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While we all agree that research and science are important and that innovation shouldn't be blocked, here's a little devil-in-the-details sharing about GM (genetically modified) foods technology.

The present GM varieties being marketed, those being in focus, are defective models that a company shouldn't be pushing to market. Kind of like releasing a car model whose braking system the company's management internally knows tends to get defective after the first 10,000kms, so they decided to test the car only for 1000 kms. Results were positive so it went into production and is now being aggressively marketed. The industry regulator believes that there is no further independent testing of the car needed since they already know that it is safe, from the 1000km test. The top boss of the regulatory commission happens to be the car company's former high-level employee. Oh, and IPR (intellectual property rights) laws ban any third party from conducting any kind of tests on the car, they're quite strict about that. If you as an independent consumer try to conduct any test or research on this car model, you're likely to get sued and loose everything you have in lifelong litigation, and your research results likely cannot be accepted as evidence. Hence, the car company isn't doing the tests needed and isn't letting anyone else do them either.

The car is now released for open trials, which isn't actually a test for safety; it's one for studying financial potential and performance metrics. But people are led to falsely believe it's a safety test and the car company likes it that way. This test isn't being conducted in separate off-limits proving grounds or Top Gear style retired airport runways where the car being tested wouldn't interact with normal civilian traffic.. several units of the car are actually being driven actively all throughout the country, including on the streets you cross everyday, highways, expressways, AutoBahns etc, by regular people and with children in the back seat. The law of the land has exempted the company from any liability or any obligation for call-back or money-back should anything unfortunate happen, since the regulatory agency has already declared it to be safe. No one wants to talk about what will start to happen when the users of this car cross the 10,000km mark. Right now there are very few first-buyers who have, and the company is quick to respond to any complaints with the standard "it's the driver's fault, we are not liable" reply.

As per our current wisdom which is brought to us by our academia, government and media, all the people who are protesting against the release of this car model or its open testing are hereby decreed to be against technology and anti-progress, anti-science, and should not be listened to. Otherwise society will end up going backwards and we will all die for lack of cars, as if there isn't any other company on the planet capable of manufacturing the requisite number of cars (scroll down to find out that there actually is).

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Coming back to the GMOs.. two main technologies:

BT : they produce a toxin that supposedly only harms one specific insect (in the patent they're classified as pesticide and not as food), but it turns out that humans and that insect are not from different planets after all and share certain physiology. Hence, that toxin is turning out to be harmful to living organisms other than that particular insect, surprise surprise. Plus, it turns out that insect is already evolving to beat the BT-toxin, and there's other pests coming in too, resulting in farmers having to resume spraying pesticides on their crops. That ruins the single most important USP of BT technology : that pesticides would no longer be required. The technology was basically betting that biological evolution doesn't happen. (and that's Intelligent Design for you). It also turns out horizontal gene transfer does exist as a phenomena.. the technology was betting on the assumption that it didn't. Which means that the BT-toxin-producing tendency is capable of "installing" itself into other plants as well as the human body's gut bacteria : that itself was a very grey area and treated as non-existent until quite recently.

HT  or "Roundup-ready" herbicide tolerant : glyphosate tolerant.. the recent Mexico court ruling was mainly about glyphosate. It's a toxin right up there next to DDT and friends, and its devastating effect on pollinators like bees (without whom you can't have most plant reproduction) as well as on humans is only now being brought out. If you remove the glyphosate herbicide, that GM crop is useless.. the whole technology was betting on the assumption that glyphosate only kills every single other plant in the whole field (making multicropping impossible btw) but is perfectly safe for humans and other non-plants (despite Monsanto in their own fields mandating their employees wear fully enclosed protective suits and not get in contact with any particles in the field).

