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

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.

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.

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.

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.

Stupid Coca-Cola manager

Once were passing by Coke’s plant in Mehndiganj and saw one house just next to it. My researcher friend was very much interested in interviewing someone near the plant so she told me to ask people if they would permit us to interview them. We were right in front of Coke plant and as I got off the taxi I saw few security guards at the plant gate. They saw me and went inside the plant but I never thought about why then went inside the plant after watching me.

I found one old person in that house who wanted to be interviewed because he was really in deep trouble. I called my friend to come and at the same time I saw the same security guards watching me from roof of the plant. They were standing there and watching me and as they saw a white girl coming towards me then immediately they went downstairs. I thought they just wanted to see what I was doing there.

After five minutes a car came from opposite direction of the plant and one very well dressed guy came to us with 4-5 security guards. He said that he was regional manager of Amar Ujala, leading news paper of India, and doing some research about Coke issue for his next article. He showed me his id card also which was issued by Amar Ujala and after watching this I became sure that he was from Amar Ujala.

He asked my friend about her research and offered to work together. My friend was so happy to meet a Indian researcher who was interested in same subject as her. They both shared contact details of each other. At the same time our interviewee was abusing Coke a lot. He said that he used to be a land lord before Coke came to his area but after Coke he could not grow enough crops even for his family.

Amar Ujala guy said that Coke provides a lot of job to locals but interviewee was not agree with it. He said that his son was a graduate but he had no job so Amar Ujala guy gave him a written paper and said to contact Coke manager with that paper to get job for his son. He said that Coke’s manager was his very good friend. Our interviewee was so happy hoping that his son will have a job tomorrow.

After a while he left and we also completed interview and left. Then we contacted Mr. Nandlal Master to inform him about it and he said that Amar Ujala guy was not Amar Ujala employee but he was the Coke’s area manager. It was shocking for me, I was little scared because they were asking about me to my driver and I had already watched some videos of protest against Coke where bribed police was beating people. I didn’t understand why he told us a lie.

We also did our research and found that he was really Coke’s area manager. His name was Mr. Amit Sinha. He used to be regional manager of Amar Ujala but left the job few months ago and now he was Coke’s employee. The id card that he showed was issued by Amar Ujala when he was working for them but he never returned it.

He called my friend again evening time and asked to meet her tomorrow and they fixed the appointment. He again called night time and this time he was so rude talking to her. He was telling my friend to come and stay with him at his place that night but my friend said that she would feel better if she meets him in any restaurant. Then he said that they will have fun whole night if she stays with him and again my friend said no. But he was kept asking her to come, have drink and fun.

My friend said that she was married and did not want to stay with him and then he said that her husband was not watching her so why not stay with him and have some fun. After hearing this my friend started shouting at him and he hanged up the call. She was so disturbed, I had never ever hoped for this kind of behaviour from a Coke manager.

After this everybody started pressing me and my friend to lodge a complaint against him. But she was not comfortable doing it because she was worried about her name to be public. Mr. Nandlal Master contacted Amar Ujala also and they were also wanted to lodge a case against him for using their name but they wanted a written complaint from my friend which she didn’t want to do.

After few days we visited Coke’s plant after special permission from Coke US and I found his name in the employees list. Everybody was trying to butter up my friend, they took her to all their near by rain water harvesting sites, they had sent over 5 people with her. We visited their three rain water harvesting sites and none of them were near the plant, the nearest one was about 8 KMs away.

After few days Coke’s manager started contacted Mr. Nandlal Master offering some money to get everything settled but obviously Nandlal Master didn’t except it. It was more than 15 days of drama, everybody was contacting me to tell my friend to lodge complaint against Mr. Sinha but she was not agree. Finally she left India hoping that Coke’s manager will be fired someday because all the Coke officers knew about it. But he is still Coke’s area manager.

Because of the privacy, I have not used her name in any of the posts related to her work.

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.

Mehdiganj Conference 28/03/08

I hired my auto rickshaw driver to take us to Mehndiganj. We went to Mehndiganj on 28th of March. We reached there and saw that there was a big conference going on. There were more than 500 people attending the conference. Amanda was shocked to see that number of people. When we reached, there was a musical group presenting folk songs regarding Coke issue. I had already seen them a lot of times and always liked their songs. Ienjoyed them. It was too noisy there but I liked everything. Lok Samiti was to inaugurate a pond in Mehndiganj. There were no famous people when I reached there, everybody was at inauguration function of pond which was about 2 Kms away from conference place. We went there and found that Nandlal Master, Sandeep Pandey and other social workers were distributing sweets to villagers. The pond had already been inaugurated. I missed it but took lots of pictures.
I met Anurag who was Sandeep Pandey’scousin and working with ASHA. He was so interested in people. He wanted to talk everyone. I met Mr. Rajiv who was from New Jersey. He was also very nice man. He was also a member of ASHA. Amanda wanted to interview few people but it was too noisy there so we decided to record the speeches and not interview anyone that day.

Lok Samiti had arranged lunch for everyone. We had lunch with 1000 other people. Everybody was trying to feed Amanda and Dave hard. I don’t know if Amanda likes Indian food or not but Dave was in love with India. He finished all his food but Amanda left the food as she always does. After the lunch we came back to conference place again.

It was Dave’s turn now. He gave a big speech. Anurag was translating his speech. I know he didn’t do a good job but it was OK. Dave talked about a river in the U.S. that got fired because of heavy pollution. It immediately made me remember about Ganga’s future. I don’tknow what is going to happen with Ganga. Well, I liked Dave’s speech. He told about importance of wetlands and government’s role in preventing the environment. He thinks that government should come forward. I agree with him. He was so nice.

After Dave’s speech a lot of other social workers gave speeches and everybody was so nice. One of them was from south India. When he came to hold mike, his first wording was ” I couldn’t speak Hindi because I am from south India. I would give my speech in English and need a translator.” I thought he really didn’t know Hindi. He started giving his speech in English and one translator started translating his speech but he was not happy with translator’s job. Then he started speaking Hindi and if I know Hindi then I must say that he spoke perfect Hindi. There was no problem with his Hindi. I don’t know why he wanted to give his speech in English where 99% of the people were villagers who don’t understand a single word of English. I think he was targeting foreigners, who were in number of 7-8, as his listeners.

As I wrote about literacy in villagers of Mehndiganj, it made me remind about 7 months ago when I was in Mehndiganj working with a student from University of London. We were there to interview Nandlal and fortunately there was some cultural program organized by Lok Samiti that day in village. There were more than 500 people in that program, we were sitting with other villagers. Suddenly Nandlal went on stage and invited my friend to light up the candle and start the program.Nandlalsaid that we have a very special guest from London.

As my friend moved towards the stage, all the people started talking about him. I heard two people talking each other about where London was situated. One of them asked other “Is it far away from Lucknow? Another one replied “What are you talking about. London is near Delhi.” Bothhad already been to Delhi so one of them told other that “I have heard that London is at other side side of a ocean but we didn’t see any ocean while we were going to Delhi” His friend replied that “All the oceans are after Delhi.”

I just mean to say that most of the people in Mehndiganj are uneducated and don’t know anything about what is going on besides of Mehndiganj and that social worker was trying to speak in English. If he was targeting western listeners then it was his very big mistake. He was there to help Mehndiganj’s people not to interact foreigners. Then there was a folk song show again. After it 28th conference was over and we came back to home.