Trust Deficit and Resistance in Tamil Nadu

 Trust Deficit and Resistance in Tamil Nadu

A man that I greatly respect, Dr. Amalorpavanathan Joseph wondered about the anti-vaccine resistance in Tamil Nadu. He asked “is there something deeper to it? Where is the trust deficit and why now?”
I was glad to see that he correctly diagnosed it as “trust deficit” but I was surprised that he didn’t see this coming. The recent spontaneous protests across Tamil Nadu in support of Jallikattu and other causes, resistance to vaccination, opposition to “hydrocarbon” fracking, etc., have been highly visible, vehement and unlike any such movement that we have seen in the past decades. To some extent, this is fueled by WhatsApp communities and FaceBook posts. But this willingness to march and face brutal establishment has no parallels in recent Tamil Nadu history exceeding even the anti-Hindi imposition agitation that was largely constrained to students and the Dravidian movement activists. The current movement is broader than that and has a coalition ranging from extreme left wing to the extreme right wing and nationalists of all stripes.

Some have accused it of “anti-science” and “anti-capitalist” reactionary politics. It is not an anti-science movement but an anti-establishment movement. And this anger towards establishment has been building for decades. Engineers, like medical professionals, have responsibility to towards public interest. As an engineer, I have been disappointed that the Indian Science and Technology establishment has repeatedly failed people. The first such instance that I noticed was the 1984 Bhopal disaster at the Union Carbide plant, considered to be the world’s worst industrial accident. That plant was peddled as a state of the art, modern, temple of technology that would manufacture insecticides to protect the Indian crops. But the plant actually ended up killing people and nobody saw that coming nor did the establishment shine after the disaster in championing the cause of the victims. What lessons did the Indian engineering establishment learn from Bhopal disaster? What safeguards are in place now to prevent a similar disaster? How can the public trust the government or the engineering establishment when they assure that the far more complex nuclear plants or hydrocarbon fracking facilities are “safe”?

India routinely exports the best of what it produces to command the best revenue, including food. When the best Indian food rejected by the Americans, Australians, Germans and others, people of India have to wonder about the quality of food that they were eating. Where were the Indian standards bodies that should have warned Indians about the poison that they are consuming? What happened to the University professors, the IIT wizards, the IIM managers, the IAS administrators, the IPS policemen, the Scientists, the Medical establishment, and the political leadership? People trusted these highly revered professionals and we have let them down badly.

When people worried about the safety of Kudankulam Nuclear power plant, those protesters were accused of being anti-national foreign agents. The country’s science and engineering establishment lined up behind the government. And we just witnessed the ridiculous sight of students using buckets to clean the crude oil that spilled close to the Chennai shores. Where was the emergency preparation to handle that eventuality? The government couldn’t even see the Chennai floods coming in 2015 nor could they rescue people efficiently when the city was flooded. Neither the government nor the engineering establishment have proved that they can handle disasters and safeguard public interest.

Now the “science and technology” champions in social media are advocating the “hydrocarbon” fracking as the solution for energy crisis and dismiss the concerns of farming communities in the fertile Kaveri delta. This is so despite the fact that such fracking has been destroying communities around the world.

Indian establishment, including the venerated science and technology establishment, has repeatedly lied and let people down. Now this “anti-people establishment” is using pseudo-science as a shield to protect its vested interests.
There are very uncomfortable questions. Which Indian scientist or engineer saved people from the Bhopal disaster? What did the Indian scientists and technologists say about insecticides in the food that Indians eat every day? Why does it require foreign agencies to tell Indians that they are eating poison every day? How did the government handle the Chennai floods or the recent Ennore oil spills? And how about the river sand mafia, beach sand mafia and granite mafia that are ravaging natural resources while polluting the environment? And what about those “kalvi thanthais” who are grabbing public lakes and ponds and anything that contains water? And how about pharmacies that sold expired medicines? And how about the scientists, engineers and doctors who stood silently while public safety was being compromised? And what about the political parties, writers, journalists, public intellectuals and bharat ratnas who champion nuclear power plants and methane fracking while evidence is mounting against them around the world? Why is it that Indians have to rely on foreign experts and intellectuals to get information about things that affect their own safety?

If the establishment science is anti-people and the only ones that echo the concerns of people about the safety of the food that they eat and the medicine that they take are charlatans who use pseudo-science, can you blame them? If your “friends” are ready to let you die, why not choose people who are accused of being your “enemies”?
Now look at how the Science establishment reacts to all of this? You won’t see humility or contrition from scientists for failing the pubic that trusted them. There are no apologies for past mistakes and no admission of guilt but arrogant chastisement and name calling of critics. The science luminaries call people superstitious fools. Why are they that angry? Is it because the establishment is afraid that competition is taking people and money away from them?

Yes, there is a huge trust deficit and it is well deserved. Are the healers, antivaxxers, organic farmers, hyper-environmentalists, and social media memesters better than the scientific and political establishment? Yes, oh yes. Anything that challenges the arrogant establishment and shakes it to the foundation is always good. It will make the establishment more accountable and responsive. These arrogant leaders will be discarded. There is yet a chance that people’s voice will be heard. There may be better policing of food, medicine, better disaster preparation, perhaps more rational discussions about big “solutions” that the big government or the big business want to thrust down the throats of unwilling people, and so on. But of course, all the scoundrels can get together and strike a deal to keep their loot. I am optimistic though that that won’t happen and that this backlash will bring in better results.

Source: Facebook Page of Mani Manivannan