Some other technologies being explored:

Golden Rice : It is being compared only with rice, and so is claimed to provide more necessary nutrients. The assumption here again is that people only eat rice and nothing else. Foods like drumsticks (Moringa) have more of those nutrients than the Golden Rice can ever hope to achieve, and it's far cheaper to increase their consumption in the target population. (this thing and others like it literally grow on trees) But the assumption is that people prefer eating only and only rice in their meals and will never ever touch anything like drumsticks, so one must try squeezing all the required stuff into the rice only while forgetting that there are other items in people's meals and the rice was supposed to be for the carbs.

DNA structure:

Also, it turns out that plants are not predominantly left-brained like the people who designed the GM seeds. So DNA is quite messy and integrative, whereas the gene theory upon which the entire GM technology is based, says that DNA is linear and reductive. It assumes that there is an exact input-to-output relation between gene and characteristic. So they thought that precisely X gene sequence controls Y characteristic, and its placement or removal will then control only and only that characteristic of the plant and have absolutely no side effect whatsoever on the rest of the living being and its other characteristics. It was assumed that there is no integrative overall structure  or inter-relationship between the various parts of the genetic sequence. Typical assumptions of the techno-savvy left-brain mindset. All very neat and orderly, a place for everything and everything in its place. Turns out that assumption was false, DNA is integrative and inter-relational, and one drastic change in one part tends to have other effects on other characteristics too which they didn't bother to check out, since the assumption was that nothing else will get affected.

So it's not like the flagship products of the GMO sector have "a few chinks to iron out". The very technologies they are based upon have lost their core USPs in light of emerging realities, and have become redundant. You can't make an improved version of a floppy disk : it's pointless, you need to go back to the drawing board and look at the whole thing again from an improved understanding of the science of food.

Some websites where you'll find good info on this topic:
GMO Evidence
GMO Seralini  : this European scientist repeated Monsanto's same feeding trial on rats that had "proved" safety of their GM products, but made one tiny alteration: He ran the experiment for 2 years instead of Monsanto's 3 months. (after which their opposition to independent testing really kicked in!) The result : After 2 years of eating them, those GM foods seem to be the exact opposite of safe, and the rats that managed to survive the feeding trial are just not what you'd call "perfectly healthy". To this day, Monsanto is refusing to accept the research's results, but not daring to repeat it, which would have been the scientific way of proving something wrong, which happened to them (Seralini repeated their study and got disputing results). They even terminated another long-term study of theirs midway and refused to share the results with anyone. So for someone who supports science, it's worth questioning which side of science are GM producers on? If they are pro-science, then why are they and their supporters opposing independent scientific research?

8 ways Monsanto fails at sustainable agriculture

Videos : Genetic Roulette, Seed Freedom, Bought... there's many independent films out there which channels like Discovery don't want to show, even if the film-makers themselves aren't charging any money. (saala tereko free mein itna mast maal mil raha hai... fir bhi wohi purane shows repeat pe repeat karte jaa raha hai tu?). But there's surprisingly no independent films out there (not in my years of looking around) which make any case FOR GM foods. It seems every independent film maker out there working on food sector is against GM only, while every corporate studio wants to religiously avoid sharing these objections. Wonder why?

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Now, for those who don't care about the harms part and want to "be positive" and focus on the gains, here's a 30-year side by side growing study by Rodale Institute (they incorporated GM when it became mainstream). Tested conventional non-gm, GM, organic.
Farming Systems trial: 30 year report

Result? Organic won hands down. Greater yield per unit area, lower costs, lower inputs, lower CO2 emissions, negative damage to soil (ie, soil health improved year on year). Everything that the world's  scientists and our governments have been desiring from a technology to grow food, delivered without the pesky patents or high input costs. And what's more, it's an industry alternative that while lowering the bottom line, actually creates more jobs (with zero work related illnesses) at the same time! Organic technology has much higher job creation opportunities, while simultaneously having much lower costs than GM technology! Now you'd object that this organization might have had some bias (but apparently Monsanto conducting its own tests has no bias). May I point you to the scientific method : The best way to prove a research study wrong is by repeating the experiment as defined and publishing your results.

