In solidarity

The cover story 'Facing a silent spring...', (Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 13), about its editor Anil Agarwal's personal tryst with the consequences of environmental devastation, has elicited numerous responses. Although a selected few are published here, all unanimously convey a sense of indignation at the deteriorating state of the country's environment and call for action, for an expression of solidarity

Published: Saturday 15 February 1997

"your well-documented account of the circumstances which led to your contracting Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma was moving. It is particularly sad that you should be the one affected as you have been in the forefront of the environment movement and have opened our eyes with reference to the damage we are causing to our surroundings and thereby to the health, livelihoods and food security of the generations yet to be born.

"I feel equally sad that despite the availability of overwhelming scientific evidence on the health hazards associated with pesticides, our government still encourages their use, ostensibly for the purpose of malaria control. Indonesia made integrated pest management mandatory more than 10 years ago and this has had very beneficial effects on that country's health and crop security. Although scientists of the Malaria Research Institute -- of the Indian Council of Medical Research -- have standardised bioenvironmental management technology for the control of malaria, the health ministry persists with its 'business-as-usual' approach. I hope your narration of what is in store for us Indians, if we persist on this course, will make us think afresh about these problems. The present trends in mosquito and pest control are harming the health of the nation and our trade in agricultural commodities. I am grateful to you for trying to convert your personal tragedy into an opportunity for us to move in the right direction."

M S Swaminathan, chairperson,
M S Swaminathan Research Foundation, Chennai

"Your article was highly informative and enlightening. More than that it gives us the good news that you are out of danger. Not only have you presented facts on environmental pollution -- particularly the reckless production and use of dangerous pesticides -- and its relation to cancer, but have also invited and published the comments of some eminent people on the subject.

"What is amazing is the hypocrisy of people. Those who have access to power have appreciated your concerns but have not indicated the action they would like to take to improve the situation. For instance, Madhu Dandavate blames multinational corporations and expects non-governmental organisations to be more vigilant. He has not a word to say about what the government and the Planning Commission would do. S K Sinha of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (icar) also blames commercialisation and trade and wants sincere and committed scientists to speak out plain facts and educate our politicians, without mentioning a word about what the icar itself would do to prevent the use of harmful insecticides. Y K Alagh also uses good language to camouflage his own responsibility towards solving the problem. As for Abid Hussain, I do not know if he has anything to do with the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute, but whatever you have reproduced of his comments does not indicate how he is going to use his eminence in public life to contain the hazardous environment of the country.

"Insecticides and other polluting agents are a menace, but perhaps the greater problems are people like Madhu Dandavate and Alagh who understand and acknowledge these issues but would not tell us how they could use their position to undo this misfortune. Wish you good health."

Anil C Shah, chairperson,
Development Support Centre, Ahmedabad

"Your poignant article in Down To Earth -- in which you have so candidly described your own illness -- has attracted wide attention. Many have spoken to me about it with admiration. I have no doubt that under your dynamic leadership the Centre for Science and Environment will scale greater heights."

V Ramalingaswami, national research professor,
All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi

"I have nothing but admiration for the extraordinary courage and poise with which you have coped with the dreadful disease and managed to keep up a high level of professional activity. One can see the fusion of your intense concern for environmental degradation with the emotional trauma of your personal experience with the illness, in the article. However, at an intellectual level, the nature of the evidence regarding pollution of various kinds and its links with the disease seem rather patchy and thin to me. Perhaps I am being unduly cautious. It is this tension between my emotional and intellectual response to the piece that kept me from replying to the letter from your journal asking for reactions to your article on the serious and mounting health hazards arising from pollution."

A Vaidyanathan, professor emeritus,
Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai

"I congratulate you for your fine article, the type of which has not appeared in the print media so far. No scientist dealing with this subject has made any attempt to educate the public about it. I am familiar with your works which have been compulsory in my classroom for nearly two decades. How I wish your spirit was emulated to even a small extent. Best wishes for your health and the good work being done by you."

