Hotel Haifa in Varanasi

Hotel Haifa is located near Assi ghat in Varanasi. They are recommended on several on online travel forum and have really good reputation in the market hence they are usually full. I also used to recommend their hotel but did not know about their strange business policy that they do not allow tourist guides inside their hotel. Actually I an American university ‘s student group was staying at Hotel Haifa and they wanted to meet me. They invited to their hotel and we were talking in the restaurant inside the hotel. Suddenly the owner of the hotel Mr. Ravi Mishra showed up to introduce himself to the group.

After talking with them he asked me how come I was there. I told him that the group had invited me because they wanted to talk with me and he seemed upset hearing this. He told me- Listen, I want to make this clear to you that I do not allow guides and outsiders to enter in my hotel. I was shocked to hear this. He said that he doesn’t allow tourist guides to enter in the hotel and talk with the clients. He asked me not to enter in his hotel again. After talking with me he told the same thing to the group. They were all looking at me with surprised face. They told me sorry for whatever happened.

I was really shocked and felt guilty for whatever happened with me. It was the first time when somebody insulted me. We stopped our meeting and left the hotel. I talked about it with a few people who had already stayed at the Hotel Haifa and one of them told me – The restaurant staff was eager to please, but I felt slightly intimidated by the demeanor of management. They do promote their own tour guides, money changing and travel agent services so that explains what they are doing to you. As an American traveling alone, I liked having one person I could count on and had developed a rapport with leading up to the trip. They want to be the guests’ primary resource or they have touts they want to network with.

I don’t know what to say about this but it is really strange if they do not allow locals or tourist guides to meet with their clients. I think they don’t want their clients to meet with locals so that their clients always hear them and finally they can be cheated easily. I had heard about British prohibiting Dogs and Indians at several places but it all happened in early 1900 and now I see the same thing happening in the 21st century even we are already independent and have our own government. Do you really think that you want to support such hotel by staying there? I am not going to work with anyone whoever stays there.

Coca-Cola Varanasi

I worked with a journalist named Bart Spellers from Holland who was writing an article about the Coke issue in India. He wanted to visit all the disputed Coke sites in India including Mehdiganj, Varanasi and I worked with him in Varanasi as his local assistant and translator. I also look for an opportunity of visiting Mehdiganj and talking with people about their problems created by Coke so I was happy to get this job. I took Bart to Mehdiganj, arranged interviews with Nandlal Master, a few employees, the union leader at the Coke plant, a few women and a few farmers. Bart did not want so many interviews but he wanted to talk with the right kind of people because he did not have much time for Benares.

I was kind of surprised to hear that he did not have much time for his work. He was writing the article on a very controversial subject and I think he should have spent more time in Benares in order to come closer to the fact. Anyways, I think they did good job because they talked with few but the right kind of people. I had an idea but was surprised to talk with the people in Mehndiganj. I was very well aware of the situation but thought it might get better this year but after talking with the people I realized that the situation is still the same as it was four years ago when I went there the first time to work.

All of the people were still angry at Coke and the government. They all said that Coke is responsible for the lack of water in Mehdiganj and the government is doing nothing against Coke. They said that the situation has been getting worse and worse year by year which did not surprise me at all. We had less than average rain last year and I heard that Coke’s market increased within the past year in India which would of course cause more ground water shortage. Nandlal Master said that the committee constituted by the prime minister of India to study the issue has submitted its report to the PMO but has not made it public yet which sounded strange to me.

Why not make the report public since the study has been completed? Nandlal said that he has used a RTI to ask when the report will be given to him and the concerned department replied to him that they have asked the district magistrate to get him the report. It is okay if they are going to provide the report but I still do not understand why they tried to hide it? Why was it not given to the media? After all it is a big issue . So many questions again and the government and Coke both seem suspicious to me. Hopefully someday something will happen, but it is not sure when.