Note: There are presently heavy government subsidies given to the competitors, and the market dominance combined with lack of market mechanisms for decentralized organic technology are hampering these cost benefits from making their way to the retail end. That changes when more people join in and market share increases, and this sector is witnessing exponential growth right now, with the first adopters being everyone from politicians' families to movie stars to industry leaders to well-educated people. Like in any other technology's life cycle, early adopters pay higher but this funds the technology and enables it to come into its own.

What makes things difficult here for those who love technology and internally bracket everything natural as non-technological and backward, is having to eat humble pie and admit that nature might be technologically more advanced than present human attempts in at least ONE sector (saala ek ko jaane do, kya jaata hai tumhaara?), and might have a solution that is still far better than what our best scientists and mega-corporations have come up with so far. Given the fact that she has had a multi-billion year head start and access to a planet-full of resources to tap into for her research, we shouldn't be so surprised and definitely not so jealous of her. On our end, more research should happen of course, but it should happen safely, without treating you and me and our children like lab rats. Defective products shouldn't be pushed to market for the sake of recouping investments made so far. If you know your closest competitor is so far ahead of you, then you should either invest in researching something like GMOs for the long, long run (I'm talking multiple human lifetimes here), or not invest at all and simply go for the best alternative solution available that delivers better, even if you can't earn royalties off it. But it's wrong to get impatient or greedy and push defective products to market just for the sake of showing a profit this year, and it's wrong to use massive government subsidies, IPR and friends in high places as a crutch to conceal your product's defectiveness.

And that's pretty much what all your "anti-technology" friends are trying to tell you. Nobody's being anti-technology. They're just warning about defective products that can cause irreversible harm. That is all. On the other hand, they are also actively supporting organic technology which seems much more promising, so it would be nice if we didn't have anti-technology and anti-science people and mega corporations unnecessarily harming progress.

3

The Narendra Modi government has allowed 21 new varieties of GMO crops for field trials in India. This decision was made based on the recommendations of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC). This is the new GEAC. The old GEAC had the first item listed under "Main functions" on its page as "To permit the use of GMOs and products thereof for commercial applications." This one has "approval of activities involving large-scale use of hazardous living microorganisms and recombinants..." and they are making decisions that will impact our food, here. This is rather like the world's nuclear "watchdog" being created to promote nuclear power.

It is rather strange that a body implies evaluation, but is actually created to proliferate. This GEAC rejected 1 application out of 28 it received. In a world where more and more countries are banning GM crops, India naturally is fertile grounds for yet another reject of the West, where opposition to genetically modified food is increasing. And of course, it helps that if anything can be centralized and made money out of, Indias political cartels will have takers.

In a country where farmers quit farming as a full time profession at a rate that amounts to 2000 less farmers each day over a decade and over a quarter of the country is below an insanely low poverty line, replacing seeds collected from harvests to seed next years crops with expensive genetically modified varieties that need to be purchased each year alone is an economic nightmare, even if GM crops were safe, which I'm going to show below that they are not. It is no coincidence that there are very few suicides among rice and wheat farmers in comparison with cotton farmers whose lives have been devastated by BtCotton.

First, raising some quality concerns. GM crops are not reversible. They introduce new traits into the ecology of the fields where millions of lifeforms live in a symbiosis. The impact of changed traits of crops on other life forms including essential microorganisms in the soil to beneficial insects and contamination of adjacent fields or wild plants is impossible to determine when there are no long term tests of any sort including direct impact on humans. The assumption that it is safe is naive at best and unleashes irreversible changes which cannot be erased with an "oops. Sorry, we thought..." in the future if uncontrolled hybrids emerge.

