Endosulfan is an off-patent organochlorine insecticide and acaricide that is being phased out .. This inspired protests, and the pesticide was banned in Kerala as early as , following a report by the National Institute of Occupational Health. British photographer Beatriz Lopez and Peter Caton visit Kasargod district in north Kerala, whose residents have been plagued by the spraying. The nodal medical officer of Kasargod district, who played a key role in Kerala’s campaign against the pesticide endosulfan, refuses to answer.
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British photographer Peter Caton and Beatriz Lopez visit Kasargod district in north Kerala, whose residents have been plagued by the spraying of endosulfan pesticide, the use of which was recently banned by the Supreme Court of India. From families completely breaking down to pushing innocents into the dark well of irrecoverable diseases, the endosulfan menace has often been described as equally devastating as the Bhopal gas tragedy.
A panorama of rolling hills distinguishes the landscape of Kasargod, a northern district of Kerala. With fertile land and an abundance of water, the cashew industry once flourished amid dense vegetation, red earth and coconut palms. These forested valleys are home to rural communities still living off the land, such as Mamatha’s family, who collect betel-nuts as their main source of income. The household of six adult siblings and their elderly father live in a small, overcrowded cottage, which they may have to sell to fund a series of operations that will remove the tumour distorting Mamatha’s face.
Mamatha is a confirmed endosulfan poisoning victim. E ndosulfan, an organochlorine insecticide, acts as a contact poison for a wide variety of insects and mites and has been used extensively worldwide on food crops like tea, fruits, vegetables and grains.
Famed for its capacity to increase agricultural productivity, endosulfan has been officially banned in Kerala for 10 years. For a period of 25 years that led to the state ban, indiscriminate aerial spraying of cashew plantations contaminated the soil, water sources, wildlife and the communities of the Kasaragod district.
Already banned in over 80 countries, represented governments agreed on a worldwide ban at the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants last April. The India government delegation contested the otherwise unanimous consensus. Facing huge financial losses due to the nation’s agricultural industry’s heavy reliance on endosulfan, an year phaseout period with financial support was negotiated; giving government-appointed scientists time to develop a cost-effective, alternative pest control.
The people of Kerala are leading the social and political front in demanding a permanent national ban in the wake of a correlation with adverse health reactions, including cancer, congenital malformations, mental retardation, reproductive disorders, infertility and neurological disorders affecting several generations within the Kasaragod district. M anufacturing and usage of endosulfan in India has recently come to a complete halt.
Chief Justice Sarosh Homi Kapadia of the Supreme Court imposed an eight-week national blanket ban, demanding an expert committee — formed by the Indian Council of Medical Research and agriculture commissioner — submit a conclusive study to determine the toxicity of endosulfan before it can be lifted. For the Aboobekar family, the geno-neurotoxic pesticide has crippled the lives of four brothers; all born mentally retarded with slow motor skills and a disfiguring mouth malformation.
Brothers Abdul and Ahmad, aged 20 and 25, both attend a community-run school for mentally challenged endosulfan victims called ‘Bud’. First of its kind in Kasaragod, the panchayat-run initiative highlights the problem’s severity. In a class of approximately 25 attendees, the brothers can expect the company of up to 10 neighbours ranging from ages 3 to Mrs Aboobekar remembers when the community still lived in thatched houses.
Locals would fetch firewood from the fields and water from exposed wells, their skin often coming into contact with endosulfan. U nion Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar recently announced that there is lack of evidence to prove the negative impact on humans and denied anti-endosulfan protest from any state governments other than Kerala and neighbouring Karnataka.
Kerala was the only state where endosulfan was aerially sprayed, an approach not scientifically investigated at the time. Leelakumari Amma battled the plantation corporation to the high court in and played a key role in having endosulfan banned in Kerala. Employed as an agronomist by the agricultural department of her local panchayat, she observed an abnormal amount of illnesses in the community, which triggered her suspicion of chemical poisoning.
Children walked through the fields. There were no butterflies; there were no birds; so it was concrete evidence for my suspicions. She filed a petition after her numerous letters of concern to the plantation corporation were ignored. Leelakumari claims she was harassed by ,erala management of the plantation corporation at her home. She also received keeala derogatory letters and death threats. The decision for a ban was reached on October 18,and put into practice by A year to the day of the victory, she was struck by a truck in a head-on collision that has left her with long term injuries.
She suspects foul play. T he extent of negligence from the plantation corporation Central government owned is unclear, with innumerable stories ranging from disregarding health and safety protocol to allegations of intimidation by stoory towards activists that supported the state ban in Kerala. Dr Kumar, an activist associated with Pesticide Action Network, also accuses the plantation corporation of harassment and false allegations that he had ‘vested interests’.
According to studies published in by the National Institute of Occupational Health, a lethal concentration of endosulfan residue was found in human blood samples. The samples were taken from Padre village where Dr Kumar’s medical practice resides; fuelling a debate among scientists over the authenticity of the data.
Dr Kumar attributes the alarming number of chronic conditions within the local population to be directly linked with the geography of Padre village, which is nestled in a bowl-shaped valley and surrounded by hills covered in cashew plantations. They originate in the plantations.
A chuthan Manniyeni, a former employee of the plantation corporation, agrees with Dr Kumar’s accusation. He claims corners were cut by not following proper health and safety protocol for the employees, communities and environment. Achuthan was one of the six employees who prepared the pesticide envosulfan spraying in his area. The concrete mixing tub was located keralz a cashew field several meters from one of the district’s water basins, which was not covered properly during the aerial spraying.
