For those ensnared

Published: Tuesday 30 November 2004

-- Behind the Glitter directed by Saraswati Karula 2004 Video CD 45 minutes

Behind the glitter of alexandrite lies a web of deceit, corruption, and tragedy: this is the stark message of Saraswati Karula's 45-minute documentary. The film explores the human costs behind trade in alexandrite, an expensive gemstone recently discovered near Narsipatnam in a corner of Andhra Pradesh, and in high demand in America and Europe. Karula interweaves interviews with villagers, local journalists and merchants, with shots of a countryside ravaged by illegal mining activities. In face of drought and failing agriculture, the comparative wealth offered by the merchants ensnares frustrated local youth. The consequences are bitter gang warfare, a destructive imbalance in the local economy, mud-filled waters and a once fertile landscape transformed into a barren mud bank. Varnala Lakshmi, a resident, despairs: "They have destroyed our forests. Where will my children find wood now?"

There is also a seedier shadow behind the glitz. As a local journalist explains, the ready cash of outside merchants has drawn local women into prostitution. Karula interviews one sex-worker who earns Rs 300 an hour, a steep and tragically enticing increase from the Rs 30 per day wage paid to local agricultural workers. As miners bedazzled by their recent wealth queue up to enjoy these 'perks', a local doctor reveals the tragic results: hiv counts have rocketed. Karala's final message is clear: unless local governments -- who up to now have turned a blind eye -- clean up their act and come down on this illegal trade, it will continue to corrupt this once sustainable rural community.

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