(Note: The following story is the result of a series of interviews done with affected villagers, environmental activists, lawyers and other stakeholders along with visits to the affected areas by Anil Cherukupalli and Tushar Dhara in June 2009 as a follow up to news reports referring to a Swedish study that found extremely high concentrations of many drugs in local water sources in the Patancheru area of Hyderabad.)
The mantra that drives India today is development through industrialisation. Having missed the first wave of industrialisation India latched on to the emerging industries of the new millennium: Information Technology and Biotechnology. The precursor to biotechnology was the pharmaceutical industry which took root in Hyderabad from the late 1970s onwards. The succeeding decades saw Hyderabad emerge as one of the world’s largest centres for bulk drug production. The drugs were exported to major markets around the world including Europe and the USA and in lesser developed markets in Africa.
The rise of the Indian generics industry was made possible by a host of institutional and non-institutional factors: availability of a large pool of scientists; the Patents Act of 1970 that made a distinction between product and process patents which removed the legal constraints for manufacturing generics. In particular, the establishment of Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited (IDPL) in 1961 by the government in Hyderabad led to the concentration of the generics drug industry in the southern Indian city.
The pharmaceutical manufacturing units are concentrated in the Patancheru industrial area, which lies 25 kilometres to the northwest of the city. Although a separate municipality before 2007 Patancheru became part of the newly constituted Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation that year. The newly constituted GHMC made it possible for the erstwhile suburban municipalities to access more funds for civic amenities and provided an integrated development plan for the Greater Hyderabad conurbation.
Though Hyderabad has become an important node in the global pharma industry, the environmental, human, economic and social costs have been overlooked. Although the benefits of providing cheap generic drugs are not in question the environmental cost is being borne by communities located in the vicinity of the drug manufacturing units in Patancheru. Since the early 1980s, when the pharma industry took off, these communities have had their water and soil polluted by the untreated industrial effluents. This has affected their livelihoods in the form of decreased agricultural yields. On the health front, although the evidence is anecdotal, abortion rates have increased; stunted growth has been reported in children, and increased incidence of skin diseases. The communities lack of the means to make their voice heard and along with willful disregard of existing environment laws and their monitoring by the regulatory authorities makes Patancheru a typical case of environmental neglect in a developing country.
A Swedish research team led by Joakim Larsson from the University of Gothenburg conducted a study on the levels of pharmaceutical drugs in the water discharged from a common effluent treatment plant in the Patancheru area of Hyderabad. The shocking results of the study, which was published in January and April 2009 in peer reviewed scientific journals, revealed the presence of very high levels of antibiotics such as Ciprofloxacin (up to 6.5 mg/L) and the anti-histamine drug Cetirizine (up to 1.2 mg/L). In one place, the levels were found to exceed human therapeutic blood plasma concentrations!
Moreover, it was not just Ciprofloxacin or Cetirizine that were found in the treated effluent. According to an Associated Press report, the supposedly cleaned water contained 21 different active pharmaceutical ingredients, used in generics for treatment of hypertension, heart disease, chronic liver ailments, depression, gonorrhea, ulcers and other ailments. Half of the drugs measured at the highest levels of pharmaceuticals ever detected in the environment!
The study states that pharmaceutical production ‘severely contaminates surface, ground and drinking water in the investigated region and that the previously demonstrated pharmaceutical releases from PETL is still occurring‘. The Patancheru Enviro Tech Limited (PETL) is the common effluent treatment plant that was set up in 1995 to treat the discharge from around 90 bulk drug manufacturing units located in the Patancheru area, including Dr Reddy’s Labs, Aurobindo Pharma and Newland Labs.
The treated effluent from PETL is discharged into the Iskkavagu stream, which then flows into the Nakkavagu river. The Nakkavagu river then runs into the Manjeera river which ultimately joins the Godavari river. Manjeera river is the major drinking water source for the city of Hyderabad while Godavari river is one of the major rivers in southern India whose waters are used to irrigate millions of acres of agricultural land in Andhra Pradesh. Although there are three to four other streams that flow into the Nakkavagu river the Swedish team’s findings showed the Iskavagu and Nakkavagu to be the most contaminated of the water sources in Patancheru.
There are 20 villages in and around the industrial area with an estimated population of a lakh people. Plus, there are an additional 75,000 people in the Patancheru suburb. Pocharam and Ganapathigudem, two villages that are located closest to PETL, bear the brunt of this potential ecological disaster. The villages lie downstream of the Iskavagu stream. This has resulted in severe contamination of all ground and surface water sources in and around the villages.
Pocharam is located roughly a kilometre from PETL. By accident or design, the administrative boundary of Pocharam gram panchayat ends a few feet before PETL. The treatment plant effectively falls in the jurisdiction of the GHMC. Although topographically the village and the treatment plant are contiguous they are governed by different laws legally. The villagers have to travel to Hyderabad for any matter concerning the plant. Meanwhile, the plant sits on the other side of the Iskavagu stream and the villagers can do nothing. “If the plant was within our gram panchayat boundary we would have had the authority to close them down, “says Praveen Singh, a resident of Pocharam.