Envosulfan was also common practice to dump empty endosulfan cans in a nearby well. Gloves, soap and towel provisions were not supplied to the employees according to Achuthan, who suspects that the management instead pocketed the allowance. Furthermore, he claims endosulfan stock was freely handed to local farmers after the ban was imposed on Kerala, and that one of his colleagues was contracted to bury containers on a endosulfn mountain in order to get rid of excessive stock.
The exact location is unknown as all of his five colleagues have since died from symptoms associated with endosulfan poisoning. L ocal cashew farmer Ashraf disagrees that endosulfan is hazardous to human life, citing his own health as an example. He blames keralaa causes for the ailments people have been suffering.
An increase of insects can also be harmful to the people. His business partner Mohammad says, “They say endosulfan envosulfan harmed a lot of people, but when stpry look at the economic side it is a pathetic situation. He recalls that when the cashew crops were treated with endosulfan, farmers collected an average of kilos per day.
Untreated, they collect 15 to 30 kilos per day. Until recently, endosulfan manufactured in India constitutes 70 per cent of the global market, with its total exports valued at about Rs crore. Since the Green Revolution in India, agriculture has become a big export.
India ranks second worldwide in farm output with almost 30 per cent of its booming economy coming from agriculture.
Without a total ban in India, smuggling across borders into Kerala has proved difficult to contain. With the eight-week temporary national ban, reports from different states are beginning to emerge, particularly from Orissa where the chemical is said to be openly available in the state capital and in Madhya Pradesh where stock is being sold at a premium rate of Rs instead of Rs per sttory.
R umours of farmers hoarding stock are circulating as the monsoon crop season is about to commence. Endosulfan, an off-patent product, is cheaper than any other patented pesticides endozulfan the market.
Meanwhile, people neighbouring or living within the predominantly national government owned cashew plantations continue to suffer the consequences of what had became a highly profitable industry; satisfying the demand of western palates at supermarket prices.
Endosulfan Industry’s Dirty War – A Chronology of events
In the latest ‘ Progress of Rehabilitation of Endosulfan in Kerala ‘ report, Dr Asheel’s compiled data for the ‘Department of Health and Family Welfare of Kerala’ records 4, confirmed endosulfan poisoned victims and over deaths to date. The poisoning effects are diverse endosylfan devastating for the victims, their families and the wider community. In Karadka endoulfan, Abhilash Bhat — a year-old boy — rolls around with difficulty on a floor mat at home. One of thousands of endosulfan pesticide victims, his head weighs 20kg, roughly four times the weight of an average adult head.
Born with hydrocephalus, a rare medical condition in which there is an abnormal accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, his head has swelled to enormous proportions. The cranial pressure has shrunk his brain, causing total mental retardation.
Like so many children of Kasaragod, Abhilash Bhat is evidence of the congenital damage caused by endosulfan contamination. Sreedevi, his mother, had already miscarried two previous pregnancies and her first child died within 10 days from the same congenital genetic condition.
Doctors believed Abhilash would not survive and his parents were warned that conceiving another child would only lead to the same endouslfan The high-risk operation endpsulfan to save his life may well bankrupt the family, who already struggle to make ends meet.
Over half of their wage, earned from the collection and selling of betel nut, is spent on medical and travel expenses incurred from Abhilash needing hospital treatment every three days. B oth born blind, sisters Rahina and Rasna are six and nine years old. Their endoxulfan Rajan and Rohina say the difficulty of supporting two blind children with their endosulfaj income earned through labouring work has forced them to separate the children. Rasna is now living with her maternal grandmother, while Rahina is partly cared for by her paternal grandmother who lives in the family home.
After Rahina was born, they gave up on the prospect of a larger family for fear of conceiving another child with endosulvan same genetic disorder. People were ignorant about the high toxicity of endosulfan, believing in curses and ‘the will of God’.
INSIDE STORY: How endosulfan poisoned Kasargod
S umitra and her husband Ganeshrao, a plantation corporation worker, thought they had been cursed by the Serpent God Jataadhari and spent over Rs 2 lakhs on religious rituals performed at a temple. Their year-old daughter Soumya and year-old son Arunkumar, would frequently experience fevers that eventually left them mute and crippled. As the children are partially blind and deaf, they rely on smell to identify people and make simple gestures to have their needs met.
Soumya drags herself across the home’s concrete floor as she is unable to walk. Rarely leaving their home and with no social services or physiotherapy, they receive little stimulation to improve their condition.
Sujatha was struck down with a recurring fever at the age of four which left her hospitalised on several occasions. At 28 years of age, her body has not developed properly and she has limited mobility in her limbs. Unable to support herself on her weak, child-size legs, she lives her life bound to her home. Frustrated by her speech impairment, she speaks of her on-going struggle with depression. Sujatha has no opportunity to marry and live a normal life, as she is completely dependent on her mother.
Her mother explains that her energy levels prevent her from staying awake extended periods of time and that an exhausting menstrual cycle three times per month causes her low blood pressure.
INSIDE STORY: How endosulfan poisoned Kasargod – News
A year ago, a local youth group arranged endosultan visits of a physiotherapist who is also an ayurvedic doctor, but her improvement has been minimal and she is still experiencing ongoing pain in her legs. Medicine was also received from a local government hospital for four months, but the home delivery service was suddenly stopped without an explanation. When questioned, the kfrala explained they had run out of medicine. Sujatha was never clear what the prescription was for. G ulabi lives in a small shack with her husband, mother-in-law and four keralx.
An endosulfan victim, she experienced her first symptoms after the birth of her second child. Her medical records say she has a ‘loco-motor disability’.
Gulabi’s low blood pressure and weakness in her legs led to a fall which shattered her right femur. An operation to replace the bone has failed to improve her walking ability, and rndosulfan lack of finance has prevented her from receiving follow-up physiotherapy. The family survives off the Rs per day her husband earns as a seasonal forager.