Finally the article is published here:
http://www.depers.nl/buitenland/497352/Coca-Cola-zuigt-de-grond-leeg.html

San Francisco guests at home

I hosted a couple from San Francisco for three weeks at my guest house. They arrived in Varanasi five weeks ago and stayed at a guest house near Assi ghat for two weeks but were not happy there as the bed in their room did not seem comfortable to them. They came to know about my guest house through Megan, my guest, whom they met in a cafeteria. Megan brought them at my place and they liked it and decided to stay here rest of their time in Varanasi. Both of them were physiologists from in San Francisco.

They wanted to learn Hindi and tabla in Varanasi. I introduced them to Indian classical music school next door and Uncle Sam liked them and decided to learn tabla there. Binit, the Hindi teacher, taught them Hindi. They seemed so interested in social work. Actually they were already working with Bal Ashram before coming to my place. Once I took them to Lok Samiti and showed them the work Lok Samiti is doing. I think they were so impressed by Lok Samiti’s work and asked Nandlal Master, president of Lok Samiti, to help him in his work.

Uncle Sam and Auntie Mar were really nice guests. They stayed only for three weeks at my place but we built such a strong relationship between us and I kind of miss them now. Uncle Sam gave me a net book which would be a great help to me as I can use it during power cuts and can carry it with me when I am travel.

Group wedding of 32 poor couples

Chairs for couples

Chairs for couples

Lok Samiti organized a group wedding of 32 poor couples again this year on 10th of May. It was again a huge event where more than 8,000 people were present. I reached there around 1 o’clock afternoon time and saw all the families preparing for the wedding; people were so excited. Lok Samiti had organized this wedding at a Hanuman Temple near Rajatalab, Varanasi. Definitely the temple did not have enough space for that many people so they had organized everything right behind the temple on an open space. They had a tent where there was a well-decorated stage for couples.

Groom swearing to not ask for dowry in future

Groom swearing to not ask for dowry in future

Lok Samiti had also arranged food for the people who had come to attend the wedding. The main idea behind organizing group wedding is stopping dowry and helping poor people get married. Since this wedding is registered and everything is organized by Lok Samiti, the groom’s family could not even think about asking for any dowry to the bride’s family because they sign a document saying that they will never ask for any dowry in the future. I really like this idea. All the couples who had got married under these condition were extremely poor that they could not get married on their own.

Bicycles for grooms

Bicycles for grooms

Lok Samiti gave bicycles to all the grooms and sewing machines to the brides so that they can be self dependent. Actually a lot of people come to Varanasi city area from the villages to work and the idea behind giving bicycles is that these people can use theses bicycles to come to Varanasi and work. The same idea is behind giving sewing machines as well, that the brides could do some sewing work and make some money. A lot of people from different parts of India and abroad had donated money to make this noble event true. I was responsible to bring some foreign donation.

Groom with traditional wedding dress

Groom with traditional wedding dress

Lok Samiti’s members had been collecting donations for the past three months and finally they had collected donations worth Rs. 2,60,000 which included cash, grains, clothes etc. The MP (member of Parliament) from Rajatalab area was the biggest donor who had donated Rs. 66,000 and his wife was second biggest donor who had donated sarees worth Rs. 15,000. The same way several people donated and gifted a lot of different things. I was also told to give something but I could not because of this crazy economy and no work for me. Last year I had donated clocks to all the couples on behalf of Sanjeevani Booti.

The bride

The bride

Lok Samiti had appointed a few people in different villages to see if anybody wanted to get married under group wedding and these people went to all the villagers asking about it. First of all they chose the boys and then told them about the girls who wanted to get married. They introduced their families to each other and fixed the wedding. I heard that some of the couples had come from other districts. All the couples were different ages, some of them seemed over 40 and some of them seemed only 15-16 years old, I am not sure about it but Lok Samiti said that they choose only people who are over 18.

group wedding

group wedding

Lok Samiti had organized the group wedding for 30 couples but at some point it seemed like all 30 couples would not be present there. But at last not only 30, but 32 couples got married. Two of the guests just decided to get married. They chose a bride who was also a guest there and informed Nandlal Master, President of Lok Samiti. Lok Samiti had arranged only 30 chairs, specially designed for weddings, �so they had to bring two normal chairs on the stage and these two other couples also got married.

sindorr box

sindoor box

This group wedding was a little bit different from the usual Hindu wedding. In this wedding couples adorned each other with flower garlands first, grooms put sindoor on the bride’s head, held the�hand with each other (symbol of long lasting relationship), and circled the Hanuman temple seven times instead of the fire. After all these things the families were free to do whatever rituals or other things they wanted. After completing the seven circles, grooms and brides returned to the tent and then families completed other rituals.

looks like over 18?

looks like over 18?