Additionally, when GM seeds like these - that are resistant to specific poisons are grown in a region, the adaptations of pests to survive result in pests of the region becoming more and more resistant to pesticides and requiring greater applications of chemicals to control crops (including on the GM crops). This has happened in India. In Modi's own Gujarat. India approved Bt Cotton in 2002. In 2010, it failed pest tests in Gujarat. By 2013, the five year decline in cotton production was being blamed on everything from lack of innovation to climate change by GM apologists in media. Anything but GMO. By 2014, Modi who was CM in Gujarat when above failure happened is Prime Minister and opening more crops like wheat, rice and maize for GM field trials.

And guess what Monsanto did? It blamed the farmers for not following the "fine print" like planting refuge areas. A refuge area is basically a strip of ordinary cotton planted around the main crop of BtCotton. Guess why? Because when pests susceptible to the Bt gene die, the ones that survive are those that are resistant to it. So the idea is that they will breed with the pests from the normal cotton and thus lose some of their resistance. And if this doesn't happen (and tough to imagine how that would work effectively given that species breed to become stronger and survive and most of the field is Bt allowing most pests to find their Bt resistant dates on hand, without going to the other crops), it is apparently the farmer's fault. In other words, GM is not responsible...

Of course, that isn't what they had said when promoting BtCotton.

It [traditional methods of farming] has been a complete failure, because you have to modify infrastructure, you have to re-educate them as to how to modify their farming practices themselves. But with biotech, the technology is in a seed. All you have to do is give them the seed.

Because of course the guy with the powerpoint presentation understands agriculture better than the guy who doesn't even understand English and is too dumb to read instructions.

While there is little evidence of safety on various issues, the evidence that GM crops are not safe is mounting.

About a year and a half ago, a farmer in Oregon, USA found some wheat growing in an empty field. He tried to kill it with a herbicide. IT DIDN'T die. Astonished, the farmer sent the wheat to the Oregon state University for testing and it was found that it was genetically modified wheat containing Monsanto's a Roundup resistant CP4/maize EPSPS gene. The USDA confirms this. When this happened, there was no GM wheat approved for use anywhere in the world. Field trials had ended in 2005 on the wheat that was not expected to be viable for more than 2 years. Do the math.

Chief Technology Officer at Monsanto, Robb Fraley tried damage control "It seems likely to be a random, isolated occurrence more consistent with the accidental or purposeful mixing of a small amount of seed during the planting, harvesting or during the fallow cycle in an individual field." However, that doesn't solve the problem that wheat had turned into what basically amounted to a weed. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan postponed wheat imports from the region to avoid the contamination.

This basically shows that GMO food crops are not a choice as advertized. Seeds propagate, and the best intentioned organic farmer may still end up with GM contaminants.

Speaking of GM maize, in Hesse, Germany, many cows in a slaughterhouse died when they were fed Syngenta’s genetically engineered maize cow food. The remaining cattle were slaughtered on the decision of the authorities to... you guessed it... prevent spread of contamination. Syngenta withdrew the "protein" (not one of the better associations with this word) after being charged for covering up livestock deaths including those on the farm of a tenacious farmer who participated in trials and his cattle developed diseases and five cattle died. Syngenta paid him forty thousand euros basically as hush up money and other cover ups, including in tests. In India, maize is not cattle feed, but consumed by humans for the most part. Remember your "makki roti and sarson saag"? Now Modi sarkar has allowed field trials on GM maize in India.

A research paper published by Dr. Judy Carman last year showed marked increase in abdominal inflammation and on an average a 25% heavier uterus among female pigs fed GM feed. In 2009, American Academy Of Environmental Medicine called for Immediate Moratorium on Genetically Modified Foods stating a whole list of health risks related with GM food.

Citing several animal studies, the AAEM concludes "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects" and that "GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health."

I could go on listing studies that have clearly shown the danger, but then what is my voice in the face of an all party (including BJP MPs) Parliamentary Standing Committee that overcame attempts of the state government to prevent them interviewing farmers and recommended against GM in its report?

