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  Reasons for GNI’s silence

Loyal readers must have wondered why GoodNewsIndia [GNI] has not been updated in recent weeks. Many worried readers have also written-in querying. First off, do banish your worst fears. GNI has survived the tsunami and will soon be back in full flow. Now to an explanation for the long silence.

This piece cannot be written except in personal terms. So here are some facts about GNI that you may not know. I, D V Sridharan, aged 63 have been publishing GNI for close to five years. I have been the site’s one-man staff, doing all the researching, reporting, writing, designing, tech-ing and funding the website. It has been worth the trouble because of the growing, loyal, worldwide readership. Many believe, GNI pioneered a genre in publishing in India. GNI has come to champion those many small heroes of India who have stood up against great odds and made a difference. There was no way I could remain uninfluenced by the people I have met in these years.

So when I became aware in 2003, of blatant law-breaking activities of MGM Beach Resorts in my village Muttukkadu near Chennai, South India, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma: either I -ignoring the common counsel of petrified local people- took on this powerful, spiteful bully or I stopped writing inspiring stories that were goading my readers to action.

The perils of a whistle-blower’s life in India were not lost on me but here was a bundle of issues too difficult to ignore: land grab, official apathy, frivolous use of the legal system, seducing the police to serve commercial ends, environmental vandalism, destruction of a local way of life in the name of tourists’ interest and breaking of every law that seeks to regulate business.

In Feb, 2003 I and a few - alas, too few- residents started a campaign group called East Coast Citizens’ Organisation [ECCO] to bring laws to bear on the growing number of law-breaking resorts along Chennai’s East Coast Road [ECR]. ECCO began a website which you can access here. A report you can download from there, has been overtaken by events but still gives details of our campaigns.

One day soon, the full story will be told in a long piece here in GNI, but for now the first reason for my long silence. On Dec 15, 2004, I was arrested most unlawfully by the police at the behest of MGM Beach Resorts and was not released until human rights activists and the media swung into action. This too will form a part of the story to be told, but now a letter I wrote to the officer who arrested me will give you a sense of the drama. For those with a greater interest in ECCO’s activities, here’s another report that gives a broader picture of the menace to the environment by resorts along the ECR.

A whistle-blower’s only security in India is in broadcasting his case and hoping it would outrage citizens -such as you?- to rally in support. Maybe there is someone out there who can crack the whip on a bully that bucks the law, the courts and nature itself. That is my belief and hope. In line with that hope, here’s a link to a small piece I wrote on the subject in GNI, some months ago.

Within a fortnight of my arrest and release, came the second reason for GNI’s long silence. It was the tsunami of Dec 26. Five died in the fishing village with whose people, we had fought a few of our battles. All their means of livelihood have been destroyed. With that any stomach for a fight they had in them is gone. The tsunami has gouged the temple lands MGM Beach Resorts had unlawfully occupied and over which we had fought.  But the artful dodger is on the prowl again trying to fish in the waters of misery, with tempting offers of ‘help’.

But ECCO has its own response. Like in GNI’s own stories, we found that good news can be wrung out of the bad. So ignoring our set-backs and disappointment with officialdom, the motley group at ECCO rallied to the villagers’ support and in a few days decided that the best relief was in giving livelihoods back to fishermen.

We had never raised money before, we all had other things to do [for me it was publishing GNI] and we were so few. Each boat cost Rs.70,000. Our village alone needed 60 to put all men to work. The task seemed impossible. But once we decided upon our mission we were staring at magic - the very stuff that GNI stories are made of. In just two weeks we had enough money to build 5 boats. We have hopes for even more. Money has come from strangers and unseen faces, from Indians and foreigners, young and old, poor and the rich. It has ranged from Rs.50 to Rs.70,000. It has been a love-tsunami. You can read about ECCO’s relief work -and maybe even support it- by following the various links from this page.

So dear readers, GNI’s pages have been silent for the very reasons why GNI exists. Reality has caught up with its publisher, and his faith in India and life’s ways is only reinforced. Often what we cannot achieve by fulminating, can be achieved by switching off disappointment and working for a greater objective. Who knows the monster tsunami and the love tsunami ECCO has unleashed may yet tame the thus-far-incorrigible MGM Beach Resorts and teach its owners a few things that money can’t buy; and teach our villagers the essence of Gandhi, which is to forswear fear. On the way up to their present heady heights, MGM found things so easily manageable by money sprayed all around. Staying at that height however, would require a different set of values. They might yet learn that set.

On such hopes must life ride.