It was really so fun and interesting. This year’s wedding seemed more liberal from the bride’s point of view because all the brides were told to show their faces. In the last year’s wedding all the brides faces were covered with their saree. Although brides had come up on the stage with their faces covered; later Lok Samiti told all the brides to show their faces. It was so fun to see 32 couples getting married same time. My overall experience was nice but there were a few things that I did not understand; like I saw a few brides sleeping. It seemed like they were not interested in being married or maybe getting married doesn’t mean anything to them.

sindoordan

sindoordan

Lok Samiti is planning to organize a group wedding of 51 couples again next year on the 10th of May. Actually they have chosen this date because it is the wedding anniversary of the MP (Member of Parliament) from Rajatalab area. And since he is always the biggest donor and help for this wedding, they have decided that they will organize this wedding again and again on the same date. I am excited for the next year and hope to see all the brides and grooms excited and laughing and awake.

HIV, AIDS education pamphlet distribution

An student from University of Montana, USA had contacted me to volunteer for my organization and for housing at my guest house. I also wanted to start something for sex workers in Benares. I asked him if he would like to help me organizing some kind of program for sex workers. He seemed so much interested in my work. Although we could not do anything for sex workers because of his busy schedule in Benares and some of my unexpected work that I had to accomplish but we still distributed pamphlets during Maha Murkh Sammelan (Biggest fool Conference).

This festival is very very Benares thing and I think it happens only in Benares. It is celebrated every year on 1st of April. This year they had more than 3000 people during that conference. But since Winslow and I were the only people to distribute pamphlets, we thought to target maximum of 200-250 people. We went there, sat on the steps of Rajendra Prasad Ghat and started distributing pamphlets. We had targeted 15 to 45 year old people, but our priority was 15-30 year old. People were not interested in taking pamphlets from my hand but they seemed so interested in Winslow.

Winslow finished his pamphlets first and then I gave him most of my pamphlets also and we distributed almost 150 pamphlets. First of all we distributed pamphlets amongst the people who had come to the festival, and later we just wandered along the river and distributed some more pamphlets to young people. On the 2nd of April, Nandlal Master had organized a program which was inauguration of a water cooler, computer room and sewing machines which were donated by some organizations to Nandlal Master’s organization- Lok Samiti. Water cooler was given by Union Bank of India and other stuffs were given by some organization from south India.

Nandlal had tole me that 600-700 people would come to the program so we had planned to distribute some pamphlets there also. We reached there but unfortunately there were not much young people. They were either under 10 year old kids or over 45-50 year old people. So we better decided to not distribute the pamphlets. But Nandlal has asked me to organize some HIV, AIDS education program for his Kishori centers. Kishori center is a school run by Lok Samiti and ASHA for the girls who are over 13 year of age. There are about 10 Kishori centers and each center has about 50-75 girls.

Winslow’s friend, who had lived in Benares for a year about two years ago, knew the principal of Delhi Public School and had asked Winslow to meet him. Winslow told me about it and I also asked him to ask the school if they would let us organize a HIV, AIDS education workshop at their school. Delhi Public School is a English medium school and is fanciest school of Benares or maybe India’s. I have always wanted to work with English medium schools because their kids seems to be on biggest risk of contracting STDs. They have co-education system but there is no sex education in India.

Its a good opportunity for me to get involved with English medium schools and I am looking forward to it. It seems like Sanjeevani Booti will be busy this summer but there is a huge problem for funding and I don’t know how to solve it.

