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Media aptly promoting Blue Whale in Himachal, flaunting all ethical guidelines

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Blue whale in himachal pradesh 1

Shimla: Researchers in the field of psychology have thrown significant light on the impact of news of suicide on other vulnerable people in the society. Based on researches, the World Health Organization (WHO) has also laid some guidelines that the journalist should keep in mind while reporting news related to suicide, especially those related to celebrities.

These guidelines are based on studies carried on Imitative suicidal behaviours as a response to reportage or portrayal of suicide in news or entertainment media.

However, media hardly cares for these ethics or guidelines to make it more sensational. The way of reporting is only fueling curiosity about this concept among teenagers, who are already prone to high-risk taking behavior.

For instance, in Bagadi village of Deha-Balsan region of Shimla district, a 10-years-old boy said to have ended his life on September 13. Parents found a paper on which the boy had reportedly left a suicide note. The note said “No one loves me”, therefore, “I am going away”.

The parents declined to file any police complaint and did not permit an autopsy.

So far there is no evidence of Blue Whale challenge. We are investigating the case,

said SP Shimla Soumya Sambasivan. However, she suspected involvement of the game. Therefore it is still a suspected case.

As per a report published by Hindustan Times, the father said his son was not well, and he had made a suicide attempt earlier too.

However, the news channels and some national Hindi Dailies have already confirmed that the boy killed himself after playing what called the Blue Whale game. Though this concept has nothing to do with a whale hunting something or someone, the Daily has dedicated a complete page suggesting a unique theory. With a sensational infographic showing a scary aquatic organism with a tortoise clutched between its jaws, the Daily referred to the game as a daring “challenge”. The scary creature shown in the infographic is not even real. Moreover, the daily has also published the suicide note.

Through boxes, the Daily narrated the same old story of how children fall victim to this game. The Daily went on to say that the child hanged himself as a punishment for failing to solve some puzzles given to him by the curator. However, there are no facts or evidence to support claims made in the theory.

Surprisingly, the police have seized a mobile that the boy was using but did not confirm the presence of any sign that the boy killed himself after playing the game.

There is no sign on the arm and no sign of self-mutilation on his body.

As per the report published by HT, the police said

It wasn’t possible for him to play the game. He did not have access to either internet or mobile phone for long. However, for the last few days, he used to play some game on the mobile phone of a carpenter working in their house.

The police said it is yet to investigate the case before it could confirm any relation of the suicide with the sinister game.

Cautions for media in reporting suicides

According to WHO, media plays a significant role in encouraging pre-existing suicidal tendencies in vulnerable individuals like those suffering from depression, emotional stress, or some sort of mental health problems. Other studies and experts in the field of psychology and psychiatry suggest that the extensive, prominent, sensationalist coverage including an explicit description of the method and spot of suicide cast a significant influence on vulnerable individuals.

Media reporting of suicide can lead to imitative suicidal behaviours. The imitation is more evident under some circumstances than others. It varies as a function of time, peaking within the first three days and leveling off by about two weeks, but sometimes lasting longer,

said the WHO report.

It is related to the amount and prominence of coverage, with repeated coverage and ‘high impact’ stories being most strongly associated with imitative behaviors

, it said.

At the same time media shares the responsibility of educating people, creating awareness regarding factors responsible for the majority of suicides like mental health, and encouraging vulnerable people to seek help and prevent suicides.

Cautions to be taken while reporting suicide

Some of the caution that journalists should take while reporting news related to suicide include:

  • To avoid language which sensationalizes or normalizes suicide or present it as a solution to problems
  • Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide
  • Avoid explicit description of the method used in a completed or attempted suicide
  • Avoid providing detailed information about the site of a completed or attempted suicide
  • Avoid using the word “suicide” in headlines
  • Exercise cautions in using photographs on video footage
  • Taking special caution in reporting celebrity suicides
  • Show due consideration for people bereaved by suicide
  • Provide information about where to seek help
  • Use of sources of reliable information

Suggested Read for Media Persons

Media persons could go through a study titled “The influence of suggestion on suicide: Substantive and theoretical implications of the Werther effect” published by Phillips DP in American Sociological Review in 1974.

He had conducted this seminal study to compare the number of suicides occurring in the months in which a front-page article on suicide appeared in the (US) press with the number occurring in the months in which no such article appeared.

Prevention of suicide in children
The best prevention here appears to be giving more time to your children, at least enough to observe changes in their behavior, if any. The advisories are asking parents to reach a counselor if they observe symptoms like isolation, withdrawal from routine activities, and a decrease in the time that their children used to spend with them or the appetite.