As seen from the photos taken of the Iskavagu stream, which flows beside the PETL plant and where the treated effluents are released, the stream surface is covered by a layer of thick white foam. Basketball sized flecks of foam are blown around by wind over a greater area. The stream water is dark brown in colour and smells bad. Praveen Singh also added that when the foam lands on skin it causes severe itching and rashes while contact with eyes lead to eye burn and redness.
According to the villagers, apart from mosquitoes no other life forms exist in the stream or in the river. According to other residents of Pocharam village, the quantity of white foam and the bad smell increase greatly in the night. The villagers allege that this is because the plant and the tanker trucks (that normally carry the effluent to the plant during the day) resort to open dumping of the pharmaceutical waste into the stream in the night without treatment.
It is hard to independently verify the villager‘s claims as no government agency has thought it fit to conduct a study to assess the potential social and health problems caused by the presence of such high levels of drugs in their local environment. Satti Reddy, 60 yrs old, who is a resident of Ganpatigudem village, alleges that not a single government official came to visit their village even after the Swedish studies generated much international and national media interest and reached even the attention of the Indian prime minister. Sadly, official apathy seems to be the norm for the Patancheru area when it comes to protecting the environment.
Dr. A. Kishan Rao, a medical practitioner and member of Citizen’s Against Pollution (CAP) recalls the genesis of a remarkable people’s movement in the late 1980s against the rampant dumping of chemical industrial waste in the Patancheru area. The Patancheru industrial area was set up in the mid-1970s to stimulate industrial growth in Hyderabad. But in the rush to industrialise many of the environmental regulations governing the proper disposal of industrial waste were either overlooked or unenforced. “This resulted in,“ says Dr. Rao, “illegal and often open dumping of industrial waste in open areas not just from local trucks but by trucks that came all the way from the neighbouring state of Karnataka!“
In 1986, CAP launched an awareness campaign against pollution. Along with affected communities they formed the Patancheru Anti Pollution Committee (PAPC). The activists staged dharnas, relay hunger strikes and demanded an end to the pollution. “We marched to the office of the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board (PCB) demanding an end to the pollution,“ says Prof. K. Purushottam Reddy, President of CAP, recalling those times. In 1987, nearly 2000 people marched 40 km from Patancheru to the AP State Assembly and presented a list of demands to then Chief Minister N. T. Rama Rao. Some of the demands included the construction of an effluent treatment plant for each industrial unit, adequate compensation for degraded agricultural land and supply of safe drinking water to effected villages.
PAPC’s continued pressure resulted in the Medak district administration serving notice to 22 industries in Patancheru. The court set a deadline of September 3, 1987 to build individual ETPs. This order wasn’t complied with. The PAPC then started its second, more innovative phase of public protest. They blocked the National Highway 9 connecting Hyderabad and Mumbai with 500 bullocks! In October, the farmers filed a petition in the AP High Court against 20 of the 22 polluting industries. The subsequent High Court ruling went in favour of the industries.
The farmers then approached the Supreme Court (SC) through prominent environmental lawyer M.C. Mehta in 1989. The half a decade long legal battle resulted in the SC asking the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to conduct a thorough study on industrial pollution in the Nakkavagu basin. Based on the NEERI report the SC ordered the industries to cease the release of effluents into local water bodies. The SC ordered that compensation for the affected families must be paid by the polluting industries. The apex court also directed the local authorities to provide safe drinking water to the affected villages.
But the compensation paid has been uneven. According to activists, 2.13 crores were paid to families spread across 10 villages. Although less than adequate, it was a start. But even this has petered out in recent years according to the villagers. In addition, a drinking water pipeline was laid by the Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply & Sewerage Board.
Meanwhile, a district judge who conducted an investigation pointed out that the PETL was itself a major contributor to pollution. In 2000, the SC expressed ‘anguish’ that no action plan had been formulated to tackle the problem even after a decade. That same year a plan to build a 22 km pipeline from Patancheru to Amberpet, in the heart of Hyderabad, was devised by which effluents would be taken from Patancheru and dumped into the Musi river that flows through Hyderabad. The pipeline is now almost ready, though it is yet to start functioning.
“We are not happy with it because unless you treat the effluents at the beginning and at the end you are essentially dumping the pollution in the heart of the city instead of at the peripheries, “says K. S. Murthy, an advocate who represents the farmers by the banks of the Musi river who moved the AP High Court against the plan. According to him, the Patancheru case is about reducing pollution and securing compensation, both of which have been less than satisfactory.
The AP Pollution Control Board meanwhile says that it has the situation under control. A PCB official, who didn’t want to be named, said that the pollution is showing a ‘decreasing trend‘. “After the pipeline is completed the effluents will not be dumped into local water sources in Patancheru, “he added.
The villagers living in Patancheru seem resigned to their fate. When they talk about the pollution it is in a matter of fact way. Ganapathigudem is a village of 600 odd people located 2 km downstream of the PETL. Many villagers own tracts of agricultural land in the area that they say produce below average yields. Srisailam Goud, a resident of Pocharam village said, “We used to get 40 bags of paddy per acre which has now reduced to 10 bags“. A few of the better educated ones get some of the menial jobs in the factories. Some of the economically better off families have sold their land and houses and moved to the city. The infrastructure needs of Hyderabad have brought some relief. A massive ring road, meant to ease the traffic woes of the city, is being built and the north-western section skirts Pocharam village. Land was acquired from some villagers at government rates. Though below market rates, villagers lucky enough to receive it moved out rather than stay here.
