India’s BJP and the Right Wing Nationalist Government of Narenda Modi

In Search of India’s Soul: From Mughals to Modi Episode 1

Directed by Bruno Rosso (Al Jazeera) 2020

Film Review

In this documentary series, writer and journalist Aatish Taseer returns to his country of birth, to investigate increasing vigilante violence by Hindus against Indian Muslims.

India’s current 1.25 billion population breaks down into 1 billion Hindus, 200 million Muslims and 50 million members of other faiths (mainly Sikh, Buddhist and Christian). When India obtained independence from Britain in 1947, it was divided into Pakistan, which adopted Islam as its official religion, and India, remained a secular state. Many Muslims born in British-occupied India emigrated to Pakistan. However many remained.The last three decades has seen the rise of Hindu nationalism, which helped bring right wing Hindu nationalist party BJP and Narenda Modi to power in 2014. Many analysts believe Modi is deliberately stoking anti-Muslim sentiment, just as Trump stoked anti-immigrant and anti-minority sentiment to win votes in the US.

In Part 1, Taseer mainly investigates the vigilante attacks by Hindu nationalists against Muslim cow herdsmen and traders (at present cattle is a big export for India, even though cows are sacred in the Hindu religion). Although numerous Muslims have been killed in the attacks, no perpetrators have been convicted as yet.  When the Congress party recently replaced the BJP in the state of Rajasthan, the new government passed an anti-lynching law and launched an appeal against the acquittal of six Hindu nationalists in a high-profile murder case.

At least half of the film is devoted to Taseer’s efforts to understand the intensity of the anger Hindus feel towards Muslims they have lived alongside for 500 years. Most of the Hindus he interviews blame historical atrocities by Emperor Barbur, founder of the Mughal Empire. He and the sixth Mughul emperor Aurangzeb destroyed many Hindu temples to force Hindus to convert to Islam.

An Indian psychiatrist Taseer interviews a psychiatrist who points out that India was under continuous occupation (first by Mughal and then by the British) between 1526 and 1947.  He blames the ongoing racial hatred on intergenerational trauma stemming from colonization.

COVID-19: Gobbling Up Funding for Fatal Epidemics Such as Malaria, TB and AIDS

Coronavirus or Malaria, Tuberculosis and HIV?

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

Why is a Low Mortality Illness Like COVID-19 Crowding out Treatment for the World’s Most Dangerous Illnesses?

This documentary reports on urgent concerns that COVID 19 “pandemic” management is crowding out prevention, diagnosis and treatment for far more serious illnesses, such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS.

Epidemiologists assert that low cost interventions such as bednets and “residual spraying” (presumably with insecticides?) are extremely effective in preventing malaria in African and Asian countries that experience malaria epidemics during the rainy season. Where the disease is diagnosed early, artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) has an extremely high response rate. Unfortunately due to diversion of Red Cross and other international funding to COVID management,  Africa’s anti-malaria programs have suffered significantly. India, however, is still making good progress in reducing disease prevalence.

Diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis has been similarly affected in the developing world, where, at present approximately 25% of patients diagnosed with HIV are unable to access life-saving anti-retroviral treatment.

 

India, COVID19 and Inequality

India: Under Lockdown

Al Jazeera (2020)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the devastating impact of India’s COVID19 lockdown on millions of the country’s migrant workers. India is experiencing a similar pattern to China, with many rural adults migrating to the city for work – and sending money back home to their families.

When Indian prime minister Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown on March 24, he ordered 1.3 billion residents confined to their homes with four hours notice. The immediate effect was to leave millions of casual workers without jobs and with no means to return to their rural villages.

The filmmakers focus on New Delhi, a city of 20 million. When public transport was shut down, thousands of migrant workers tried to walk home along the freeways. Most were stopped and sent back to the slums. There they live, without soap or running water, in makeshift huts, many made from cotton sheets.

At the time of filming, the government was trying to provide two meals a day (consisting of rice and soup) for millions of stranded migrant workers. However it’s estimated several hundreds of thousands missed out.

In New Delhi, United Sikh Volunteers helped fill the gap by cooking and distributing balanced meals to starving migrant workers. People could ring a hotline to let the Sikh volunteers know where food was needed. Their goal was to reach 10 slums a day.

An even bigger problem than food for poor residents was access to medical care. To keep beds open for COVID19 patients, free public hospitals turned away patients with cancer and other life threatening illnesses.

 

Amazon: Taking Over the Global Economy

The World According to Amazon

Directed by Adrian Anon and Thomas Larfarge

Film Review

In this documentary, filmmakers express grave concerns about Amazon corporation assuming monopoly control over the entire global market place. At present the company has three million customers across five continents. Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos is the world’s first centibillionaire.

Amazon destroys two jobs for every one it creates. Owing the monopoly’s power to undercut all competitors, it is largely responsible for the closure (over 10 years) of 85 small businesses and 35,000 small and medium size manufacturers.

Amazon controls half of online US commerce and leads the market in sales of books, electronics, personal care products, DVDs toys, and clothing (which it also manufactures). It also sells drugs, insurance, video on demand, music streaming, video games, and cloud data storage. I was surprised to learn that 60% of Amazon’s profits derive from its 120 data centers, which host web servers in addition to providing cloud storage.

Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, Whole Foods, and Blue Origin, a private rocket manufacturer and spaceflight services company.

Bezos’ immense wealth affords him immense political power. Last year, he forced Seattle City Council to repeal a $275 per employee tax on the city’s largest companies to fund an emergency housing program.*

Largely thanks to Amazon, which has its headquarters there, Seattle has the highest per capita homeless rate in the US. At present, 1,000 people move to Seattle every week, most to work for Amazon. With no possible way for the city’s housing market to keep up, this pushes many existing residents (who can’t afford 10% year rent increases) onto the streets.

Bezos’ steady takeover of the global marketplace receives little mainstream media attention. The only serious push back he has received has been from striking German unions and from Dehli merchants determined to keep Amazon out of India. Owing to its immense monopoly power, Amazon can afford to operate (for years) at a loss in India. Dehli merchants, who are a major base of support for Narenda Mohdi’s BJP party, are busy organizing national bus tours to warn other small business owners of the risk Amazon poses to their survival.

Unlike Europe, where Amazon faces no major competition, both Flipkart (started by two former Amazon employees) and Paytm (a subsidiary of China’s giant e-commerce platform Alibaba) are both major competitors in India.


*Bezos, who initially agreed to the tax, changed his mind 24 hours after the city council enacted it unanimously.

Anyone with a public library card can see the documentary free on Kanopy. Type “Kanopy” and the name of your library into your search engine to register.

The Politics of Asbestos: Banned in EU, But Not China, Russia, Brazil or US

Deadly Asbestos

DW (2019)

Film Review

This documentary is about the international asbestos industry and its aggressive penetration of developing countries following the EU’s decision to ban it in 1998. The first study linking asbestos to lung cancer and mesothelioma was published in 1964. Asbestos also causes a chronic (eventually fatal) lung condition known as asbestosis. Sadly, as with smoking and lead poisoning, it took decades of sustained organizing to get western governments to acknowledge the fatal health consequences of asbestos exposure. The US enacted a “partial ban” on asbestos in 1989.*

Because mesothelioma can result from a brief single exposure to asbestos fibers, EPA rules regarding asbestos removal from old buildings are far more stringent. In fact, an entire industry has evolved around asbestos removal.**

The filmmakers focus primarily on the Belgian asbestos manufacturer Etex-Eternit (aka Everest) and its expansion into India in the 1990s. India has been a primary industry target of the industry, owing to its lax regulation of asbestos manufacture, use and disposal.

Asbestos sheets are sold widely in India for use as walls and roofs in makeshift shacks. Over 100,000 Indians develop asbestosis annually.

India has more than 50 asbestos manufacturing plants. Filmmakers visit an asbestos factory Everest built in 1995 and sold to an Indian family in 2002. In addition to filming a 600,000 square meter asbestos waste dump, they also visit a makeshift clinic treating thousands of local residents for asbestos-related problems. They also talk with Indian lawyers and activists who are bringing a lawsuit against Everest in Belgium.

The film concludes by looking at World Health Organization efforts to institute a global ban on asbestos. Brazil, China, and Russia, which still mine asbestos, continue to vociferously block the ban.

Last year, the Trump EPA approved new rules that soften regulations against asbestos use in the US.  In response, one Russian asbestos manufacturer now proudly displays features Trump’s image on all their products.


* History of EPA asbestos regulation

  • 1989 Partial Ban on the manufacture, import, processing, and distribution of some asbestos-containing products. EPA also banned new uses of asbestos which prevent new asbestos products from entering the marketplace after August 25, 1989. These uses remain banned. The April 2019 final rule does not provide a way for these uses to return to the marketplace.
  • April 2019 Final Rule to ensure that asbestos products that are no longer on the market cannot return to commerce without the Agency evaluating them and putting in place any necessary restrictions or prohibiting use. The uses covered under this rule were not already prohibited under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and could have returned to the market at any time.
  • Risk evaluation of asbestos under TSCA. EPA is reviewing a handful of very limited, still ongoing uses of asbestos. The evaluation of the risks associated with ongoing uses of asbestos is required under TSCA section 6. If EPA finds unreasonable risk, the Agency will take prompt action to address those risks.

** See https://www.epa.gov/asbestos

 

 

 

The Healing Benefits of Forest Therapy

The Healing Forests of India

Directed by Nitin Das (2019)

Film Review

An exquisitely beautiful documentary about the field of forest therapy – a form of healing is most practiced in India and Japan (which has 50 healing forests).

There are numerous studies demonstrating the calming effect of forests on children. Research from both India and Finland show that holding classes there makes children calmer, helps them focus better and reduces misbehavior and violence. It’s especially effective for kids diagnosed with ADHD.

Research in adults reveals that the forest environment can reduce blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol* levels, inflammation, depression, stress and anxiety. At the same time, it also improves serotonin** levels and immunity. Forest therapy has proved helpful in treating diabetes, hyperthyroidism and addictions. In young people, it helps alleviate depression and anxiety stemming from excessive social media exposure.