If a child is already an introvert, then it must be ensured that he gets more time from parents to express his emotions. A friendly relationship would help bridge the communication gap between the teens and their parents.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 7 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture world around him in his DSLR lens.

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Watch: Baddi’s Kenduwal dumping yard exposes hypocrisy over Swachh Bharat

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Baddi solid waste management plant

Solan: The government agencies in Himachal Pradesh are quite infamous for disrespecting court orders, especially those relating to environmental protection. This time, we have a case where the local civic body first created an illegal dumping yard on a site selected and cleared for an integrated waste management facility and now covering it with soil and mud after the matter reached the State High Court.

In fact, the government does only what the court orders it to do after activists or the common people file petitions. There is a very clear hypocrisy going on over the Swachh Bharat campaign, which is often used to gain political mileage.

So far, the government has given no sign about being serious when it says, “The government is committed to protect and preserve the environment and ecology of the State.”

The ground-level situation of Solid Waste Management (SWM) in Himachal Pradesh can be best used to demonstrate this hypocrisy by both the current and succeeding governments and the public itself. There is no limit to the callousness of the government agencies at both local as well as the state levels.

Baddi MC waste

If we take up a particular case, then Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area in Solan district is perhaps in the worst state. The Municipal Council of Baddi and BBN Development Authority (BBNDA) are responsible for the collection and scientific disposal of waste generated in the area. Both agencies had joined hands with a proposal of managing waste disposal in the BBN area.

The MC and BBNDA were supposed to establish a facility where collected waste could be disposed of scientifically. They had obtained the clearance for the same on August 13, 2015, and were allotted 42 bighas and 13 Biswas of land in Kenduwal.

However, as expected, the facility never came into existence. Instead, the MC and BBNDA began dumping MC waste at the selected site and turned it into a big open dumping yard. Within a couple of years, the life of the locals residing very near to this illegally created dumping site became a hell as every day they faced foul smell, flies, mosquitoes.

The nearest house is located merely at a distance of 30 meters while the Sirsa river floodplain is not far at about 100 meters from the dumping site. The locals, supported by an environmental group Himdhara Collective, approached the local civic body and the district administration several times with their grievance. None of the two disappointed the locals and, as usual, didn’t move a muscle.

About 1200 villagers wrote to the President of India after they were disappointed by their own government. 

The State Pollution Control Board confined itself to issuing repeated notices to the local bodies to solve the grievance of the locals. While the MC and BBNDA didn’t care about these notices, the HP PCB did not proceed to take proper action.

Very recently, the matter reached the State High Court pleading for justice.

In the interregnum, we direct that no garbage shall be dumped into the land owned by the present petitioner or dumped at any other site, save and except, in accordance with law. We further direct the Senior Environmental Engineer of respondent No.3 to visit the site and after inspecting the same, submit his report with regard to the compliance of the statutory provisions,

a bench of then Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Ajay Mohan Goyal had said in its order passsed on October 4, 2018.

However, both responsible bodies violated these orders as well and continued to dump garbage at the same site. The villagers captured videos of the same and wrote an application to the Superintendent of Police, Solan. The SP was informed regarding the violations of the court orders.

Letter to the SP Solan by Kenduwal petitioner

Letter written by villagers to SP Solan

The Court directed the Senior Environmental Engineer of the HP PCB to file a status report regarding this matter within four weeks

As per the report of the Chief Engineer dated October 15, 2018, the MC, Baddi and BBND hardly collect 30-40 percent of total solid waste generated, which is about 50 tons per day in this case. The collected waste is dumped at Kenduwal while remaining can be found scattered near the BBN area.

HP PCB has repeatedly directed the Municipal Council and BBNDA to dispose of the waste in a scientific manner in accordance with the provision of SWR,

2016, the report submitted to the court said.

The Municipal Solid waste is being collected unsegregated and transported to MSW site at Kenduwal where it is being dumped unscientifically. Most of the time it remains exposed in an open atmosphere and sometimes covered with soil layer, which is a breeding place for flies, mosquitoes, rats etc. The nearest human habitation is a house located at about 30 meters from the boundary of the dumping site, whereas the flood plain of river Sirsa is about 100 meters away from the site,

the report said.

The court concluded that despite having a clearance for the proposed facility to dispose of this waste scientifically, the MC and BBNDA failed to perform their duties.