According to Dr Kishan Rao, a more serious problem, which can lead to grave public health problems in the future, is the development of antibiotic resistance due to the very high levels of antibiotics in the discharge from the PETL. The Swedish reasearch team also expressed the same concerns. According to them, “The most obvious risk associated with the findings is that the high levels of broad-spectrum antibiotics could induce the development of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms.“ Antibiotic resistance develops because the bacteria present in the environment are put under selection pressure by the high levels of antibiotics found in the water sources. What this means is that only those microorganisms that have developed resistance against the antibiotics survive. These surviving microorganisms will then increase in numbers and spread in the environment. These resistance characters, which are nothing but genes, could be transferred to human pathogens through horizontal gene transfer. This is when genes from one microorganism are transferred to another microorganism. This could lead to the development of antibiotic resistant pathogens against which the existing antibiotics may be ineffective. Previous studies done in and around Pencillin manufacturing sites in China have shown this to be happening leading to the development of multi drug resistant bacterial strains.
“Not a single Indian scientist or doctor has conducted follow up studies to the Swedish study“, laments Dr. Kishan Rao. He expresses concern over the possible contamination of the food chain through food grains and vegetables grown using the contaminated water or through cow/buffalo milk from cattle that drink the contaminated water. These correspondents had indeed seen cattle from the Pocharam and Ganapatigudem villages drinking from the foam covered Iskavagu stream just downstream of the PETL plant. The villagers expressed their inability to stop the cattle from drinking the polluted water.
In the case of Patancheru, due to the presence of extremely high levels of antibiotics and other drugs in the local water sources no one knows what health problems they will give rise to in future through the development of previously unknown drug resistant microorganisms. As the Swedish research team’s paper suggests, “The increasing occurrence of multi-resistant pathogens is a serious global threat to human health and is promoted by the heavy use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine. “ The problem is even graver at the PETL plant as it uses approximately 20% raw human faeces to maintain biological activity. As human faeces contains pathogens and other microorganisms it is possible that such close contact between the pathogens, resistant bacteria already existing in the effluent and the high concentration of antibiotics might lead to development of new multi-drug resistant pathogens. This could have grave effect on current treatment strategies that depend on antibiotics like Ciprofloxacin.
Compounding the existing problem of high levels of pollution is the lack of regulatory oversight. The APPCB, according to activists, is not capable of monitoring antibiotic pollution because it lacks trained personnel and equipment.
Activists say that the problem can be tackled by having individual effluent treatment plants for each industrial unit with effective and regular upstream and downstream monitoring of effluents. Dr. Kishan Rao estimates that setting up of individual ETPs will cost between 1-3 percent of an average pharma company’s turnover. But as long as companies worry more about toplines and bottomlines that will remain unfulfilled.
Recommended Citation: Dhara, Tushar., Cherukupalli, Anil. The Cost of Cheap Medicines: Antibiotic Pollution in Patancheru. http://anilcherukupalli.com/blog/2010/03/07/the-cost-of-cheap-medicines-antibiotic-pollution-in-patancheru/
(This is a post by Jacob Kuncheria. Cheri, as he is known to friends, works for Reuters in Delhi and is interested in development issues, Satyajit Ray films and Hindustani music.)
The opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has suddenly woken up to the gross underestimation of poverty in India. In Rajya Sabha on Thursday Murli Manohar Joshi asked Prime Minister Manmohan Singh if the current definition of poverty in India was not a joke on the poor and whether this was not a means to mask the extent of poverty. A noble sentiment indeed, but let the record also show the BJP made no effort to improve upon the faulty schema of identifying the poor when it ruled between 1999 and 2004.Worse, that government, of which Joshi was a cabinet minister, presided over a major fudging of poverty measurement, tweaking the process of data collection to falsely show poverty had fallen under its regime.
It is certainly true that the official poverty estimates in India do not indicate the true extent of deprivation in the country. The poverty line is the cost of the cheapest foods that can supply the barest minimum of energy a person needs. Currently, if a villager earns over 12.26 rupees a day, or an urban citizen earns over 18.36 rupees daily, she is above the poverty line. That sum would not buy a McDonald’s burger even at their happy price menu, to make a rather cruel comparison.
Man cannot live on calories alone, he needs proteins and vitamins and minerals too, but the standard does not see the need to incorporate that. If a person sold her cow, her pots and pans or her land to make buy food, the income increase would actually push her above the poverty line. To add pain, the norm does not concern itself with the question of whether the supposedly un-poor actually eat the food supposedly purchasable at that income.
Studies have shown that the lack of state-provided health care, housing and education lead poor households to spend an increasing amount of their income on private providers. This reduces food consumption, and invariably, the deprivation is pronounced in women, girls and children. It is no wonder India is home to 40 percent of malnourished children, and its record is worse than sub-Saharan Africa. The amount of anaemic women and girls and the ensuing high rate of maternal mortalities, among other damning health statistics clearly point to the inadequacy of the measure. Hence, the poverty line is not just a line under which one is poor. Rather, it is an indicator which says: if you earn below this, it’s a miracle you’re alive.
