Coca-Cola research for book


broken pipe of rainwater harvesting system

broken pipe of rainwater harvesting system

I worked with the American writer Mr. Michael Blanding for two days (14th and 15th of June) in Mehndiganj as his translator and local assistant. He is writing a book on the Coca-Cola issue. This book is called Coke Machine and will be published under Penguin Publications, USA. (update – purchase here) I met him on the 14th at Lok Samiti’s office in Mehndiganj. Michael has already written a few articles about the Coke issue in Columbia but this time’s article is going to focus on Indian, Columbian and Mexican issues. One of his most popular articles is “Coke: The New Nike?”

another broken pipe

another broken pipe

I already knew about the Indian and Columbian issues but I did not know that Mexico was also affected. Michael told me that Mexico is the biggest market of Coke products and now they have a huge problem of obesity and other health-related problems. Obesity was not a problem in Mexico a few years ago but since Coke’s sale has increased in Mexico, obesity has also increased with it. He told me that Coke and Pepsi both are going to introduce Nariyal Paani (Coconut water) in India, which sounded crazy. What is the need to do it? I am sure that they will never ever be able to provide the natural drink, after all it will be mixed with chemicals.

jammed pipe

jammed pipe

We interviewed about ten people, visited Coke’s rain water-harvesting sites�at different places and saw Coke’s waste-water discharge system. I was hoping to see something better this time but the situation is still the same. We went to Coke’s two rain water harvesting sites, one of them was on the roof-top of the Agriculture Research Center, Kallipur village and another one was at the roof-top of the Mijramurad Police station. We saw that none of the water harvesting sites were in working condition and most of the pipes were either broken or jammed.

rainwater harvesting at the roof top of Mijramurad police station

rainwater harvesting at the roof top of Mijramurad police station

We talked to people working at the Agriculture Research Center and all�of them said that Coke had started the site about two years ago just to show off. It stopped working within the next few months and no one from Coke ever came to repair it. Even though they informed the Coke officials about it but they did not entertain villagers. People said that now the roof-top over-flows and their rain-water harvesting site doesn’t work at all. We saw the well also which was supposed to hold all the rain water and then recharge the ground water, and we found it was completely dry. People said that they never saw any water in the well because the pipes connected with the wells are jammed.

We went to see other rain water harvesting sites at the roof top of the Mirjamurad police station and the situation was the same there as well. Most of those pipes were either broken or jammed. We talked to a journalist who lived near the police station and few police officers and all of them had the same opinion as the Agriculture Research Institute employees. They also said that the site was started about two years ago and then it stopped working within the next two-three months and no one from Coke ever came to see it.

We talked to people living near the plant, and all of them said that they were suffering with water problems and all of them blamed Coke for this problem. They said that they had never felt any water shortage before Coke had arrived in Mehndiganj. Many people showed us their wells which were completely dry and they showed us their hand pumps which do not work any more. Farmers told us that they buy the water to irrigate the land because their bore wells do not work any more. There are a few rich people who have submersible pumps to get water and they sell the water to poor farmers.

We visited two of the ponds dug by the village committee. They showed us how their ponds are different from Coke’s ponds or rain water harvesting sites. They told us that they have chosen the land that has lime in the soil which filters the water very well. The village committee has connected nearby villages to the pond through pipes and this way all the rainwater will run towards the pond and will recharge the groundwater. It did not seem to me that Coke had done anything like this with their ponds. It seemed that the village committee is doing a great job.

Nandlal Master, President of Lok Samiti, said that Coke had conducted a groundwater testing through an agency called TERI (TATA Environmental Research Institute) and they have also advised that Coke leave Mehndiganj. I also think that Coke should leave Mehndiganj as soon as possible because I have been visiting Mehndiganj for the past three years and I see situation getting worse and worse every time I go there. I am so excited for Michael’s book to be published. I hope that he will also support the struggle of Mehndiganj’s people.

Frustration in villages

I visited my village after being away for ten years and I saw a lot of changes that made me sad. I used to think that Indian villages were still safe but the reality was completely different. I still remember that there was a pond right in front of my village house but this time half of it was covered with clay and other waste. India’s buying power have increased a lot within past fifteen years, and now people like to buy different things but they do not know how to get rid of the waste that comes out of the stuffs we buy.

