Archives for category: corruption

Tom Hazuka:

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Our boat trip from Kochi inland to the Periyar River headwaters was emblematic of India as a whole: abundant natural beauty, tainted by human greed and corruption.  Our guide, Geo Jose, explained that the backwaters near Kochi are officially a protected area, yet high-rise apartments continue to be built on illegal landfills.  The government is at best incompetent, and at worst complicit in the process.

Geo told us the picturesque Chinese nets capture nowhere near as many fish as they used to, a fact that became grimmer as our boat motored closer to the heart of darkness.  The reference might seem hyperbolic, but I don’t think so.  Though we were traveling through staggeringly lovely country, our goal was a massive complex of some 242 factories that bring numerous low-paying jobs to the area, but at a dreadful human and environmental cost.  Not only have the fish numbers been drastically reduced, those that remain are likely unsafe to eat.

A local environmental activist detailed the myriad health problems of residents caused by the factories’ pollution of land, air and water.  As he talked, in the smoggy distance we saw waterfront factories belching thick smoke.  Even from the boat we could smell it.  The activist described the Catch-22 (or is Kafka a better comparison?) situation whereby the government owns the factories, yet the government is in charge of enforcing pollution laws the government put into place.  Folks who complain receive the same mindless response that Americans get when they decry “right to work” laws: What do you have against jobs?

The Kerala backwaters are among the most lovely places on earth, and I feel incredibly privileged to have seen them.  Unfortunately, though, despite Kerala’s accurate depiction of itself as “God’s Own Country,” it is also, as my wife Christine sadly puts it, “Man’s Own Mess.”

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April Cibula:

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Today was the second day that the group separated into mini-groups of three to four people. The mini-groups focused on gender, labor, environment, and public health, all of which are topics of concern in a developing area. As for my group, environment, along with Teige and Nate we went an area where people were mining clay illegally. My first thought was that this mine would be far into a forest or rural area to prevent detection. Instead it was located on a side road, off a busy street, in a busy area. Immediately, it seemed suspicious. As we walked near the mines, it was a barren area. The area bordering the mine was surrounded by trees and a few factories. The whole are was white, with mounds covering the surface. In the middle of the area was a large crevice, the result of thirty years of mining. The bottom of the mine was pooling with dark, bluish water. The factory next to the area owned the mine, and the factory processed the clay. They produced pure kaolin clay, which can sell for 1000 Rupees a kilogram. From my experience, I know that this clay is often used in clay face-masks and other cosmetics, masking this clay highly desirable. The problem with this mine is the pollution it produces, along with water and air pollution generated by the factory itself and its heavy machinery. The dust alone has been detrimental to the public health of the people in the area, causing considerable respiratory problems. The ground around the mine is unstable, leaving the fate of the mine open to question after the clay deposits are played out. Housing cannot be put up because of the instability of the land. The land is also barren and so has no agricultural value. It will remain empty and barren after it is used up. On the upside the mine employs about 2000 people.

When we approached the factory to see if we could enter, we were denied entry. Altough I expected this, I still wanted to know what else they might be hiding. It was also hard for use to figure out why the mining was still happening since it was illegal. Also, the people who operated the mine made no attempt to keep it secret. People answered my question by referring to the notion that the mine staying open was a political issue. My guess is that the factory is paying off politicians, or politicians don’t care about the illegality of the mine, so long as it is providing jobs.

Michael Weiss:

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Today we went on a riverboat and heard a talk about how there is an exploitation of and manipulation of laws by land mafias. This in regards to building new apartments on land that was previously protected under law from being built upon but because of these groups generally ignore the law and sometimes blatantly build illegally. Land is a big issue here because of these kinds of special interest groups and more so because of all the pollution that has been happening as the state modernizes. Near where we were there were 242 factories and 48 of them have heavily polluted the river to the point that the surrounding area does not have fresh drinking water. So in a bit of irony the companies supply the locals with 400 L of fresh water a day because they ruined the water of these poor people. We also met an activist who has been agitating for the last twenty years and he told us about how in regards to the land grabs by the mafias and people being forced off their land. He even cited a case where they helped families get their land and this was a great case of the little people winning against the big evil corporations.

Jeremy Truex: My name is Jeremy Truex, and I am a senior at Central Connecticut State University, and graduating in May 2013 with a double major in History and Anthropology. I have embarked on this journey throughout Kerala, India with many of my friends and fellow students, with hopes to better understand how different societies work in the world, especially when compared to other nations. Because I am also a Historian and not only an Anthropologist, I am trying to use the historical record of what has happened in India to try and construct a reasoning as to how and why some of the various cultural practices have transformed and evolved.

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This was our first day that we worked with our focus groups, mine being the public health group. Neethu, a student from the University of Kerala accompanied us to a site that was being used as a waste dumping facility, but we were not allowed in by the security because they thought that we were journalists that could be reporting on what the government was doing there.

Because we could not go to in to the factory, we went to the Protestant church down the road to speak to the Reverend there until Buyhn, the leader of the political activist group Janakeeye Samithi, which opposed the site. We asked the Reverend what kind of complaints he gets from people about the waste factory. He told us that the Government told the people that they were going to create a medical plantation of sorts on the location, so the people started selling their land cheap to the government for that purpose, but the government never used the land for medical research.

The Reverend and Buyhn said that there was originally 12 acres allotted for the facility, and that now there are 45 acres, some of which was acquired from the people and some from private owners. While the Communist government was in power, Povtech was given a 30-year contract by the government to operate on the land on July 24th, 2000, but they left after only 8 years. Their waste dumping caused more bugs and flies in the area, which disrupted the church proceedings. The church had to stop their prayer to deal with the bugs, because they would try to eat the bread and wine for Communion, and the water was almost completely black even 5 kilometers away from the site.

The Waste Plant affected the community greatly. Because of the conditions created by the Waste Plant, such as dirty water and a constant pungent stench which deterred many of the women from receiving marriage proposals from men outside of the area, as well as making it so no guests or tourists wanted to visit the area. There was also an Increase in lung and eye disease, especially for children. The Waste Plant caused crop irrigation problems a well was forcing the rubber collection to decline because the Tappers could not come in during the morning hours due to the pungent smell. We were also told that the river was drying up because it was being destroyed by the pollutants.

Buyhn said that the government has labeled them as terrorists, especially after they held a hunger strike that started on January 9th of 2011, but said that the political parties did support them at some times, yet remained separate entities. Buyhn said that the activists are not organized well, and are leery of the fact that an American company may be coming to take control of running operations there.

From the church we went to a public health clinic that was a little ways down the road. We met with a doctor that had worked there for about 7 years. He talked to us about the various diseases in the region affecting the people. He said that medical issues have been resurfacing due to malnutrition and a lack of vaccinations that the children and others were receiving to prevent them from getting sick. The one point he did continually make is that Malaria was virtually non-existent in the region, which is a great thing that they did not have to deal with, unlike much of the rest of the country. He did say though when we asked him about the Waste Plant down the road, that he was concerned that this could cause more illnesses to happen at a rapid rate, as well as allow virtually eradicated illnesses such as Malaria to reappear.