THE BJP’s “MIRACLE”
Now to the BJP and poverty. The estimation of how many people are poor is done by measuring household income, which is the subject of a survey conducted every five years. Households are quizzed on their spending in the month, and a rise in this indicates increased income. If more households spend more, it means the number of the poor as a percentage of the total population has fallen.
In the 59th round of this survey in 2003, when the BJP was in power and painting rosy images of India Shining, an additional question on weekly spending was asked of households. A minor change, but when posed right before the question on monthly spending, led the respondent to quadruple the weekly answer to give the monthly figure. This number was clearly incorrect, for there are weekly variations in income and consumption, given the fact most of India’s poor have no fixed jobs or wages.The data that emerged gave an inflated consumption number, indicating incomes had risen under the BJP’s rule and the government had been successful in fighting poverty.
The easiest way of ending famine, it seems, is expunging the word from the language itself! And the poor have no idea of their great fortune, they know not how many tears are being shed in their name.
Watching at least four English news channels surfing from one another
during the last 60 hours of terror strike made me feel a terror of
another kind. The terror of assaulting one’s mind and sensitivity with
cameras, sound bites and non-stop blabbers. All these channels have
been trying to manufacture my consent for a big lie called – Hotel Taj
the icon of India.
Whose India, Whose Icon ?
It is a matter of great shame that these channels simply did not
bother about the other icon that faced the first attack from
terrorists – the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station.
CST is the true icon of Mumbai. It is through this railway station
hundreds of Indians from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, West Bengal
and Tamilnadu have poured into Mumbai over the years, transforming
themselves into Mumbaikars and built the Mumbai of today along with
the Marathis and Kolis
But the channels would not recognise this. Nor would they recognise
the thirty odd dead bodies strewn all over the platform of CST. No
Barkha dutt went there to tell us who they were. But she was at Taj to
show us the damaged furniture and reception lobby braving the guards.
And the TV cameras did not go to the government run JJ hospital to
find out who those 26 unidentified bodies were. Instead they were
again invading the battered Taj to try in vain for a scoop shot of the
dead bodies of the page 3 celebrities.
In all probability, the unidentified bodies could be those of workers
from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh migrating to Mumbai, arriving by train at
CST without cell phones and pan cards to identify them. Even after 60
hours after the CST massacre, no channel has bothered to cover in
detail what transpired there.
The channels conveniently failed to acknowledge that the Aam Aadmis of
India surviving in Mumbai were not affected by Taj, Oberoi and Trident
closing down for a couple of weeks or months. What mattered to them
was the stoppage of BEST buses and suburban trains even for one hour.
But the channels were not covering that aspect of the terror attack.
Such information at best merited a scroll line, while the cameras have
to be dedicated for real time thriller unfolding at Taj or Nariman
The so called justification for the hype the channels built around
heritage site Taj falling down (CST is also a heritage site), is that
Hotel Taj is where the rich and the powerful of India and the globe
congregate. It is a symbol or icon of power of money and politics, not
India. It is the icon of the financiers and swindlers of India. The
Mumbai and India were built by the Aam Aadmis who passed through CST
and Taj was the oasis of peace and privacy for those who wielded power
over these mass of labouring classes. Leopold club and Taj were the
haunts of rich spoilt kids who would drive their vehicles over
sleeping Aam Aadmis on the pavement, the Mafiosi of Mumbai forever
financing the glitterati of Bollywood (and also the terrorists) ,
Political brokers and industrialists.
It is precisely because Taj is the icon of power and not people, that
the terrorists chose to strike.
The terrorists have understood after several efforts that the Aam
Aadmi will never break down even if you bomb her markets and trains.
He/she was resilient because that is the only way he/she can even
Resilience was another word that annoyed the pundits of news channels
and their patrons this time. What resilience, enough is enough, said
Pranoy Roy\\\’s channel on the left side of the channel spectrum. Same
sentiments were echoed by Arnab Goswami representing the right wing of
the broadcast media whose time is now. Can Rajdeep be far behind in
this game of one upmanship over TRPs ? They all attacked resilience
this time. They wanted firm action from the government in tackling
The same channels celebrated resilience when bombs went off in trains
and markets killing and maiming the Aam Aadmis. The resilience of the
ordinary worker suited the rich business class of Mumbai since work or
manufacture or film shooting did not stop. When it came to them, the
rich shamelessly exhibited their lack of nerves and refused to be
resilient themselves. They cry for government intervention now to
protect their private spas and swimming pools and bars and
restaurants, similar to the way in which Citibank, General Motors and
the ilk cry for government money when their coffers are emptied by
their own ideologies.
The terrorists have learnt that the ordinary Indian is unperturbed by
terror. For one whose daily existence itself is a terror of government
sponsored inflation and market sponsored exclusion, pain is something
he has learnt to live with. The rich of Mumbai and India Inc are
facing the pain for the first time and learning about it just as the
middle classes of India learnt about violation of human rights only
during emergency, a cool 28 years after independence.
And human rights were another favourite issue for the channels to whip
at times of terrorism.
Arnab Goswami in an animated voice wondered where were those
champions of human rights now, not to be seen applauding the brave and
selfless police officers who gave up their life in fighting terorism.
Well, the counter question would be where were you when such officers
were violating the human rights of Aam Aadmis. Has there ever been any
24 hour non stop coverage of violence against dalits and adivasis of
This definitely was not the time to manufacture consent for the extra
legal and third degree methods of interrogation of police and army but
Arnabs don\\\’t miss a single opportunity to serve their class masters,
this time the jingoistic patriotism came in handy to whitewash the
entire uniformed services.