An article by Tavleen Singh in the Indian Express is accurately named Environmental fraud, though it is rare for such transparency of intent to be declared upfront. I do appreciate the legitimate opportunity to pun "Environmental Fraud by Tavleen Singh" when introducing the article. Considering that the article is an umbrella attack on the legitimacy of environmentalists and an endorsement of policies known harmful to the environment, it is very shabby of Indian Express to not state the conflict of interest in this supposed "truth" being stated.

While I do not hold it against her and will address her arguments directly, I think it is important here to state that Tavleen Singh happens to be the partner of one of the promoters of Lavasa (his name is not required here, since the article is not about him). Lavasa township has come to much grief (and financial losses) due to legal action by environmentalists that had enough substance for the judiciary to put a halt to work on the site for a year. Thus, people with a vested interest in Lavasa having a dislike of environmentalists cannot be called unprejudiced or unmotivated. Additionally, Sharad Pawar, our agriculture minister, whose interests in GM seeds are identical to those this article promotes happens to the Godfather of said Lavasa project. While this in itself may or may not be intellectually incestuous, NOT being transparent about a connection makes one wonder if this is a case of "You scratch my back, I scratch yours and let us be discreet and pretend that it is all very neutral and deserved."

All quotes by Tavleen Singh from article linked above.

"Real environmentalists" / "serious environmentalists"

Reminds me of the "true Hindus" and "true Muslims". As if the rest are made of thermacol. The idea that her disagreement makes environmentalists real or fake is absurd. She is not required to like or agree with all of them for them to be real. Their actions make them environmentalists.

"one of our noisiest lady environmentalists actually declare in Davos that Indian farmers were rich until international seed companies like Monsanto arrived"

This is presumably Vandana Shiva, though the article does not name her. I have no idea what she said in Davos, but I believe that Indian farmers were better off before the seed corporations for several reasons:

  • Patented seeds mean that farmers cannot save their seeds to sow the next year's crop, leading to a direct annual expense for seeds, which also happen to be costlier. This in turn puts them at serious risk of bad debt - a leading cause of farmer suicides.
  • GM crops require more water. I am not inventing this. Monsanto says this. India is rapidly becoming water scarce with industries taking up a vast share of the water and irrigation being overallocated and iffy at best. Not that either manufacturing or agriculture have added jobs since 1995... Unless of course they are Sharad Pawar's pets doing sugarcane and getting a whopping 60% of available water for 6% of the crop.
  • Input costs for fertilizers and pesticides are higher for GM crops.
  • Most farmers in India are small and marginal farmers and cannot afford to plant waste strips of non-GM crops to try to avoid the "expected" resistance to pests that is the selling point of Bt seeds. The idea of these strips is to grow pests like the bollworm (for example) that have no resistance to Bt so that they can breed with Bt resistant pests from the "superstar" seeds and keep them killable. The crop on this land is wasted by design.
  • The resultant race of more GM, more fertilizers and more pesticides has resulted in diseases among humans and animals, which add to the burden of medical expenses compounded by low access.
  • The actual claims of productivity are severely contested per crop and with authoritative, independent research and are beyond the scope of this article to go into detail. It isn't without any evidence that developed countries are limiting or banning use of GM seeds. A simple google search will bring forth an avalanche if anyone is really interested.
  • Productivity itself has been seen to drop with lame excuses from Monsanto that may be good PR, but do nothing to actually change the production. Including in a "perfect" state like Gujarat, which supposedly reports great profits from GM. Monsanto blamed the farmers. Done.
  • Finally, do you know that Indian farmers have set world records for crop yields using organic farming that have left results from GM in the dust? The same traditional methods and bio fertilizers that had been systematically decimated by the British?

Enough said.

"Any farmer could have told this lady that the international seed companies are a welcome change from state-owned companies which have often sold them junk. But farmers have no voice on television and the lady fraud has a very loud one."