We have gone through the contents of the report and are satisfied that prima facie, Municipal Council, Baddi, as well as Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh Development Authority (BBNDA), have failed to perform their duties towards collection of solid waste and its dumping in a scientific manner at the MSW disposal site at Kenduwal, for which requisite clearance has been already granted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests,

a Bench of Chief Justice Surya Kant and Justice Ajay Mohan Goel directed the MC and BBNDA.

The court also directed the local agencies to take immediate action on the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer.

We direct both the aforesaid Agencies to immediately act upon the report of the Senior Environmental Engineer and submit their respective compliance reports within four weeks. Any delay or defiance will be viewed seriously,

the court directed the MC and BBNDA.

However, the entire waste at the dumping site is being buried under mud and soil.

MC Baddi/BBDNA may be asked to transport the waste as per the past practice of disposing the waste to the Jaypee Plant in Sector 25 of Chandigarh or to Mars Envirotech Ltd. Lalroo (Dera Basssi), Punjab or setting up of ward level compositing/shredding machines till the erection, commissioning and time-bound setting up of Solid Waste Management facility at Kenduwal Baddi, for the cluster of Baddi-Barotiwala-Nalagarh area,

the report submitted to the court said.

According to the 2011 Census, the total pollutions of the Baddi MC and BBNDA area were 29911 and 29293 respectively while the total amount of waste generated per day was 25.50 tons and 20.30 tons respectively. The number of migrant labourers or workers from other states was not included in this Census. The populations in both the areas have increased by 2018, which implies growth in a waste generation too. But the responsible government bodies, as well as the district administration, are completely blank when it comes to the chapter on waste management. The Solid Waste Rules, 2016, do exist but only in papers.

The report of the PCB Environmental Engineer aptly proves it.

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Watch: Tribals in Kinnaur village blow off HPPCL, police allegedly trying to fool them over hydro project

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Lippa villager tribals vs hppcl

Kinnaur: The Lippa Village in Kinnaur is one of the several villages including Rarang, Pangi and Telang that are facing pressure from the Himachal Pradesh Power Corporation Limited (HPPCL) to allow them to start construction work on the 130 MW Kashang Stage II and III power project despite a stay given by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in May 2016.

As per the villagers, the NGT had held that no objection certificate should be obtained from the affected village gram sabhas before issuing a forest clearance. However, the gram sabhas never gave any NOC as their individual claims under the Forests Right Act 2006 were not settled yet. However, the HPPCL claims it possesses the NOC given by the villages and trying to re-open the construction work using various pressure tactics, allege the villagers. The villagers question the Corporation from whom did it obtain the NOC.

On October 9, 2018, the HPPCL staff came to Lippa village with a heavy local police force to discourage villagers from protesting. What requires attention here that the district administration and the local police, thus the State Government, are assisting the Corporation in its bid to violate the court orders. Moreover, as seen in the video, a local police official was also seen arguing in support of the Corporation with the villagers when it wasn’t actually his job.

They definitely underestimated the villagers considering them mere bunch of tribals and tried to fool them.

However, they faced severe protests and demonstrations from the locals, united under the banner Paryavaran Sanrankshan Sangharsh Samiti. Eventually, the HPPCL staff and police force had to retreat after villagers stopped and reasoned with them.

Another fact that needs attention here is that the villagers reasoned with them legally. They were aware of all proceedings of the court as well as its directions to the Corporation. The Corporation and the police tried their best but couldn’t confuse villagers by flashing papers signed by the Deputy Commissioner of the Superintendent of the Police.

The work on the project cannot be started by HPPCL on account of the non-completion of the process under the Forest Rights Act 2006 in the area,

said members of the Samiti.

Watch Video

The National Green Tribunal on May 4, 2016, directed the Ministry of Environment and Forests and the State Government of Himachal to place the forest clearance proposal in front of the affected Gram Sabhas for their perusal. The judgment was passed in an appeal filed by Paryavaran Sanrankshan Sangharsh Samiti Lippa against the forest diversion for the said project.

Lippa village picture

Lippa Village in Kinnaur, Photo: Manshi Ashar

The appeal was made on the grounds that HPPCL had violated the provisions of the FRA Act, which require a mandatory NOC of the Gram Sabha of villages to be affected by the diversion of forest lands for the project.

The judgment had concluded that “the Gram Sabha shall consider all community and individual claims” in the process bringing under it the cultural, religious, environmental and livelihood impacts caused due to the loss of forests and water sources.