The sacrifice of the commandos or the police officers who went down
dying at the hands of ruthless terrorists is no doubt heart rending
but in vain in a situation which needed not just bran but also brain.
Israel has a point when it says the operations were misplanned
resulting in the death of its nationals here.
Khakares and Salaskars would not be dead if they did not commit the
mistake of traveling by the same vehicle. It is a basic lesson in
management that the top brass should never t ravel together in crisis.
The terrorists, if only they had watched the channels, would have
laughed their hearts out when the Chief of the Marine commandos, an
elite force, masking his face so unprofessionally in a see-through
cloth, told the media that the commandos had no idea about the
structure of the Hotel Taj which they were trying to liberate. But the
terrorists knew the place thoroughly, he acknowledged.
Is it so difficult to obtain a ground plan of Hotel Taj and discuss
operation strategy thoroughly for at least one hour before entering?
This is something even an event manager would first ask for, if he had
to fix 25 audio systems and 50 CCtvs for a cultural event in a hotel.
Would not Ratan Tata have provided a plan of his ancestral hotel to
the commandos within one hour considering the mighty apparatus at his
and government\\\’s disposal? Are satelite pictures only available for
terrorists and not the government agencies ? In an operation known to
consume time, one more hour for preparation would have only improved
the efficiency of execution.
Sacrifices become doubly tragic in unprofessional circumstances. But
the Aam Aadmis always believe that terror-shooters do better planning
than terrorists. And the gullible media in a jingoistic mood would not
raise any question about any of these issues.
They after all have their favourite whipping boy – the politician the
eternal entertainer for the non-voting rich classes of India.
Arnabs and Rajdeeps would wax eloquent on Nanmohan Singh and Advani
visiting Mumbai separately and not together showing solidarity even at
this hour of national crisis. What a farce? Why can\\\’t these channels
pool together all their camera crew and reporters at this time of
national calamity and share the sound and visual bites which could
mean a wider and deeper coverage of events with such a huge human
resource to command? Why should Arnab and Rajdeep and Barkha keep
harping every five minutes that this piece of information was
exclusive to their channel, at the time of such a national crisis? Is
this the time to promote the channel? If that is valid, the politician
promoting his own political constituency is equally valid. And the
duty of the politican is to do politics, his politics. It is for the
people to evaluate that politics.
And terrorism is not above politics. It is politics by other means.
To come to grips with it and to eventually eliminate it, the practice
of politics by proper means needs constant fine tuning and
improvement. Decrying all politics and politicians, only helps
terrorists and dictators who are the two sides of the same coin. And
the rich and powerful always prefer terrorists and dictators to do
Those caught in this crossfire are always the Aam Aadmis whose deaths
are not even mourned – the taxi driver who lost the entire family at
CST firing, the numerous waiters and stewards who lost their lives
working in Taj for a monthly salary that would be one time bill for
Postscript: In a fit of anger and depression, I sent a message to all
the channels, 30 hours through the coverage. After all they have been
constantly asking the viewers to message them for anything and
everything. My message read: I send this with lots of pain. All
channels, including yours, must apologise for not covering the victims
of CST massacre, the real mumbaikars and aam aadmis of India. Your
obsession with five star elite is disgusting. Learn from the print
media please. No channel bothered. Only Srinivasan Jain replied: you
are right. We are trying to redress balance today. Well, nothing
happened till the time of writing this 66 hours after the terror
The guns have finally fallen silent. The staccato bursts of gunfire have died down. The intermittent explosions have stopped. The pigeons which flew away after every explosion have settled down. But something does not feel right. This was not like one of those bomb blasts we have been seeing with such regularity in India over the past few years. The blasts, even though extremely tragic, had a neat closure to them. But this siege was not neat. It was brutal, ugly, bloody and drawn out. To think that a dozen terrorists made the city, the country, nay even the world stand still speaks volumes both of their meticulous planning as well as of the utter failure of our security apparatus.
I’ve never liked Mumbai as a city. I’ve never lived there but while I was in college I visited it every year for four years. And every time I came away irritated by its insane (to me) rush to get somewhere, its ugly contrasts, mixed with a little envy too perhaps that Mumbai was so much more cosmopolitan than Hyderabad. I’ve always thought people made a lot of unnecessary fuss about Mumbai, its so called spirit, character and every other clichéd adjective you can think of. But this time, unlike the many tragic events before, my heart went out to Mumbai and its people. As I followed the breathless TV reporters fall over themselves to bring the rest of the world as many live images as possible of the ‘unfolding situation’ I was filled with a curious mixture of emotions. There was sadness at the needless and immense loss of life. There was multi-directional rage too, at the politicians who seem to mumble the same platitudes every time something like this happens but are soon back to their ways, of dividing this beautifully complex country to suit their narrow needs.