I don’t blame people for this problem; government has no plan for waste management. All these things are new to India and we do not know about it, so we need to be educated about it. It has been part of Indian culture to throw rubbish outside of the house, but the good thing about past rubbish was that it was made of natural resources. Cows and other animals have also been wandering here and there in India since India has been in existence and these animals used to finish all that trash because our trash was natural, but now our trash is made of plastic and other strange chemicals and definitely they can not finish it anymore.

People living in the villages have also started buying packed products and usually they throw all the waste in the open spaces or ponds or places like that. Same thing happened with the pond in front of my village house. People throw all of their waste in this pond and now half of the pond is almost gone. People do not know how it will affect their lives in the future. I talked about it with the people in the village and nobody took interest in it. They think that it is good to cover the whole pond because there is always water in it and it spawns mosquitoes.

Of course covering the ponds is not a good solution to get rid of the mosquitoes because they could clean it and keep it clean and then the pond will not spawn mosquitoes. I knew that there was a well near that pond and I was very interested in that well because once about fifteen years ago my brother had fallen in it, so I wanted to see it. However when I reached near that spot, I found that there was nothing like a well here, just nothing. There was plain ground. I was wondering how that well disappeared. I asked my cousin about it and he told me that they had covered that well completely.

It was shocking for me. It did not make any sense to me. I just did not understand why they made that decision. I have seen people facing water shortages and I know how important a well could be to recharge ground water, but the sad thing was that people in my village never thought about it because they did not know about it. I also talked about it with people and they told me that this well was useless for them. The first reason was that my brother had fallen in it so they were scared that somebody else could fall in it again and the second reason was that the water was not drinkable anymore.

They could have used a screen so that rain water could pass through it but they decided to cover it completely. I saw each and everyone in the village using plastic somehow in their daily lives and they throw all these plastics somewhere out of the house. They just do not know anything about plastics. It is still not too late for the government to control all these bad things and they can do it by introducing environmental studies and making them compulsory for all students.

Villages are also getting huge problems now. The quality of education has decreased a lot, and actually I would say there is not education at all in the villages. Students just go to schools, pass time by massaging the feet of their teachers and finally get a degree, its true. Finally they go to cities to get jobs and find that they can not have a job because they never learnt anything. They find themselves far away from the city life. They can not socialize, can not make friends…

And when they see girls wearing short skirts it increases their sexual frustration. They also want to have sex but in fact they can not have because they can not get integrated. So finally they reach brothels and since they are not aware of the use of condoms, they contract HIV and all other kinds of dangerous sexually transmitted diseases. When they come back to their village, they pass it to someone else. Young people living in villages like chewing gutka a lot which has become the biggest cause of mouth cancer in India. I noticed that most of the young people were chewing gutka.

People say that a third world war will happen for water, and after seeing things going on in India nowadays, it seems to me that India will be the first country to start this war because we will have largest number of people in the whole world. We have killed all of our rivers, have cut down 80% of the jungles and now we have started killing our ground water. The pesticides that have been banned in Europe and America can be easily found in Indian markets and farmers use them for agricultural purposes because they do not know how harmful those pesticides are.

The Indian government seems to have no control over India, over Indian people or over anything and these things will explode in the future like a nuclear bomb.The whole world is doing research to repair the damage we have done to this planet but India seems to be the only country of the world where we have been destroying the planet for years and it doesn’t seem that it will stop soon. If the environment has anything to do in terms of setting quality of living, then Indians will have the worst quality of living in the whole world within next fifteen-twenty years. I don’t know if the Indian government will ever wake up, but Indians will wake-up someday for sure but by that time it will be too late.

Kolkata

I arrived in Kolkata an hour ago and now at Durbar’s office. I have spent only an hour in Kolkatta and my cream color T-shirt is almost black now. Its fucking polluted city. There is smoke everywhere. It seems like Bengali people like dark colors a lot. Taxis are dark yellow, buses are dark green, buildings look very old, and yea they have trams also. It is not something I was expecting. It seems like I will have so fun here. Forgot to bring the data cable for my camera so will upload pics when I get back home.

Durbar guys are very nice. They all seem like they are welcoming us. They said that conference will start tomorrow so its day off for me. Maybe I will do some touristic activity today.

Rabbit Hole Day 2009

Okay, so today I am going to celebrate The Rabbit Hole Day by writing a post about a matter which I have not used ever. I did not know about this festival. Lane wrote me a mail today explaining about this festival and I thought that I should also celebrate it.I chosenthe monkeys of Mathura city to celebrate this festival. Mathura is the birth place of Krishna and one of the most important holy cities for Hindus. This city is a big attraction for India and foreign tourists. I have been to Mathura four times. I went there first time when I was ten years old and my last trip was four years ago.