Hindi or English???

I went to Delhi public school, Varanasi branch yesterday with my friend. His nephew goes there. There was some kind of music festival in the school yesterday. I liked everything there but did not understand why all the kids and teachers were speaking English to each other. All the parents were supposed to meet the warden, but my friend did not want to because his English is not good. He said that even though he speaks Hindi to the school staff but they always talk him in English.

My friend told me to talk to them. I talked to them in English but they spoke to me in Hindi. And finally I had to switch to Hindi. It was second time when I was talking to them in English but they talked to me in Hindi. I had talked to same guy to whom I talked this time about four-five months ago for my friend and he spoke Hindi to me. My friend was wondering why they speak English with him. I think the warden speaks English only to non-English speaking people.

English has become a fashion nowadays in India. A lot of people speak English to each other. A lot of families, maybe 80% of the upper class and 50% of the upper middle class, in the big cities like Delhi and Mumbai have adopted English as their first language. They never speak Hindi. On some television shows where people call and ask questions to some expert, big city people call and speak English. Usually these shows are Hindi shows therefore the host of the show tells these people to ask their questions in Hindi but they say that they don’t know any Hindi.

Now I see people in small cities like Varanasi speaking English to each other; they don’t want to learn speak Hindi. It is impossible to get a good job in India without knowing English, and it is very good for everyone to learn English; but I don’t like the idea of adopting English as the first language. A lot of foreigners come to India to learn Hindi but Indians have started adopting English and English culture. It seems strange to me. What is the need to do this?

Once I was working with Krista, a research scholar from University of California, in Mehndiganj. We went to interview a Coke worker but an American was already interviewing him. So we had to wait until her interview. She had a translator with her who was from Delhi and worked for an NGO called ASHA. She was translating for that American girl and collecting some information for her NGO. She said that her NGO was going to publish a book, and this information would be printed in that book.

I was also there and listening to their interview. She would often speak English to a village guy who did not know any English. She knew very well that the interviewee did not know any English but she was asking questions again and again in English. And the interviewee would just shake his head and it was the answer for her. What could be more stupid than that? I never understood why she was speaking English or to whom she wanted to show that she knew English.

All offices, whether they are government or private sector, have printed their letter pads saying that – They appreciate if you communicate in Hindi. But most of the time they communicate in English. People get their more attention if they have a letter written in English. If they write a letter to some office in English then their work is done quickly. I think offices communicate in Hindi only on Hindi day. Which means there is only one day for Hindi and 364 days for English.

Raj Thakarey- Chief of MNS

Raj Thakre, the chief of a political party called MNS from Maharashtra, protests against Hindi speaking people from U.P. and Bihar living in Maharashtra. His boys beat people who speak Hindi and destroy shops who have stock written in Hindi. They don’t want to anyone to speak Hindi in Maharashtra. They want everyone to speak Marathi. Hundreds of people have been killed in riots in Maharashtra regarding the issue of language. The Government is not doing anything.

There is no problem if they want everyone to speak Marathi, but nobody should have rights to stop people from speaking Hindi in India. Hindi is our national language but it’s a shame that a group of people don’t want Indians to speak Hindi in India. People are getting killed only for speaking Hindi. I think it would be better if they protest against English. It doesn’t make any sense to protest against Hindi in India. The Government supports them because of politics.

MNS guys beating Hindi speaker in Mumbai

They want to separate the Marathi vote. The biggest and strongest party in Maharashtra is Shiv Sena. Basically it is party of Marathi people. The nephew of the chief of Shiv Sena formed his own political party called MNS. This was a good opportunity for Congress to get the Marathi vote split into these two parties headed by the chief of the MNS and Shivsena. And Congress supported him so that he would get more attention and separate the Marathi vote, which would be beneficial for Congress.

Raj Thakare was arrested two-three times but never stayed in jail for more than two days. He was arrested only so that people would think that Congress was doing something. Congress did this so that people living in U.P. and Bihar wouldn’t neglect Congress. I don’t know if this whole drama will increase Congress vote or not, but one thing is sure that our politicians would do anything for getting vote. They don’t care if people are dying or what is going on. They just need votes, and that’s all.

