This video by Chennai artist Sofia Ashraf, is a battle cry against the mercury poisoning caused by Hindustan Unilever’s thermometer plant in Kodaikanal. “Kodaikanal won’t step down until you make amends now,” she strongly informs Unilever. Here’s what a video can do.
“This is the story of Kodai’s frustration. Known to us as the princess of hill stations, Unilever came and left devastation, as they exposed the land to contamination,” raps Sofia Ashraf, a musical artist from Chennai, in the recent viral video called ‘Kodaikanal Won’t’.
The video is a call to action and speaks against the mercury poisoning caused by Hindustan Unilever Limited in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, and was released by the NGO, Jhatkaa.org.
It is a part of a campaign against Hindustan Unilever’s thermometer plant in Kodaikanal which was shut down in 2001 after it was proved that a lot of mercury contaminated glass was being sold to scrap dealers from the factory, which was a breach of the factory’s own guidelines, and this was in turn polluting the ecosystem.
It was in 1980, when Pond’s moved the factory to India from the United States, and later in 1987, both Pond’s India and the thermometer factory were acquired by Hindustan Unilever. In early 2000s, many factory workers began complaining about health problems and some public interest groups claimed that Unilever was not handling mercury in a proper manner, thereby causing adverse and irrevocable health hazards to the workers and those living nearby.
Reports say that the factory produced 163 million thermometers using 900 kg of mercury annually. These were exported to US and Europe, while the toxic waste remained behind.
Mercury, in large quantities, is known to be very poisonous for humans. It had ill effects on the environment too. The toxic waste from the factory was being dumped in Kodaikanal for years and was affecting the health of many. Workers even went to court seeking compensation, but Unilever maintains that there was no effect on the health of the employees. However, in the past 14 years, Unilever has done nothing to clean up the contamination, or to compensate the workers and their families.
As per a recent study by Chennai-based NGO, Community Environmental Monitoring, the decommissioned plant is leaking mercury into the ecosystem even today.
This result was based on a study of a stream that flows from the factory into the Pambar Shola Reserve forest.
According Nityanand Jayaraman, who is a prominent social activist, and has been campaigning against Hindustan Unilever since 15 years, a significant number of people have become aware of Kodaikanal because of this video. “The coverage by mainstream media is quite rare. We have been trying to get their attention for 14 years now but nothing happened. That is why social media was chosen as a medium for spreading the message. Our target was a young audience,’ he said.
Sofia Ashraf is known for her socially conscious music. This one asks Unilever to “clean up its mess” and informs that “Kodaikanal won’t step down until you make amends now.” Watch the complete video here:
You can sign the online petition asking Unilever to take action against mercury poisoning here.