This city has huge number of very very smart monkeys. I think they have more monkeys than Benares. Once I was in Mathura with my mother and we were going to some temple through very narrow alleys. I was watching the people, the old houses, the color, the culture, the religion… It was awesome. At the same time someone stopped us and said that we should not carry anything in our hands and take the glasses out because sometimes monkeys can take the stuffs you are having in your hands or just take your glasses and ran away.

I thought that maybe monkeys can catch the things from my hand but why they would like to take my glasses so never took my glasses off. My mother had a purse which she hided but she also did not take her glasses off. We started walking and again somebody told us the same story. Again we did not take it seriously. I think four-five people had told us the same story. They were concerned about our glasses but I never wanted to go blind without my glasses so I did not listen them.

After walking for few minutes my mother shouted- Oh! My Glasses. By the time I turned back and could understand anything, a monkey had taken my mother’s glasses and now he was sitting on a tree. Both of us were laughing and watching this monkey. We had never expected something like that. There are lots of monkeys in my city city also but they never do anything like this. I went under the tree and I was telling monkey to return the glasses but he did not want to return it. He was trying to wear it.

After few minutes a guy came to us and asked if we would like to get the glasses back and obviously we said yes. He said that if we pay him Rs. 100 then he would get the glasses back from the monkey. We asked how would he get the glasses back but he did not want to leak the secret. He said- you just give me money and I will get your glasses back. I bargained with him, as we usually do in Indian market, and agreed with a amount of Rs. 25. I gave him Rs. 25 and he went to a nearby shop and bought garbanzo worth Rs. 2.

I had noticed that monkey was kept watching him. It looked like everything was already planned. He brought the garbanzo and threw it on the tree. The monkey was so smart. He put the glasses safely on a branch of the tree and then caughtthe garbanzo packet. After getting the garbanzo packet, the monkey threw the glasses to this guy but unfortunately he could not catch it and the glasses fell down on the ground and broke. This guy said sorry to us. He said that he tried his best but it did not work. We started walking again towards the temple but now I had taken my glasses off.

We thought to get the glasses repaired and started asking the locals about a glasses shop. When we asked a person he immediately asked us if the monkey had broke our glasses and I said yes. I asked him how did he know about it and he said that there were lots of people who had trained monkeys to do it. I was shocked to hear it. He said that their monkeys always look for people carrying something and then take their stuffs and run away and the owner comes and make deal with the person who lost his stuffs.

We could not get the glasses repaired and my mother had to watch Mathura without her glasses which was very important to her, maybe I can say that her glasses are her eyes. Monkeys are given respect in Hindu society because they belong to the God Hanuman. Baby Hanuman was very naughty. Once Hanuman had swallowed the sun thinking that it was a red fruit. He would also disturb people for fun so maybe these naughty activities are impact of Hanuman:) Anyway whatever it is but I enjoyed whatever happened with us. There was some problem to my mother but its okay, she also enjoyed it. We still talk about it and laugh. HAPPY RABBIT HOLE DAY.

Ganges sewage…

This video is a award winning video on India TV news channel. I sent this video to India TV news channel and it was selected as the best video of the day and I won a color TV. Even though I had to pay twenty-five percent tax and had to make phone calls worth almost a thousand rupee and wait for six months but finally I got the television. I was not expecting for this much trouble but I had to do all the things. Even I had to go to Lucknow and bring the TV to Benares by bus. I used bus becasue I was scared of the police. They are always in the trains and at the railway stations looking for a new customer. If they see you travelling with anything big, new and expensive then they want a party from you. But I did not want to share my happy moments with the people who make others sad.

I made this video with Lane two years ago when he is was in India. We went together to the sewage discharge point in Nagwa and used his camera to make the video.

Security and Sanitation or Satellite?

On 22nd of October, 2008 India launched Chandrayaan, a satellite, tocompile a 3D atlas of the lunar surface and map the distribution of elements and minerals.I am sure these kinds of work costs huge amount of money. Right after one month of this satellite launch India faced the biggest terrorist attack ever. Almost 200 people died and over 350 were injured in this attack.

Our fire department did not have big enough ladders to reach the target, they did not have any special clothing, they were wearing normal cotton clothes, a lot of policemen were killed because they did not have bullet proof jackets, I saw a video of a police man fighting terrorists with his old riffle and terrorist had very advance gun. This all happened because Indian government never thought to spend money on these things.