I learnt English to get a job and I never want to speak English to any Hindi speaking person. But a lot of people think that they will be considered as smart if they speak English. I think if language is gone, then the culture is also gone. Language keeps people connected to the culture, and India is good so long as it is India, Indian people are good so long as they are Indian. We can never ever live a better life or develop by adopting English culture.

I think girls want to be more modern and show off a lot. They think if they speak English to a non-English speaking person, they will get more attention. When I hear girls talking to each other, they want to use as many English words as they can. It sounds funny to me. I don’t like Hindi speaking people speaking English to me. I am sure we understand Hindi better and we can make people understand us better if we speak our first language.

It would be a shame for us if we lost Hindi. I don’t know what will happen after ten-twenty years when a lot of people will have adopted English as their first language. If Hindi is gone from India, it means India is gone and Indians are gone.

AIDS survey in Mehdiganj, Varanasi

Lok Samiti had organized a group wedding of 30 couples in Mehdiganj where more than ten thousand people were supposed to come. I was also invited there, so I thought that it would be a good start for Sanjeevni Booti’s work. I discussed about it with Lane and we decided that we would take survey of villagers about awareness of HIV and distribute pamphlets about basic knowledge of AIDS. Lane wrote matter for pamphlet and created questions for survey.

I got two thousand pamphlets and 200 survey sheet printed. I needed few other people to help me taking the survey so I asked my friend Raju, Sonu and Bablu, who are member also of Sanjeevni Booti, to come help me. Sonu got agreed at once but Raju and Bablu were busy with their work. But I needed few people to help me so I offered them their one day’s salary and Raju got agreed with this offer but Bablu still didn’t get agree. Lane paid for everything- pamphlets, survey sheet, traveling expenses etc…

I needed few girls also to take survey of other girls but I could not find one. I asked Nandlal if some of Lok Samiti’s female members could take survey of other females for Sanjeevni Booti, and Nandlal said that he will send two females with me. I reached at the wedding place but unfortunately Lok Samiti females were busy organizing wedding, so we could not take survey of any females. We did survey with over 80 people, and distributed one thousand pamphlets.

I was shocked to hear the answers of the villagers about AIDS. It seemed like they didn’t know anything. Few people told us that AIDS could spread through air, few said that if people make relations more than 5 times a day then they are more likely to get AIDS, few said that AIDS could be easily treated by medicines etc… Nobody knew that AIDS could spread by sharing shaving razor or needles. We asked them if any other NGO had ever met them to talk about AIDS and none of them said yes, it means that they had not talked about AIDS with anyone who can tell them reality.

We have huge number of AIDS cases in India and it is increasing rapidly because sex practices change as people start becoming rich, and our economy is booming rapidly. So I think number STDs would also increase rapidly in near future. I think government should do something otherwise we will have the most cases very soon, because we have huge number of people living in India. I think Indians are very open to new ideas, and use of condoms was never ever a issue for us, so I think we can control this disease easily. We just need to educate people.

Lane wrote the survey report and published it on Sanjeevni Booti’s webiste.

Group Wedding in Varanasi

Lok Samiti organized a group wedding of 30 poor couples in Varanasi. The motive of this group wedding was to give secure future to the brides and promote dowry-free weddings. All the couples were so poor that they could not get married on their own. Usually groom side demands for dowry but nobody was allowed to ask for any dowry in this wedding. There were lots of gifts for both groom and bride but everything was arranged by Lok Samiti and other people who wanted to donate something.

I was also invited by Nandlal Master and was asked to donate something. I thought it could be a good start for my NGO work because about 10,000 people were supposed to come there. I and Lane discussed about it and decided that we would also give some gifts and take survey of villagers about awareness of AIDS. Giving clocks as a gift seemed a good idea to me because it stays for long time and people see them often. Lane was not sure about giving clocks as a gift because of research ethics issues but finally we came up with the same decision to give clocks.