It makes perfect sense that people would find forests more inducive to health than overcrowded hyper-polluted cities. As one researcher reminds us, human beings co-evolved over hundreds of thousands of years with forest plants and animals. This means our bodies are programmed to thrive in the presence of other living beings.

The recommended dose of forest therapy is five hours a month.


*Cortisol is a steroid stress hormone.

**Serotonin is a neurotransmitter found in the brain and elsewhere that is believed to mediate mood.

 

Churchill’s War Crimes: The Bengal Famine

The World Today with Tariq Ali – Bengal Shadows

Telasur (2018)

Film Review

This documentary traces the war crime British prime minister Winston Churchill committed in 1943. In it, British historian and activist Tariq Ali introduces and narrates the 2017 documentary Bengal Shadows. His commentary includes priceless quotes from Churchill

. . . on learning of the Bengal famine:

I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The famine is their own fault for breeding like rabbits.

. . .on learning the famine had killed millions:

Then why isn’t Gandhi dead?

The Bengal famine was clearly man made. By early 1942, the Japanese military occupied all of China to the East Bengal border. Fearing they would invade India, British authorities seized and burned all of Bengal’s surplus rice stocks and all their boats, bicycles and bullock carts. They were following a typical scorched earth policy – aimed at preventing the invasion of India.

This meant there was no way to transport grains from inland Bengal, where harvests were good, when a tsunami destroyed the 1942 coastal harvest.

Churchill adamantly refused to provide starving Bengali with food relief. When Australia dispatched ships loaded with food grains, British authorities in Bengal turned them away. Ironically US ships loaded with Australian grain refueled in Bengal en route to troops in the Middle East.

Three million people died in the man made famine. Many of the farmers who planted the bumper 1943 rice crop weren’t alive to harvest it.

Many in India (and modern day Bangladesh) believe the British owe them reparations for the 1943 famine.

 

World Wildlife Fund: Scapegoating Rural Peasants for the Mass Extinction Crisis

Victim of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund)

ZEMBLA (2019)

Film Review

This documentary explores the role of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in driving peasant farmers off their land to expand the Karziranga National Park in Assam India. A lengthy investigation has documented that WWF is arming and training park rangers to expel local peasants (without compensation) for land their families have farmed for generations.

Many are arbitrarily shot and killed (without due process) as alleged poachers. Some victims are merely tortured and released.

WWF, which has arbitrarily identified Third World overpopulation as the major cause of mass species extinction, also runs (with the support of Johnson and Johnson* and USAID**) Indian family planning and sterilization clinics. When the Dutch filmmakers attempt to interview villagers served by the WWF family planning program, they are detained and turned back by police.

The filmmakers blame “Western” (ie colonial) attitudes for WWF’s decision to scapegoat poor peasants – who play no role whatsoever in mass extinction and biodiversity loss. The true culprits are overconsumption and ideologically driven economic growth in industrialized countries.


*USAID (US Agency for International Development) is an “independent” agency of the US government closely associated with CIA and State Department regime change operations.

**Silence of the Pandas is a 2011 documentary about WWF’s close collaboration with Monsanto, palm oil manufacturers and other multinational corporations that are systematically destroying wildlife habitat. See A Classic Case of Greenwashing

Fighting Globalization by Rebuilding Local Economies

White Widows

Directed by David Straub (2019)

Film Review

This documentary concerns work by the Indian-German Peace Foundation to assist rural Indian villages in diversifying their economies. The goal is to make them less vulnerable to exploitation by the global commodities market. The village featured in the film is Dahnoli, which produces cotton. The Foundation is assisting local farmers in constructing a textile facility based on hand looms.

Most of Dahnoli’s current economic problems stem from the introduction, in the 1990s, of Monsanto’s BT resistant cotton seed. Although this genetically engineered seed initially increased yields, over time the cotton plants lost their resistance to BT and other pests and required increasingly heavy application of pesticides. As yields plummeted, farmers sought to return to traditional cotton seed, but it was no longer available.

Owing to the higher costs of patented seed and pesticides, many farmers became indebted to money lenders. Nationwide more than 300,000 farmers committed. Thousands of others have died from pesticide related health problems.

At present 65% of India’s population works in agriculture. When crops fail, many move to the big cities – where a total of 8 million live in slavery.

 

The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for Your Makeup?

The Ugly Face of Beauty: Is Child Labour the Foundation for Your Makeup?

RT (2016)

Film Review

This documentary is about mica mining in the Jharkhand state in India, which produces 60% of the global mica supply. In addition to its use (as glitter) in cosmetics, mica is used to manufacture joint compound (for filling and seams in drywall), drilling fluids (in fracking), plastics, synthetic textiles and as an insulator in the electronics industry.

Although mica mining is technically illegal in India (owing to serious health risks, eg lung cancer and potential mine collapse), mica “processing” is legal and immensely profitable.

Rough 20,000 children (some as young as 3) are employed in mica mining in India. Adults can earn up to $3 per day, with lower caste workers earning less. They sell the mica they mine to processing plants or to the “mica mafia,” which sells it directly to exporters.