The process of filing claims on forest land under the Forest Rights Act was initiated by the Forest Rights Committee of Lippa, formed for verification of the claims in the year 2016 itself. As many as 47 individual claims and one community claim were sent to the sub-divisional level committee (SDLC) Pooh, the Samiti said. However, the process of settlement under FRA 2006 has been slow due to the apathy of the administration and the State Government, the Samiti alleges.

It said that last month the District Level Committee has recommended the Community forest rights claim of Lippa whereas the Individual claims were not yet recommended. No specific objection or reason has been stated by the SDLC held on August 31, 2018, as to why the individual claims were being returned and not recommended. The people are in the process of filing petitions to the DLC requesting the SDLC to state the reasons based on which they have not been recommended.

Meanwhile, the Samiti alleges, the company, instead of waiting it out till this process is complete has been pressurizing the villagers to allow them to start work on the project in the area for which the forest rights claims have been filed.

In 2017, the State of Himachal Pradesh falsely contested in front of the NGT that despite sufficient time the claimants (residents of Lippa) have not submitted their claims and have not been cooperating, said the Samiti.

Following submissions from the Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti that the claims were already under process, the NGT put on record in December 2017 and January 2018 that individual and community claims had, in fact, had been filed by the villagers.

It needs to be noted that the final judgment and subsequent orders of the NGT clearly state that the project proponent can approach the village for the consent of Lippa gram sabha on forest diversion for Kashang integrated project stage I and III only when the process of settlements of rights under FRA gets completed

Despite this, the HPPCL has used various pressure tactics on us to allow construction work. Various visits have been made by project authorities to the village to misguide and intimidate the people and begin work. On August 24, 2018, the Superintendent of Police, Rekong Peo issued a letter stating that the project proponent would have to be given police protection as they had completed all legal requirements as per the NGT orders. This is completely false,

said the members of the Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti.

We are extremely troubled that instead of waiting for the process under FRA to be completed and following the spirit of this act of the Parliament as well as the NGT order, the company is misleading the police and seeking police protection against the interests of the community,

the members further said.

The Paryavaran Sangharsh Samiti Lippa also sent a counter to the Superintendent of Police with a point-by-point response on the false objections raised. The counter also stated that “in case of any violation we will be forced to file a complaint under the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and Amendment Act, 2018”.

The Section-3(g) of this act states that wrongfully dispossessing a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe from his land or premises or interfering with the enjoyment of his rights, including forest rights, over any land or premises or water or irrigation facilities…by a non-SC-ST person (without consent or against will) is a punishable offence.

Despite that, the police entered the village on October 9 to pressurize the villagers. However, after the protests and detailed deliberations, the official team and police were forced to return.

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In times of climate change, how do Himachal’s people want their mustard?

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Farming of Mustard Oil in Himachal Pradesh

If one was to walk through a village in Himachal Pradesh in the early 1940s, there would be the sound of many wooden wheels turning. One of them would be the spinning wheel (charkha) used to make thread from sheep’s wool for weaving coats or chola and pattu on a loom (khaddi).Another would be a water wheel (gharaat), which rotated in the water of the kuhlsor canals, grinding the wheat in the mill or chakki above. While these first two wheels continue to exist, albeit in small numbers, the third village wheel has almost completely disappeared. The third wheel, the oil mill or kolu, used the force of ox and buffaloes to turn a heavy stone, which in turn would grind mustard and flax oil seeds into fresh oil.Although Himachal does not produce as much mustard as the larger states in North and Western India, it has always been an essential crop to everyday life.

Spinning the wheel of time back to the 1940s again, we learn that the kolus or oil-press mills were run mainly by Muslim families. As Pradan Ram of Rakkar village, Kangra district said,

The Muslim families that were our neighbours ran these oil mills. They were the telis. Some of them also played shehnai at the temple, but most of them ran the oil mills. We would take our mustard or flax seeds and get them ground at the mills. In the higher up regions of Kullu- Lahaul, people made walnuts, apricots and other oils. Nobody bought oil from any shop! We would pay the teli with our grain.

Post-partition, the Muslim population in most parts of Himachal Pradesh diminished, and now stands at around 4% living mainly in Chamba, Una and Solan districts. From a history of great syncretism, and communities living and sharing resources together, what followed were times of great division. These divisive times were seen in agriculture with the impact of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, where the Barah Anaaj or 12 mixed crop system, of which mustard is an important crop, began to disappear in favour of monocropping. These 12 crops used to include combinations of maddua (finger millet), ramdana (amaranth), rajma (kidney bean), mung (green gram) lobia (black-eyed peas), kuttu (buck wheat), kulath (horse gram), makki (corn) and math (a local soya bean), alsi (flax seed for oil), sarson (mustard seed), sorghum (jowhar), pearl millet (bajra), chana (chickpeas). In addition to this gourds, greens and wild vegetables and flowers were grown and collected.

