Toxic Tales

Directed by Rajani Mani and Nina Subramani . Produced by Elephant Corridor . English . 28 mins . 2002

Kasaragod, a district in north Kerala, is a breathing example of India's trail of toxins. Surrounded by deceptively beautiful forest, Kasaragod has been crippled by three decades of aerial spraying of the deadly insecticide, endosulfan. In the process, cashew trees have survived insect attacks, but Kasaragod's residents are suffering from terrible forms of genetic disabilities. They will suffer for generations to come.

This documentary profiles Kasaragod and its struggle against the killer insecticide. It also narrates the story of another endosulfan-stricken village in Karnataka.

The video opens with a lush green village a folksong enticing viewers to experience the beauty of the Western Ghats. Climbing up the hill is Shruti, a crippled village girl going to school, portrayed as the 'luckiest' survivor of endosulfan. The village has many more Shrutis with worse disabilities ranging from deformities to mental retardation.

The story unfolds with villagers' initial happiness over the aerial spraying of endosulfan over cashew fields and how they equate this as a sign of progress. But happiness soon changes to horror, as a Kasaragod school teacher makes the first correlation between the spraying and the children's deformities. He finds that all the children with the worse deformities live in the area closest to the cashew fields.

The documentary makes a stark commentary with villagers telling their own stories about the impact of endosulfan on the people, bees and animals.

The video juxtaposes science with human tragedy. However, documentary makers fail to present the government point of view. Not a single official has been interviewed.

The documentary is convincing and makes a case for the government's eventual ban on endosulfan. Villagers rejoice as the government bans endosulfan and the bees return to their hives.

The camerawork is adept with deep close ups of endosulfan victims which create an odd mixture of horror, pity and anger. The film ends with a tragic stop press, news that the government has lifted the ban on spraying following two company-sponsored studies that have vindicated endosulfan for Kasaragod's plight.

This can only happen in God's own country.