A dusty road that snakes through areca nut plantations and forests leads one to Jegala, a hamlet wedged between the Sharavathy hydel reservoir and the hills of the Western Ghats in Karnataka’s Shivamogga district.

Late on Christmas eve, Shwetha J.S., 17, a student and resident of the neighbouring town of Sagar, came up this road to spend the holidays with her family. In the morning she was at their plantation, taking photographs with her father, Devaraj, 42, who was a farmer, and the farm help, who shimmied up the slender areca tree trunks to harvest nuts. There was also something more — the faint smell of rotting carcass, but this did not dampen her joy.

Shwetha had her examinations coming up in the next few months. She was aware that she could be the first in the family to enrol in an undergraduate course. Her ambition was to get a…

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