Each of these crops has a different resilience, some thrive acidic soils, some can survive floods, while others can survive droughts. In fact, the traditional seeds of our region are treasures that also have unique tastes and health properties.

shares Mansingh of Nain village, Kangra district.

As wheat and rice became more popular, in the 1990s, farmers began to practice mixed farming, however no longer of twelve crops. Mustard continued to be the main crop, grown in almost every farmer’s field. While the Kharif crop would have corn in the higher fields, rice in the lower fields mixed with chickpeas or lentils, the rabi crop, would have wheat along with math and mustard. While the math seed provides nitrogen to the soil, the mustard was known to support the wheat crop.

When it rains heavily, the wheat crop can fall, therefore we grow mustard alongside so that they can bear each other’s weight,

shared Kavitha Devi a farmer of Sukkad village in Kangra district.

Another turning event for farmers was in 1998 when the Indian government ordered all traditional oil mills to shut down and they were deemed unsafe. Coincidentally, this was the time when cheap GMO soya oil began to flood the Indian markets. Many farmers who did not grow enough mustard for oil and depended on the shops were now caught in a dilemma.

There was a time when we began to receive refined oil in the fair-price ration shops at one time, which sold cheaper than mustard oil. While some of the people bought it, they realised that they were increasingly getting joint paints. We complained in our panchayat and then demanded sarson oil,

Says Jagat Ram the owner of a fair price shop in Rakkar in Kangra district. Both Tibetan and Ayurvedic doctors in the region back up this claim saying that mustard oil eases joint pains and is good for health in general, whereas refined oils cause mass arthritis. Although the mustard oil in the ration shops comes from Punjab and not their own fields, farmers in Himachal stood up for the mustard seed as an important part of their lives.

However, since the 2000s, this intrinsic importance has begun to be questioned. This is for several reasons, one of them being the financial pressure to grow cash crops (apples, ginger, kiwis, off-season vegetables) that can sell at a higher price. Another big factor is climate change, where unpredictable weather patterns have set in. The Agriculture Department has identified that the local mustard varieties are facing a major aphid insect problem due to climate flux and recommend the use of hybrid seeds.

The University recommends the gobi and farm hybrid seeds and this is what we distribute,

says a worker at the Agri Department outpost in Sheela Chowk, Kangra District. Most farmers nowadays grow their wheat crop without intercropping with mustard. They grow the two crops separately.

As traditional seed saving dwindles, adding in the problem of monkeys and furthermore erratic rains and hailstorms, farmers are in crisis. In what scientists of Delhi University and the Deepak Pental team feel is the solution for agriculture, seeds of GM Mustard are being proposed as a move towards the future.

When told about GM Mustard, some farmers like Vimla Devi of Banala, Kangra district outrightly refuse the idea. She says that there are plenty of local varieties of mustard in Himachal and it is a question of reviving them.

We prefer our local mustard seeds, black and white seeds, as the saag is tasty, they give plenty of oil for cooking, medicine and our hair and we can use the dried stalks as a broom as well,

she said. 

Small farmers across India have gone on a Sarson Satyagraha to prevent GM Mustard from being released. Although India illegally imports GM foods, if GM Mustard is approved, it will be the first GMO food crop being grown in India. Governments of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Bihar, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and W. Bengal have said NO to GM Mustard stating that GMOs have been proven to have health effects but more to take away farmer sovereignty and make them dependent on companies, Universities and the State. GM crops also destroy diversity, meaning that they require a monocrop plantation, and cannot co-exist in mixed farming fields like earlier.

At this critical juncture, in times of climate change, one can only hope that the “wheel of time” in Himachal Pradesh withstands the pressure of the future, looks to its small holder farmer with their history of successful mixed farming and manages to revalue what the past has left behind. After all, without mustard oil in the madra curry in the village dhaam feast or pathrode made of mustard and collocasia leaves in the monsoons, and even more ‘makki di roti and sarson da saag’ in the winters, life for pahadi people is incomplete!

Author Aditi Pinto is based in Rakkar, Himachal Pradesh. She uses writing to give a historical perspective to the current environmental crisis.

This story is being published as part of a GIZ-CMS Fellowship

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