C B S R Sharma,
Salim Ali School of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University, Pondicherry

"I entirely agree with you that it is necessary to bring back a balance between the environment and development. In fact, all of us have to work towards that objective and I shall welcome suggestions from friends like you for achieving the objective."

Madhu Dandavate,
Deputy chairperson, Planning Commission

"Ever since I heard of your being stricken by cancer, I prayed that you would fight it and continue your mission. Each time I saw your editorial in the magazine, I could only admire your undaunted will.

"Just a month ago I realised I had breast cancer. I had just recovered from radical mastectomy when I received the issue with the article 'My story today, your story tomorrow'. The reality of environmental degradation is a nightmare which we have to face and do something about right away. The surgery performed on me was easy and painless. But now, after having undergone a couple of chemotherapy sessions, I have been told to watch my blood count and will probably lose my hair. I feel squeamish for three days after each dose. It makes me wonder if the cure is worse than the disease.

"Certain causes of cancer have been highlighted in your article and you rightly point out that we should fight to eradicate the same. These causes, however, are linked to the technologies that propose the cure for the disease. While we advocate the need for a clean environment, we seem to be getting more and more hooked to high tech. Peoples' movements have been asking for a complete halt to modern development. Many of the fisherfolk I work with would be permanently in debt if they were to undergo modern medical treatment. Don't you think we should begin questioning the cure as well as the cause of cancer?"

Malini Nayak,

"I congratulate you for both the following pieces 'Smog Inc' (Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 12) and 'Facing a silent spring'. Both are lucid and hard-hitting. As I travel across the country, I notice that the environmental conditions of the small towns and cities are abominable. There is neither any planning nor any infrastructural investment or a concerned citizenry in these urban areas. Once upon a time it used to be a pleasure visiting places like Dehra Dun, Hoshangabad, Jabalpur or Ranchi... you can add your own names to the list. Now, most of these are at best a cross between Chandni Chowk and Shahdara (congested and squalid localities in Delhi). Yet, very little information has been generated on the state of the country's smaller cities."

Ravi Chopra,
People's Science Institute, Dehra Dun

"The article was shocking. Your's is a unique voice which, for about a decade and a half, has been calling upon the people of the country to become aware of their own imprudence. Down To Earth is a unique fortnightly, something many of us value and are eager to receive twice every month. You have been courageous, to say the least.

"The article concludes with the hope that no fellow citizen suffers the same fate and that Indian society could one day force its misguided government to come to its senses. In my opinion, this is quite a tall order and I would be rather pessimistic about achieving it because we know what can be done to improve the situation; laws exist to book a polluter and there are funds available to implement solutions, but... where is the will to do so? The deep-rooted rot that exists needs reorientation and rejuvenation of a fundamental kind."

A R Maslekar, former principal
Chief conservator of forests (Maharashtra), Pune

"We have met professionally but never otherwise. I admire the person in you. My mother died of cancer two years ago. This is something I had written to her when she was still with me and I would like to share it with you - What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls the butterfly."

Nandini Rajwade, Concern India Foundation

"I have known about your illness for some time and knew that you were undergoing treatment in the us. I was pleased to read about your recovery and brave fight against cancer. The article was very informative. A problem that I have observed in the treatment of cancer is that some patients contract hepatitis while undergoing chemotherapy. Therefore, even if they are cured of cancer, many develop hepatitis which ultimately becomes cirrhosis (a chronic fatal illness affecting the liver), in the long run. It is high time the issue got highlighted by your magazine.

"I wish you the best for your continued well-being. Down To Earth has turned out to be one of the finest magazines of its kind in the country and I enjoy reading it."

V Raina, additional professor of medical oncology,
All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi

"Just a line to say how impressed and moved I have been to read the issue in which you have shared your experience and agony with your readers in such a remarkable and practical gesture of concern and commitment. May the new year be one of renewed health and peace for you - a peace which I know can only come for you. A responsibility has been placed upon all of us, to try in our own ways to emulate your example. Tough, but essential."

Ashoke Chatterji, National Institute of Design,

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