part of a larger continuous narrative concerning island life.
To strengthen Melem Keezhem’s relatability, we will also be using two fictional protagonists, a fisherman named Akbar, and a butterflyfish named Ameena, to respectively present the land and water aspects of Lakshadweep, or to put it in other words, the Above & Below viewpoints.