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Friday, January 13, 2006

Shake off that passivism!

Speak and be heard. That's what people are waking up to these days. Almost everyone has the chance to get in front of a camera and emote, sing, parade themselves and speak their minds.

But very few shows actually let the audience really vent steam. Now that kind of show would be popular. Imagine going on air and saying, 'This country would be better off without xyz politicians' or 'Fardeen Khan and Bobby Deol wouldn't have made it past the first round of a talent contest, even if they had volunteered add-on services to Shakti Kapoor!'

Some of the few candid moments I saw on TV was when Shobha De appeared on 'Koffee with Karan' and commented on Aishwarya Rai's ability to make it in Hollywood. She said, "Hollywood is full of light-eyed women with great figures who're more talented than her." Oops, that must have pinched the fair maiden. Aishwarya very magnanimously said people were entitled to their opinions.

The point is, people should make their opinions known more often. There is no substitute for saying what's wrong is wrong, loud and clear. Everybody may not be a Medha Patkar or an Arundhati Roy. But there are surely several who do care about issues but don't want to talk aloud about it, but would rather do something about it. Ideally, that's the way I like it too.

In the last two months, I participated in two SMS-based campaigns of protest. Since I receive a Greenpeace newsletter, I subscribe to some of the issues mentioned in it as well. But still, there are lot among us who still turn their backs on the problems before them. For them, even armchair activism is too much of a bother.

This kind of apathy will just not do. Don't people get it, that they get the leaders and the quality of services that they deserve? If you speak up for yourself, you're less likely to be taken for granted.

Saying what's on your mind is not a crime. I'm not advocating courting arrest and having your face blackened by any political party's foot soldiers. Just do simple things like write that letter of protest for cleaning up a beach, write acidic letters to editors of newspapers and magazines and then join cleanliness drives, if possible. If you want to begin somewhere, then look at the letter below, written to the Andhra Pradesh chief minister and EU ministers to stop polluting the Kakinada beach in Andhra Pradesh, where the state government intends to build a shipbreaking yard.

Here is the standard letter that volunteers were asked to send with their personal comments in the end.

To Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister:
I understand that the East Godavari district is currently under threat of plans to establish shipbreaking yards on the beaches near Kakinada. Alang shipbreaking yards show us the horrible reality of the breaking of end-of-life-vessels in India: a heavily polluted environment and many workers who are wounded or even killed.

I urge you to do everything you can to stop these plans. Please support the opposition of the fishermen's families against the shipbreaking yards. They should not pay the price for the dismantling of toxic ships of rich countries and the shipping industry. That would be a violation of the Basel Convention.

I am also sending this e-mail to the transport ministers of the European Union. The EU decision to ban single hull oil tankers without providing clean and safe shipbreaking facilities is irresponsible. 2,200 scrap ships will enter the shipbreaking market before 2010, thus promoting the establishment of shipbreaking yards like the ones planned in Kakinada.

To the European Council of Transport:
The European Union (EU) decided to ban dangerous single hull oil tankers, to prevent oil disasters such as the Erika and the Prestige. But now the EU should also ensure the clean and safe dismantling of these ships. Otherwise they will end their sailing lives on the shipbreaking beaches of Asia, where they pollute the environment and cause death and illness among the workers.

The scrap market has significantly grown because of the ban on 2,200 single hull oil tankers. New polluting and dangerous shipbreaking yards like the ones in Kakinada will continue to be established as long as the EU doesn't take full responsibility.

Please help the environment and the people of Kakinada. Solve the problem of shipbreaking once and for all. Prevent the creation of new shipbreaking beaches in Asia by planning clean and safe shipbreaking facilities. Make sure the EU enforces the Basel Convention and the European Waste Shipment Regulation.

Personal Comment:
A personal concern is that a way of life, which is fishing, may just be washed away and this is almost on the back off the tsunami, which wrecked havoc across South East Asia and South India. Shouldn't that natural disaster be an obvious lesson in not tempting the fates, once too often?

Also, if shipbreaking is being outsourced to India, please bear in mind that it should be done in a manner that subscribes to the fact that human life doesn't come cheap in third world countries, only human labour does. For instance, I don't think a Bhopal Gas Tragedy would have been so conveniently put on the backburner, had it happened in the US or a European country. Yes, we do need our share of photogenic Erin Brokovichs to make our very valid points and I think this is good way to start!

So do what you can from the convenience of your home. Do make a noise when it matters. As actress Nandita Das said on the unveiling of the new diaspora channel South Asia World (SAW), "I've travelled all over the world and have not wanted to live anywhere else. But we as Indians are a passive lot. We don't praise something that is good. We don't protest over something that's bad. We just go on with our lives, which is a dangerous thing." So true!

Written for www.dancewithshadows.com

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