There was rage too at the terrorists, a helpless and hopeless sort of rage mixed with some despair. I’ve tried but I still cannot understand how someone of roughly my age can take a machine gun, walk into a hotel, into a railway station and start shooting indiscriminately. How can he look into the eyes of a woman trying to go home after visiting her relatives and shoot her in the throat? How can he separate people based on their nationality and gun them down? Try as I might I just cannot comprehend this inhumanity, this utter, deep dark hate that someone has inculcated in him. After all, he was not born with it. He was somebody’s son. He must have experienced some love. How do you go from being a human being to someone who does not blink twice before pressing the trigger and pumping bullets into fellow human beings, irrespective of whether that human being is an old man, a woman or a child? This hatred is beyond me.
And that fills me with a certain hopelessness. How do you guard against such unfathomable hatred? How do you tackle it? Will a more proactive intelligence help? Will upgrading our archaic police force into something more modern and efficient help? Perhaps those measures will help in the short term. But in the long run we have to reach out to the source of such hatred and wipe it out. Not with guns or smart bombs as so many have now begun to advocate, the ‘Israeli way’ they call it. For that will only lead to a never ending cycle of violence. But by understanding the roots of such terror and turning people away from this futile murderous orgy; through education, through alleviation of poverty, through better job prospects and through respect. For nothing blunts hatred more than happiness and peace.
Today, I am angry and ashamed.
Angry about hypocritical ‘hindu’ politicians, the uncaring society we live in, the heartless middle class that inhabits this country and the fate that awaits India if the above three continue on this trajectory.
Ashamed about hypocritical ‘hindu’ politicians, the uncaring society we live in, the heartless middle class that inhabits this country and the confluence of the above three.
Yes folks…welcome to the new Hindu rashtra!!! How long will we continue to sit silent while those Muslim behenc__ds rape, pillage and explode bombs? Of course, we too are proud Hindus. We cannot sit silent. The blood of the Aryans, Europeans, Rajputs, and Huns flows in our veins. We are the descendents of Shivaji, who held the might of the Mughal empire at bay. Hindu samaj is the possessor of all the worldy truths and all the knowledge that has been invented by western science. Our sages discovered the airplane, the atom bomb, fusion and fission technology and plastic surgery long before the white man.
Our seers invented 0, chess, algebra, arithmetic, geology, psychology, philosophy and zoology thousands of years ago.
Our ancestors dabbled into the depths of ontology and the heights of epistemology. Our Vedas, Shastras, Purans, Gita and Upanishads contain all the knowledge that is needed for this world.
We were the masters of dance, drama, art, literature, erotics, and aesthetics when the barbarians of Europe and the Middle east were foraging around in bear skins and loin cloths.
We are the inheritors of the proud Hindu culture….
How can we produce TERRORISTS?
Impossible, incredulous, lies, conspiracy, out to malign Hindus.
Of course, what ‘Sadhvi’ Pragya Singh and Armyman Purohit did is not retaliation or Hindu terrorism (gasp!!!)
They were just reacting to those vile Muslim terrorists. So what if a few explosions kill some people in Muslim ghettos? So what if some more explosions kill some random other people? SO WHAT
Hindus cannot be terrorists, That’s only for Muslims.
Today I hang my head in shame and stew in my own anger.
because yesterday I asked liberal Muslims to stand up and take a stand against terrorism, because the day before that I did believe that all the bomb blasts in this country were caused by ‘Muslim’ terrorist organisations.
because today my ‘Hindu’ neighbours tell me callously, so what? so what if ‘our people’ exploded a few bombs. After all, we are paying them back in the same coin..
Where have I heard that before?
Oh yeah…Buddhadeb Bhattacharya said that about shooting innocent people in Nandigram.
Narendra Modi said that about the Gujarat genocide.
Raj Thackeray is saying that about ‘bhayyas’.
So what’s wrong if we say it. After all, they are only *!*@*%# Muslims…
(fill in your own abuses in the space provided)
At a time when commentators were talking of the end of the insurgency and life was returning to normal in the Kashmir valley, the Amarnath crisis and the associated violence this summer of 2008, came as a rude shock to many. The separatist tone of the protests in the valley created a furore in Indian media. If we were to put the facts of the crisis itself aside, the accompanying protests provided a fascinating opportunity to observe the change sweeping the Kashmir valley. Indeed, the Amarnath crisis may have inadvertently acted as a window of opportunity to bring peace back to Kashmir. Policymakers in Delhi cannot therefore afford to miss the positive outcomes generated by the crisis.
Firstly, it is worth analyzing why the protests in the valley against the government’s decision about transfer of land to the Amarnath shrine board started with pro-independence overtones, then acquired religious hues and thereafter a pro-Pakistani tint. The ISI hand if any, was seemingly minimal in these protests. Officials in Islamabad were apparently as surprised as New Delhi to see the pro-Pakistani tenor. In fact, it is entirely possible that the Pakistani flags placed by some elements at Lal chowk in Srinagar on India’s Independence Day were only a ploy to keep the nation’s attention riveted on Kashmir. To get the attention of the Indian mainstream, nothing works better than a Pakistani flag. One only needs to look at how interest in the Bodo-Muslim clashes in Assam in early October rapidly rose after some Pakistani flags were sighted. The Pakistan card is a bogey that separatists have used in the past as well to put pressure on New Delhi. While some Pro-Pakistani groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba tried to piggy-back on the protests and gain propaganda mileage with motorcycle riders shouting anti-India slogans, they were soon drowned out by the pro-independence voices.