Leaving aside the personal comments about the lady environmentalist who sounds suspiciously like Vandana Shiva, Tavleen Singh is clearly ignorant about the 37th All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee on cultivation of Genetically Modified Food Crops - Prospects and Effects, which clearly states that the farmers explicityl detailed problems they faced because of GM crops and demanded a ban. Additionally, ALL MEMBERS of the All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee - across political parties - unanimously endorsed banning cultivation of GM crops in India. The report condemns the paid media report in Times of India promoting Monsanto with falsified information about prosperity of farmers. The members of the Committee physically went to those villages and saw that there was no such thing. How much more voice do you expect? Or is the gold standard of voice about performances in a corporate controlled media? Would Indian Express give space to an angry farmer trashing Monsanto, when their awards of excellence in journalism are sponsored by Mahyco?

I called up a few people who were present during the visit when outlandish tales of outright manipulating the committee came to my ears and can confirm that the government of Maharashtra made great efforts to prevent the All Party Parliamentary Standing Committee from speaking with farmers and tried to con them into meeting a few planted "farmers" - some of whom were input dealers - in a cosy circuit house. Farmers persisted and the Committee visited the villages reported to be prospering and chasing away money lenders and saw fields left barren. In front of the committee, farmers shouted down and chased away not money lenders, but representatives of Monsanto.

"There have been natural disasters in the Himalayas since the beginning of time. If this one was 'manmade' as they claim, then it was because the political leaders who have governed Uttarakhand have been careless about making contingency plans for natural disasters."

and

"Our two most sacred rivers have become sewers despite thousands of crores of rupees having been spent on 'cleaning' them. And yet, the only noise we hear from environmentalists is when a new dam is built. Have they noticed that it was the dams on the Ganga that stopped the whole of Uttarakhand from being washed away?"

and etc (this is getting boring).

First, I'd like to ask Tavleen Singh why she is writing an article about environmentalists instead of "seculars" and "NGOs" - after all, aren't all right wingers supposed to talk about that only?

If my question is absurd, so is the idea that all environmentalists are working on the same thing, namely hydel projects. There are people fighting dams and for more reasons than only the environment. There are people working to get rivers cleaned. Others fight to protect forests, marine life, fight drought, promote water renewal, whatever. Environment isn't one piddly subject that everyone is doing the same thing and from only one angle. Swami Nigamananda died when he fasted unto death in what is rumored to be a murder by political and mafia forces. He wasn't fighting dams, but the sand mafia and pollution. There are all kinds of people. Vijay Panjwani often updates from his legal activism to get judicial pressure for clean ups. To the best of my knowledge, no one has prevented her from taking up a concern she feels strongly about. If it is un-sewering the Ganga and not protecting roads from dog poop, so be it.

The blame for the tragedy has been consistently attributed to irresponsible construction work of which dams were a part. The greatest blame has been on the roads, actually due to the use of dynamite in cutting them creating fractures in the structure of the mountain. Hydel projects don't drop rom the sky. They need development of roads, as well as dam construction. They need construction materials which leads to further exploitation of the river banks. Dams already silt up the upstream while starving the downstream of silt leading to eroded banks and disturbed ecology.

Here is what happens to a construction made of reinforced concrete when subjected to reckless construction activity. Nowhere in the Himalaya, this is, but Katraj tunnel near Pune - a place that has little to do with floods and landslides. This news is not a month old yet.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8tUxN9nHco4

The page on Wikipedia about the environmental impact of dams is well referenced so I'm using this space for one last important piece of disinformation:

"Have they noticed that alternative sources of energy like solar, wind and bio-fuels have mostly failed?"

Failed?

Work on hydel power in India started in 1897, nuclear power started in 1948, renewable energy started in 1983.

India gets 57% of its electricity from coal, 19% from hydro electric power, 12% from renewable, 9% from natural gas and 3.75% from nuclear power.

