Congress president Sonia Gandhiâ€™s intrepid letter writing activity, one particular missive â€” in no way as contentious as her intervention on FDI in retail â€” stands out for reaching out to a small but important community in India, the Parsis.
In a letter to health minister Anbumani Ramadoss in May last year, Ms Gandhi backed the ban of the veterinary use of Diclofenac, a drug that caused massive wipe-out of vulture population. The drug caused fatal kidney failure in the birds feeding on the carcasses of cattle treated with the anti-inflammatory preparation.
The issued a notification for the drugâ€™s ban within three months. Diclofenac was replaced by Meloxicam by August 2006. While the environmental evidence in support of banning Diclofenac was substantial, the vulture populationâ€™s near extinction was being keenly felt by the Parsis.
The Zoroastrian Parsi community observes a sky burial ritual, where its dead are committed to be eaten by vultures or birds of prey in the tower of silence.With the decrease in vulture population, the powerful but numerically small community has been forced to look for alternative burial methods such as solar burning. But many of the conservative Parsis could not come to terms with it.
The Zoroastrian faith sees the vulture as an important religious symbol and not as scavengers as characterised by dominant western traditions. The ban of the drug is seen as a significant step in the direction of saving Indiaâ€™s vultures.
Studies indicate that the number of the birds have gone up in Punjab since the ban. The Congress government in Haryana has undertaken captive breeding of the endangered birds. However, it is too early to say if the ban has worked in Mumbai, where the largest Parsi population in India resides.
This move to integrate herself further with the ethos of Indianess, though perhaps not thought out in these explicit terms as this has been largely a conservation problem, fits in with the manner in which her public image has shaped up over the last few years.
The foreign-origin issue has been buried and talk of Ms Gandhi’s kumbh forays do not kick-up the kind of ruckus they did back in 2001. She has also been projecting herself on the international stage through the prism of ‘Satyagraha’ — Gandhi’s non-violent resistance method focusing on the quest for truth.