Therefore, whatever mix of aspirations drove the Kashmiris, one thing became clear from the protests. There is definitely an indigenous opinion within the valley about the future of Kashmir, one that is not driven by external entities like Pakistan. In that sense, these protests were reminiscent of the protests of 1963-64 after the theft of the Hazratbal relic, which were entirely indigenously spurred (before Pakistan began its decades-long covert intervention in the valley with Operation Gibraltar of 1965).
At the same time, the protests in the valley do not signify a boost for the armed separatist movement. In fact, the Amarnath crisis represents a decisive shift in the nature of political protest the valley – from one of armed violence to one of non-violent protests. It will take some time before the valley rediscovers completely the power of non-violent dissent, but the process has begun. Yasin Malik, the former Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front militant turned separatist leader, was quoted by The Economist recently as saying: “[today’s Kashmiri youngsters] are even more angry than my generation, yet committed to non-violence”. Why this shift has happened amongst the youth is worthy of an entire sociological treatise. In short, the collective failure of insurgency to achieve political goals, the progressive marginalization of Kashmiris in Pakistan-backed militant outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and the emergence of regional parties other than the National Conference, could have all contributed to it. The latter is particularly noteworthy. Although non- National Conference forces have been active in the valley before, never were they able to influence decision making at the Center as they did during the Amarnath crisis. The triangular struggle to win over public opinion between the National Conference, People Democratic Party and All Party Hurriyat Conference during the crisis represents the coming of age of Kashmiri politics and the end of political monopoly.
Another positive outcome of the protest was that they triggered a debate in the Indian hinterland about the future of Kashmir, something that 18 years of insurgency was unable to do. The Times of India actually ran a poll during the crisis asking if Indians want Kashmir to be retained at all costs. To most Indians, such a question would not have arisen even a year ago.
Even at the Centre, the protests saw a departure in the way New Delhi has handled the Valley at times in the past. The Central government neither enforced a media blackout nor denied the content of the protests as Pakistani propaganda, seeking instead a negotiated settlement. While this is in part due to the realities of coalition politics at the Centre, it is nonetheless significant.
The protests in Jammu were equally worthy of attention. While a section of the media sought to cast the protests purely in religious terms, the participation of Gujjars and Dogri Muslims indicates there was a “regional” factor also involved. This in turn may have forced Kashmiri separatist leaders to rethink the costs of secession from India. The Jammu protests hastened the opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad highway for trade. Not only will this move help build better ties between Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and J & K, the resultant economic prosperity could transform opinions about the future of Kashmir. This has happened before. Peace returned to Northern Ireland essentially after Britain promoted private sector investment and trade in the province, and paved the way for the Good Friday accord. In the case of Kashmir, Article 370 and the law and order situation have prohibited private investment in the past. The alternative therefore, clearly lies in promoting trade across the border. This also creates the possibility of exposing people in PoK to the possibilities of democratic, non-violent solutions to the Kashmir dispute.
One cannot say that the Amarnath crisis was the best thing that ever happened for Kashmir. In fact, one of the most worrisome fallouts of the crisis is the potential of it being exploited by radical groups in the hinterland. (The Indian Mujahideen had cited the blockade of the valley during the Jammu protests as one of their justifications for the Delhi blasts in September.) But the Amarnath crisis has certainly served to put Kashmir as one of the key issues on the 2009 election agenda. Given the importance of the Kashmir dispute to national security concerns, this would not be an unwelcome development.
(This article was originally published in The Indian National Interest Review, Nov 2008 issue)
While Pakistan came up all too frequently during the recently concluded US Presidential campaign, South Asia watchers sat up when Barack Obama spoke of working with India to deal with Pakistan’s concerns about its security, a prerequisite to bring peace to Afghanistan. This triangular dynamic seems common sense in the subcontinent but attracts only peripheral attention in Washington where Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are seen only from the angle of bilateral relations.
Obama’s statement made many wonder if it implied US was going to step into the role of mediator between India and Pakistan. Although this suggestion was dismissed by both Presidential candidates in the light of the progress of the Indo-Pak peace process, some of the commentary that went with suggestions of mediation hinted at it as being necessary to resolve the schism between the two neighbors.
At least one of the problems with a suggestion of US mediation is that it presumes that the conflicting parties are not rational actors – a notion that subcontinentals find repelling. Of course the US has a long and fairly successful history of conflict mediation from the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel to the Good Friday process that brought peace to Ireland, and the Dayton accords that negotiated peace settlement in Yugoslavia.
However unlike in all these cases, the conflicting parties in South Asia are not inviting the US for mediation. This has to do less with issues of sovereignty and more to do with self-identity. India and Pakistan perceive themselves as rational actors who can resolve disputes bilaterally.
The United States has thus far acted sensibly and even pressed upon by Pakistan and Kashmiri expat groups to intervene, has chosen to say that it supports the Indian stand on the issue, that disputes can be adequately resolved through Indo-Pak bilateral dialog.
But should the US choose to change this policy and attempt mediation, it would have to first start by addressing the South Asians as mature, rational actors. Unfortunately this is easier said than done going by rhetoric in Washington both about Pakistan during the current debates and about India during the ratification of the nuclear deal. India and Pakistan are seen as two trigger-happy children who’ve got hold of dangerous nuclear toys.