The oldest dam in India is from the second century. That is older than several of the religions in this country. The first hydro electric power plant in India was in the year 1897 or fifty years before Independence. We currently produce approximately 39GW. We started chasing nuclear power when we were 11 months old. Several parts of current India were not India then. 4780MW to date and we call it the pride of the country and have gone into the international dog house for it. In contrast, our renewable energy production started in the 1980s and already accounts for 28GW or 12% of our electricity production, which Wikipedia assures me is more than the total production of electricity in Austria. In three decades.

India is rapidly growing in solar energy and fastest growing in the world in wind power. What failure?

The fundamental difference here is a difference in what Tavleen Singh sees as a good thing and what I see as a good thing. Projects she thinks are good for the country include Vedanta's bauxite mines and Lavasa and what not. I am not so sure we should be growing to suit the fastest runners. In my view, large projects have delivered comparatively little in comparison with robust grassroots efforts. I am also of the opinions that the super rich have done more to destroy economies and free enterprise than build them. I also think it is dangerous disinformation to club all large projects as one regardless of whether they are government or private. Masses cannot hold private enterprise accountable.

We are both entitled to our opinions. My expectation from media however is transparency and accuracy of information. People can decide for themselves if the information is correct.

Update: I forgot to address Tavleen's point about the Tehri dam that supposedly protected Haridwar. Tavleen Singh might be delighted to know that the Alaknanda blew through the Vishnuprayag Hydro electric project and the water that had backed up behind it wiped out Lambagarh market when it exploded out of the dam. Additionally, dams on Mandakini River such as Phata-Buyong HEP and Singoli-Bhatwari HEP badly damaged. Small dams on Madhaymaheshwer and Kali river are also badly damaged. It is worth considering a moment what the Tehri dam could have done to Haridwar if it too had given way. Perhaps water simply overflowing banks wouldn't be as bad.

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6

If you remember our earlier appreciative publishing of the indie film Inklab and the interview with Dr. Gaurav Chhabra that followed, we are glad to share that the film was widely appreciated. But once it came to the "real world", it ran into trouble - specifically, trouble with our nitpicking, politically meddling censor board. A censor board that sees nothing in passing item numbers even while evidence of objectification of women in real life is leading to increasing sexual crimes against them. But God forbid an enactment of documented historical facts about national heroes is actually seen by the people without censoring to taste.

Disclosure: Dr. Gaurav Chhabra is a friend and a person I respect for consistently challenging wrongs where he sees them.

Read on:

What came as a rude shock to Chandigarh based director Dr Gaurav Chhabra, the producer of the film InkLab, who was packing his bags for Goa, to attend International Film Festival of India (IFFI) was the letter from Central board of Film Certification India, suggesting at-least 9 cuts in the film thus destroying the whole structure and message of the film InkLab, which is inspired by Shaheed Bhagat Singh's Assembly Bombing case of 1929.

What disturbs him more is that, CBFC has right away kicked out the film from the 'Educational category'. " Film is a direct result of my personal learning in the field of social-activism over last 5 years...and it advocates the use Constitutional tools like Right to information, Freedom of speech, peaceful protests etc for bringing about a holistic social change in society " says the 32 year old doctor turned indie filmmaker and activist.

Chhabra applied for Censor certificate for his film InkLab after some of the film festivals in the country where the film is  an official selection, asked for it as a routine. Chhabra who is already promoting his film as ‘For mature audience only’ straightaway demanded for Adults certificate in his application to CBFC. “The film documents the casual talks of two university students on corruption and other prevalent issues of today in a natural flow…and at places there is use of strong language and symbolism, so I myself responsibly opted for Adult certification… but unfortunately even that is denied”

This hour long Avant-garde film made in Cinema-Verite style, produced in Chandigarh in March this year, is a story of a young rebellious PhD fellow who has gone missing and police is investigating the case with the help of his close friend and professors. The film is shown as if been put together from the footage of video and mobile camera of this friend.

The film incidentally is shot at the Historic Dwaarka Das Library in Chandigarh, which is post-partition restoration of the library at Lahore where Shaheed Bhagat Singh used to spend a lot of time reading books on Russian, Irish revolutions and socialism.