During Bihar flood this year, thousands of KGsof grains and food packets got rotten only because we did not have helicopters. There were only two helicopters covering whole Bihar. People were dieing of hunger and thirst. There was enough food but we did not have transportation system to bring it to needy people. Again it all happened only because Indian government never thought to spend money on these things.

Sanitation is a big issue for India. People piss on the road because we do not have public toilets, people throw garbage on road because we do not have dust bins, one sweeper is responsible to cleanup the whole neighborhood where more than two-three thousand people live, they discharge untreated sewage directly to the rivers, people also throw the garbage in the river because there is no one to educate them. All these things happens only because government never give priority to these works.

Sending settelites seems like too much show off work to me. I am sure more than 30% of the Indian people can not write the word moon and more than 50% of the people must not be knowing what a settelite is, and more than 97% of the people will not be knowing how Chandrayan will work or what will it do. Indian government has been continously talking about this project since they have started it.

I think we need sanitation, security and education first, and then settelite. I think it will be better to tell the ideas to some rich countries or tell them to fund the whole project or just sell the projects and spend the money where it is needed first. A lot of necessary things are not done in India only becasue of lack of money like we do not have good roads, we do not have enough schools, we do not have good public transport system. Why not spend money on these projects and give better life to Indians.

photo documentary about Ganga

A student from Singpore is staying at my place. She had contacted me through couchsurfing. She just wanted to meet me. But when I saw that she was doing research about Ganga, I asked her if she would be my paying guest. She was also looking for home stay so she decided to rent my apartment. She is making a photo documentary called Son of Ganga which will be about people’s relation with Ganga in Benares. She says that it was her own personal research motivated by her father but when she informed her school about it and asked for leave, her school told her to do it with them.

She wanted to do her research with Sankat Mochan Foundation. She wrote them about twenty days ago but hasn’t got any response yet. I had already talked to her a lot about pollution in Ganga. I took her to a place where sewage is discharged directly, without treating, to the river. She was shocked to see the quantity of the sewer water. She said that she never thought that Ganga was this polluted. When I told her that there were more than 10 places like that in Benares alone, she just could not imagine it.

I showed her another point of sewage discharge near Shivala ghat and Assi ghat. Assi ghat sewage drain has a funny story. The Government spent a lot of money to divert this drain and mix it with Nagwa one so that people don’t see a direct sewage discharge. But now Assi ghat drain has started again. It again has a lot of sewer water that mixes with Ganga in front of people. I never understood why government spent that huge amount of money just to hide it. They could have spent the same money to built a small treatment plant.

There is an another river called Varuna in Varanasi which has become a complete drain now. The Hindi word for drain is ‘nala’ and this river is known as “Varuna Nala” by the locals. I never knew that Varuna River and Varuna Nala are samething. I just came to know about it few days ago. There is a religious walk called Antargrih where people start walking from Manikarnika ghat and cover all of Benares. One part of this walk is to walk along the Varuna River and do some rituals where it mixes with Ganga.

Most of the Muslim neighborhoods and slaughter houses are along the Varuna river. All the animal waste from more than ten-fifteen slaughter houses is dumped directly into the river. There is lots of sewage discharge also. Varuna River is the best place for criminals to throw murdered bodies because nobody wants to walk along this river. So it is not rare to find human bodies as well in this river. And it all mixes with Ganga after seven or eight kilometers.

This walk is sometime this month and I and Nadia have decided to do it. I have heard that people drink the Varuna’s water when it mixes with Ganga. They walk along the river, see all the waste mixing in it, human and animal bodies flowing in the river and a huge quantity of sewage discharge, but they still drink this same water just because of the religious reason. I can not imagine what I will be seeing but I am so excited for it.

Flood in Bihar

Now it seems like situation is completely out of control. More than 4 million people are affected by flood in Bihar and Indian government is doing nothing, just nothing. I saw a lot of people fighting for food, weeping, crying, dead bodies of animals. I had never ever seen such a situation like that before. People don’t have food, they don’t have roof, they don’t have medicines but there is no one to take care of them. People say that it will take at least 4 to 5 months for situation to be normal again, and after that diseases and poverty.

I saw people fighting for a packet of roasted garbanzo in a relief camp. There was more than 50 people fighting for one packet of garbanzo and finally no body could get it, all the garbanzo fell down on ground, people were walking over it and few people were still collecting as much as they could hoping that at least it will keep them alive. Government officers bring a packet of food and find that there are already hundreds of people waiting.