I remember a former official in the US’ national security apparatus once mentioning that during one of the post-nuclearisation crises in South Asia, he asked an Indian official whether the nuclear option was being considered. The Indian official said that “Yes, a limited nuclear engagement is possible”. Whether or not the official meant it, the American was stunned…and told the Indian, “You have no idea what you are talking about”.
This is one of the general perceptions that clouds the less seasoned among American diplomats. While this has some roots in the American self-image and exceptionalism, it reminds subcontinentals of Kiplingesque “white man’s burden”.
For instance, doves in Washington often point out how unlike the USSR and the US, India and Pakistan are so close that there would be almost no warning time in case of a missile launch restricting any attempt at protection. Anyone who’s worked in missile defense would tell you that even for ICBMs during the cold war, neither the US nor the USSR had any means to stop or divert a missile once it was launched. Ballistic missile defense systems can hardly shoot down an incoming missile in its boost phase even with the best of technology like the still-born Star Wars program. Hence, the nuclear threat between the US and USSR was comparable and in no way more than the threat faced in the subcontinent. In fact, the Cold war arms race spawned tactical nukes like Davy Crockets and artillery shells which were more lethal than any weapon that has emerged on the subcontinent. Therefore, if the US and USSR could work over their differences without mediation during the Cold war, then so can India and Pakistan.
This is not to dismiss the value a mediator can bring to the table. Conflicts often get exacerbated due to asymmetry of information and a respected mediator can play a vital role by acting as a channel of communication between the two parties. Thus, the United States’ value as a mediator cannot be dismissed. But what is pertinent is how the US dons this role and how it treats the two parties once it dons the role – as sovereign states or quarrelling juveniles.
A nationwide ban on smoking in public places came into effect on October 2. Violators will be fined Rs 200 each. I can already hear the curses aimed at Ambumani Ramadoss. The Health Minister has been personally involved in the campaign to ban smoking since he became, er…the Health Minister.
Conspiracy theorists believe that the move to ban smoking was initiated to curb Rajnikanth, since the party he belongs to has to contend with Rajni mania in Tamil Nadu. Now, as all of you are doubtless aware, nobody smokes better than Rajni. The Stylemannan (king of style) has a wide repertoire of cigarette tricks and twirls. I find it cynical to believe that Ramadoss would have done this just to put style king in his place, especially since he has had to battle the influential tobacco lobby.
But Ramadoss, for all the accusations hurled at him (fascist, regressive, anti-choice) has proved to be liberal in a crucial matter: he wants to abolish article 377. This relic of the Indian Penal Code from Raj days outlaws homosexuality by describing it as against the law of nature.
Now this is the dilemma of a chain-smoking gay (or lesbian). Should they be pissed or pleased with Ramadoss?
The nuclear deal refuses to go off the news. Just when India thought that two of the three key hurdles – defense of the deal in the Indian Parliament, a clean waiver from NSG, and ratification of the deal by the US congress – had been accomplished, came word about the White house letter to a Congressional committee in Jan 2008, and Bush’s covering letter referring the deal for ratification to the Congress. The Bush letter shows, irrespective of its content, the extent to which the US government has gone to get the deal approved, as did the Indian government on its end. Why such hardsell? because the nuclear deal isnt about nuclear fuel supply etc anyways. Given that nuclear non-proliferation has been the biggest irritant in Indo-US ties since the 1990s, this deal was about removing the roadblock to building a strategic partnership with US. The Indian communists were right in what they say the deal entailed. They were wrong in opposing it. Because it’s time india moved out of shadows of the Cold War and took an interests-based approach to foreign policy rather than an ideology-based one.
Having said that, we cannot ignore the Bush letter’s content altogether. After the letter was revealed, people wondered if India had been naive in expecting the US to honor the 123 agreement’s guarantee of uninterrupted supply of nuclear fuel. Under the cover of “interpretation” of the agreement, was the Bush administration trying to have its cake and eating it too?
Actually, both India and the US have displayed some naivete in estimating the other side in this deal. India thought it could get a clean waiver with no strings attached. The US thought India could both be made an ally and a confirmant to non-proliferation laws through the deal. Neither side has achieved much in terms of these expectations.
Trust has always been a difficult element in Indo-US ties. American critics think India’s self-righteous posturing cannot be effaced by strategic benefits from the US and that therefore, India will remain a pain. Witness India’s duplicitous dealings with Iran despite American protests. American diplomats believe in reciprocity – willing to give as long as there is something being given. Indian skeptics on the other hand, say that reciprocity difficult when the odds are so heavily in the Americans’ favor. They also feel that the US will never shed its one-sided, self-centered way of dealing and will walk away from any deal it feels uncomfortable with. Witness the US’ unilateral withdrawal from the ABM treaty with Russia. In other words, Americans sees Indians as Machiavellis while Indians see Americans as Vito Corleones.These perception defects would have to change if the real aim of the 123 agreement viz. strategic relationship, is to be fulfilled. And that can only happen through relentless dialog at all levels between the India and the US. But whether the relationship triumphs is something that only time can tell.
As one of the architects of India’s strategic doctrine put it to me recently, “We’ll have to wait and watch if the relationship works. The US has never had partners, only allies. And India’s never had neither partners nor allies”. In some ways, this deal is like a marriage between a male chauvinist and a feminist. Let’s hope it lasts.