Confronting the cuts prescribed by the CBFC and calling them uncalled for and invalid, the Doc says " The cuts prescribed by the CBFC chop off selectively the talks about corruption in politics. These talks represent average discussions on contemporary news, among today’s youth. Chopping such scenes is only in the interest of ‘corrupt politicians’ and not in interest of ‘Politics’ and public in general "

As the story unfolds the film primarily touches the topics of:  Corruption, Right to Information Act, Social equality, Debate on nuclear power, Debate on Genetically Modified food, Development issues, Freedom of Speech, Naxalism, Role of Independent media in society. Film also bring forth the core idea of Social equality as envisioned by Shaheed  Bhagat  Singh and educates the audience about the reason behind Assembly bombing case of 1929 and how ‘Long live revolution’doesn’t mean constant turbulence  in the society but rather a just and peaceful society.

The film focuses on the fact that today even if youth are fighting for ‘their rights’ all around the world, the marginalized groups are still neglected by them and voice of poor is still oppressed. But however even after 80 years of the Martyrdom of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, his idea of Freedom and social-economic equality is being suppressed.

CBFC has asked to chop off the scene where the protagonist is trying to make homemade fire-works/non-lethal bombs in his kitchen and then trying it at his room.

"CBFC grossly missed the historical context of the film, where protagonist talks about Bhagat Singh’s Assembly bomb case. The protagonist being a rational, inquisitive and  scientific person tries for himself everything before he actually decides to apply it or not. Explosives made by Bhagat Singh were home made too and this film simply reflects the same thing via the protagonist. There are thousand plus recipes to make bombs on Internet, just in case they are worried that this film teaches public about making bombs. Until the reason behind the Assembly bombing of 1929 is shown, any uninformed person would call the valiant act of Freedom fighters a violent act. “ tells the director doc who in in last five years has bagged various national and international awards for his short films and social activism.


In 1929, Shaheed Bhagat Singh, a young Indian Freedom fighter and a contemporary of a better-known figure Mahatma Gandhi, threw non-lethal bombs in Central Legislative assembly to protest against the draconian laws being passed by the British Govt. He was arrested and later executed at the young age of 23.

“ The name InkLab stands for Lab of Ink.. lab of thoughts.. and means that one should not just apply any ideology which has been passed on to him just because it has been existing and is prevalent. Film tells that one should experiments with the ideas before one actually applies them in social life. To doubt, to question is a scientific approach .. and this film is about having a scientific and sensitive approach to the theme of Revolution and social” says Chhabra, who has refused to take any cuts for his film and will stand by the Director’s cut alone.

Dr Chhabra's earlier earlier films have won awards at W.H.O.'s Global Health film award in 2007 in Switzerland, Green Apple Award 2010 for Environment films in U.S.A , We care Film Festival, Delhi among many others. InkLab is submitted to around 3 dozens film festivals across the globe and has been selected in all the three festivals, that have declared the results - International Film Festival of Ahmedabad, IFFI, Goa, and Third Eye Asian Film Festival, Mumbai. The denial of Censor certifications doesn’t seem to deter the spirits of this indie filmmaker who believes in the power of youth and new media and positively believes that the film will find its way to the deserving audience in one way or the other.

"The true test of Freedom of speech in a democracy comes only when someone makes Speech of Freedom..and CBFC has time and again failed in that! Passing vulgar scenes and baseless abuses and violence is definitely not a sign of boldness or Freedom of speech but of misplaced priorities and challenged sensibilities of the board members " signs off the doctor, who has made available the film for free private viewing for mature audience at the official websitewww.inklabmovie.com

The tagline on the film's official website and the posters itself reads: ' In the digital age, where megabyte is the new dynamite and power of ideas & connectivity cannot be ignored, this is an experiment in the Lab of thoughts – Ink Lab. '