Lane paid for everything- clocks, pamphlets, survey sheet, traveling expenses etc…� I bought 30 clocks and got Sanjeevni Booti’s name printed under glass of it. We packed it and put one pamphlet also in every packet. I asked Raju and Sonu, my friends and member of Sanjeevni Booti, to help me but Raju was busy with his job so I offered him his one day’s pay to come with me and he got agreed with this offer. I still wanted some girls to help taking the survey of other girls during wedding but I could not find one.

It was wedding’s day today and I reached there with Raju and Sonu. I saw Lok Samiti members decorating stage, arranging chairs, working with flowers etc….. They had food arrangement also for over 10,000 people. Lok Samiti had been preparing for this event since past one months. There were more than 10 chefs preparing sweets since past one week. I saw a lot of political leaders, social workers and other general people who wanted to donate something. Wife of Mehndiganj block’s representative had brought 30 Benaresi sarees to give to the brides.

thirty couples getting married together

Lok Samiti members invited to all the grooms and brides on the stage. There were thirty couples supposed to get married but two of them could not come because of some reasons, so only twenty eight got married . They all made garlands wear to each other and� this way formality of getting married was done. After this Nandlal Master came on stage with a paper where all the brides and grooms had to sign, actually most of them were uneducated so they just put their thumb on paper. Nandlal read the document first on mike, and then grooms and brides signed it.

Grooms and brides had to swear on mike that they would never fight to each other, they would always live together, grooms will never ever ask for any dowry and if they do any of those things then Lok Samiti would go through legal channel against them. After this all the grooms and brides moved to a nearby Shiva temple. They had music and family was dancing all the way from wedding place to the temple. In Hindu weddings bride and groom take round of fire seven times. It is said that Lord Fire becomes evidence of the wedding, but here there was no fire, they took round of Shiva temple and Shiva became evidence of the marriage.

After this wedding part was over and now it was people’s turn to give the gifts to the couples. I had brought clocks so I gave it to the them. I went on stage with Raju, Sonu and my driver and we all distributed� the clocks together to the couples. Few people gave sarees, watches, pots and other gift items. Lok Samiti gave one sewing machine to every bride and one bicycle to every groom. They say that bicycles and sewing machines will help brides and grooms to make some money on their own in the future. I liked this idea. Amanda, my American friend, also gave a sewing machine and two boxes of refined oil.

It was fun to see 30 couples getting married at same time, on the same stage. One thing was interesting to

She was not excited for her marriage

She was not excited for her marriage

me that I saw three brides sleeping on stage, it seemed like they were excited for their marriage. Nandlal Master told me that they will continue organizing this kind of gruop weddings in future also. They are planning to get 51 couples married next year. I liked the way Lok Samiti got those couples married. Since everything was done on paper, I think groom side will not ask for any dowry or disturb brides in the future.

Mehdiganj Conference 30/03/08

It was last day of conference and protest day in Mehndiganj and we wanted to cover it as much as we could. As we reached near the conference place, I saw more than 10 cops sitting there. I had seen the video of protest in the year 2006 when Police bate protesters hard. I was a bit sacred to see them but I knew they couldn’t do it again because everything was covered on camera and Police had to answer the court for beating people.

We wanted to interview few people who were from out of Varanasi. Amanda was interested inactivists from Kaladera, Rajasthan. There is a Coke plant in Kaladeraalso andhave created same problem as Mehndiganj. We interviewed a activist named Mr. Kudi ji who runs movement against Coke in Kaladera. He was very niceand honest person. He told usabout the problem in Kaladera. He told us that they had verygood qualitywater before Coke but now it is very bad.Ithas sour taste and bad smell. TERI (Tata Energy Research Institute) have alsosuggested Coke to leave Kaladera.

He had two other activists with him who were wearing Rajasthani turban.I had heard a lot about length of Rajasthaniturban. I wanted to see someone wearing it.Ihad heard that it could be made of up to 15 meters long cloth. I toldthem to tie their turban. I was shocked to see the length, it was 11 meters long. Amanda and me couldn’t believe it.

