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Crossing Continents Thursday, 22 April, 1999, 11:48 GMT 12:48 UK
Gujarat's global connections
Presenter Rosie Goldsmith in one of Alang's shipbreaking yards
In this edition of Crossing Continents, Rosie Goldsmith reports from the Indian state of Gujarat, and the place where ships go to die.


Gujarat, on India's western coast, is the country's richest state and one of its most heavily industrialised. Its textile industry was - and remains - an immensely important source of income, and now there is a new industry helping to keep the economy afloat. Yet there are growing doubts about the hidden costs of the trade.

Listen to the programme in full


Half the world's ocean-going fleet is scrapped on the beach at Alang by an army of migrant workers. Here, vast ships are methodically dismantled, bolt by bolt, using hand tools and blowtorches, and the pieces sold off as scrap.The pay is miserable, the conditions appalling and the work itself hazardous - even fatal.

The ships are full of pollutants and the industry - which is virtually unregulated - is devastating the local environment. And tens of thousands of workers must live in squalid improvised shelters.

Workers like these men take ships apart by hand
Rosie talks to some of the men scraping a living by taking these huge ships apart. And she meets the wealthy shipbreakers, now making huge profits from one of the world's ugliest industries. For all the environmental hazards, shipbreaking is now central to Gujarat's economy; some even tout it as a great Indian success story. While the government moves to clean up the yards and improve living conditions, no-one is prepared to reject the money the industry brings to the region.

In the state where Gandhi was born, we also explore how his ideals - of secular government and nonviolence - are being threatened by the alarming rise in religious intolerance. Hindu extremists are coming to the political fore; churches have been burnt down and Christians attacked by mobs in the South of Gujarat. Visiting the original Gandhian ashram near Ahmedabad, Rosie Goldmith asks if anyone is still listening to the message of the Mahatma.

Mirai Chatterjee
And she examines the eternal allure of gold - the metal that is especially precious to Indians. The country is by far the world's largest importer of gold, consuming a quarter of global output. For villagers, it's still a more reliable asset than a bank account. For the new middle class, it's a way of demonstrating status and style. Now the government is trying to reduce the obsession with gold by encouraging Indians to put their jewellery in the bank. In a discussion with activist Mirai Chatterjee, Rosie investigates whether they have any chance of success.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Alang shipbreaking yard, Gujarat, April 1999
on the din of the shipbreaking yards...
See also:

12 Jan 99 | South Asia
27 Dec 97 | S/W Asia
28 Feb 99 | South Asia
18 Jul 98 | South Asia
16 Jul 98 | In Depth
30 Jan 98 | In Depth
Links to more Crossing Continents stories are at the foot of the page.


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