I saw a family who drowned their cow in flood just because they could not feed the cow any more. Being a Indian I could understand the situation when a family kill their cow. First of all they decorated the cow, did puja and then let it go in the flood water and within few minutes it drowned. All the family members were weeping and abusing government.

Indian government is investing huge money on Delhi Metro project, they are preparing for Commonwealth Games 2010, building new stadiums, building new roads which seems like huge investment but they don’t have enough money to save life of 4 million people of Bihar. I think they need to spend the same money on buying resources to save life not to show off by building Delhi Metro and preparing for Commonwealth Games.

Interview with Musahars in the village

Mushahar is a caste of Hindus. I got opportunity to meet and spend sometime with them when I was working for Financial Times in Varanasi. Mushahars are still considered untouchables in the society. Their traditional job is to pick up the long pepper (Pipal) leaves, make bowl of it and sell it to market.

We went to a village of Mushahar community near Mehndiganj, Varanasi. They still live in huts made by clay. Interviewee was a 24 years old married woman whose husband was a rickshaw driver. She had 6 members in the family including her husband, father in law, mother in law and 2 daughters. None of their daughters go to shcool. Her husband makes only Rs. 25 (50 cents USD) per day. No local person wants to sit on his rickshaw because he is a Mushahar.

Mushahar community get some job during the harvest time. They work on other people’s land to cut the grains. It was funny to hear that people eat the grains which got cut by them but they do not sit on the Mushahar’s rickshaw. Even though they work so hard on field during harvest time they don’t get paid in cash. Their wages is 5 Kgs or grains per day. So if they work for 1 month in a year they make 150 Kgs of grains which is worth Rs. 2000 ($50) per year. Their traditional job is good enough to make them happy in their life but since India is going through huge change in society people have adopted plastic bowl now which has put Mushahars in trouble. I don’t see any shop keeper using leaf bowl in big cities. Cities like Benares still have this tradition but it is also changing.

I remember after completing the interview interviewer gave Rs. 500 to interview because he was shocked to hear that their per day income was only 50 cents. We had a local to help us meeting the people and she said us to tell the villagers to divide the money. Then interviewer gave Rs. 500 more and said to distribute the money in whole community. But it became a big issue for them. They all started fighting. Interviewee was not agree to share her Rs. 500 but villagers were telling that her money should also be distributed. She wanted only rest of Rs. 500 to be distributed. Finally we had to run away because they had became so violent.

This Mushahar village where we went to had only hand pump and one well. Since this village was near Coca-Cola plant, they had huge problem of water. Their hand pump and well both gets dried during summer time and no one, who knows that they are Mushahar, let them take water from their resources. So during summer time they have to walk for at least 2-3 Kms to take the water. Since it is women’s responsibility to collect water for family in Indian villages, it makes Mushahar’s life much harder in Mehndiganj.

When we reached there they brought a Khatia (bed kind of thing made of ropes). I wanted Mushahars to sit with me and as I told them they asked my caste. When I said that I am a Bramhan they refused to sit with me on Khatia because they are a different caste.

India-America nuclear deal

Its a big news here about India-America nuclear deal. I dont know exactly about this deal but we often hear about it in media. I wanted to learn about how nuclear power works and it was best opportunity for me to learn with Stephan who was a electric engineer from Switzerland and was staying at my guest house. He said that Switzerland has nuclear power stations which produce huge waste but there is no way to get rid of this waste completely. Switzerland either dig the montains and fill it with waste or throw it in the ocean which sounds terrible.

Indian government is trying hard to get uranium from America to built nuclear power stations in India. Indian government had to face huge problems when they brought this idea of making a deal with America to get uranium. Their supporting parties took support back and the government was about to fall. They had to prove their majority again in parliament. Finally they were able to do it but if this deal is just about polluting our natural resources then we should not think about it. Definately we will have more power which we are in need of but there are other ways also to generate elecricity. We have already destroyed our rivers, jungles, trees, animals and other natural resources and now it sounds like turn of ocean and mountains.

The supporting parties of congress took their support back because they wanted to know about this deal and congress was not agree to tell them everything about it. So it is very much hided that very few people know about it. I tried to look online about it but there was not enough information. I have heard that this deal is about getting uranium from American and let them interfere in our nuclear programs? I am not sure. I dont know what our government wants.