After interviewing him, we interviewed a guy from a laboratory based inChandauli district that had done some researchat Coke’s rain water harvesting sites. He told us that he went to several rain water harvestingsites of Coke but no one was working properly. He said that most of the water filter compounds were stuffed withbricks. Coke says that they are trying to balance the ground water by rain water harvesting but hesaid that if there is no rain how Coke could do it. I agree with him. We have less rain sincepast5 years. His ideas were different. He thinks that we should try to bring rain, which is possible by only planting huge number of trees.

Mehdiganj Conference 29/03/08

On the 29th we moved to Mehndiganj around 12’o clock. I was so excited for Medha Patekar. When I reached there, I found Regional Pollution Control officer giving speech. I was shocked to see him. I just couldn’t believe it. He is anti Lok Samiti guy. I had interviewed him 2-3 times with other researchers and he was always so rude with us. I remember once he got mad on us while interviewing him and told me to don’t come again to his office. But his speech seemed so nice, he was talking in favor of Lok Samiti. He said ” I am here because I care about environment, and I am so happy to see that other people also think about it. Usually I am so busy but when Nandlal invited me for this conference I couldn’t stop myself by coming here. ” I knew that everything was a lie.

I asked Nandlal about how he was there. Nandlal said that he went to his office to invite him but he was not agree to come. Then Nandlal told him that if he would not come, he should be ready to face the result. It was funny. During this time Medha Patekar came in conference. She was sitting next to me. She was so simple dressed. Regional pollution control officer wanted to meet Medha Patekar. He contacted Nandlal and Nandlal got him meet to Medha Patekar.

Regional pollution control officer came and touched her feet. Then Medha Patekar asked him about the water and pollution condition in Mehndiganj and he said “water level is decreasing in Mehndiganj.” Then Medha Patekar asked why it is decreasing in Mehndiganj? Then Pollution control officer replied because of less rain. Then Medha Patekar asked if Coca-Cola is doing any damage? He said “NO”. It was funny to hear him saying “NO”. Everybody knows that less rain is the biggest problem in Mehndiganj but we cant say that Coke is not responsible. We don’t have any control over rain but we can control Coke.

While Medha Patekar was talking her, other social activists also jumped at him. Everybody was asking him about pollution level and he was trying to satisfy them but hecouldn’t do it. He was like a goat with 10-15 other lions. He was sweating a lot. He had brought some official documents to show to Nandlal and Medha Patekar. He showed a letter written by Coca-Cola to state pollution control board, Lucknow requesting them to renew their license of waste disposals. That letter was written in July last year.

That officer said that government had not renewed the license yet. As social workers heard it, they all jumped on him. Coke was not supposed to operate the plant even for one day without that license but the plant had operated several times after July. It was a new issue for social activists. They wanted a copy of that document but officer didn’t want to give it to them. Somehow while watching the document Nandlal went to market and got it xeroxed. I also got copies of those documents.

The officer invited Nandlal and other social workers to his office in Varanasi to discuss about the situation and he promissed that help them as much as he can. I know he would not help Nandlal or his organization.
After he left, we went for lunch. After the lunch it was Medha Patekar’s turn to hold the mike. She was something, she was a true lady, very strong. She could make others do what she wants them to do. She had very practical ideas. I liked her speech a lot.

She talked about situation in other states also. She was notonly against bad companies, but she was talking against government policies also. She said about a story from Chattisgarh state where state government had sold a part of river to some private bottling company and that company covered that part of the river with ropes and hanged a board saying that “this river is property of the company andno individual is allowed to use the water of this river without company’s permission.”

It created a huge problem for the people who live along the bank of the river. Sheis still fighting against that issue . After her amazing speech, 29th was over. It was amazing day in Mehndiganj. I heard Medha Patekar and other social workers. I saw Regional pollution control officer sweating. Amanda talked to Sandeep Pandey, Medha Patekar and Amit Srivastava also. It was incredible day in Mehndiganj.