Decade-long struggle in 16 minutes

4 July 2011

Indian Express News

CHENNAI: The 10-year struggle and miseries faced by factory workers and their families, exposed to mercury in the Hindustan Unilever thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, was poignantly depicted in the documentary Mercury in the Mist.


As the 16-minute film delved on the lives of the workers and the poisoned ecology of Kodaikanal, it also brought to light the plight of families struggling to survive and fight for justice.


The footage of former plant workers and their families also showed children with deformities, others with affected hearing and vision or heart problems.


More than 30 workers have died till date, and several tons of mercury discharged in and around the factory after it was shut in 2001 by the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board. But the company refuses to take responsibility, according to the film by documentary filmmaker R P Amudhan.


The film, with subtitles in English and Tamil, through interviews of former employees alleged that Unilever got environmental clearance to start a glass factory and then started a thermometer factory in 1984.


The film captured some touching moments, including the plight of an old woman who lost her son and stated tearfully, “I would have even begged to make him live but the destiny did not favour me.” Another moving shot was of a woman worker, who during the course of an interview talks about her memory loss and attempts to commit suicide.


The film highlighted how, for almost two decades, Hindustan Lever Limited’s thermometer factory in Kodaikanal functioned without alerting employees or the people living in the region about the dangers mercury posed.


Noted social and environmental activist Nityanand Jayaram, who was present on the occasion, said it was another Bhopal and the government had shirked its responsibility by paying compensation to the workers.


Amudhan said that this was the first official screening of the film although it had been screened at Besant Nagar to raise funds last month. “The film is proof of what went wrong with the system and is a campaign material to raise funds for the victims who are still struggling to survive,” Amudhan said.


Cinematographer R Rathnavelu released the DVD of the film to Waheeda Nizam, vice-president of All India Trade Union Congress.

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Decade-long struggle in 16 minutes
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