It is both intriguing and stunning how seemingly unrelated phenomena may cicrcle in unpredictable feedback loops of actions and repercussions. It is the very condition that defines Planetarity – the rhyzomatic interconnectedness of material and virtual dynamics throught the Globe. The case of Voltaren and Zoroastrians is its extraordinary manifestation.
UK made drug Voltaren (diclofenac) popular for its relatively low price and fast symptomatic relief profoundly effects Mumbai’s Parsi community. Sacred status of cows in predominantly Hindu India forbids their eating and killing which leaves thousands of their corpses left in disposal pits. This is where large population of vultures would traditionally feast which was to everyone’s benefit. As livestock industry evolved it introduced numerous drug supplements into animal feed. Along many antibiotics, diclofenac has been administered widely to lower animals musscle and stomach pain and inflamation largely caused by lacking conditions of animal sheds.
Parsis are an ethno-religious group who migrated to the Indian subcontinent from Persia more than 14 centuries ago. Zoroastrianism is their ethnic religion. According to Parsi beliefs, Earth, Fire, and Water are sacred elements, thus both cremation and burial is deemed unholy. For the deceased Parsi to reach heaven, vultures serve as intermediaries between earth and sky. The dead body is placed into a Tower of Silence where vultures, by consuming the body, liberate the soul.
Most of vultures’ species in India are now facing the threat of complete extinction after a rapid population collapse in recent decades. As recently as in the 1980s there were up to 80 million white-rumped vultures. Today the population numbers only several thousand. A major contributing factor in declining populations of vultures is the widespread use of diclofenac. It is now known for a face that for vultures diclofenac is lethal even in smallest quantities in cow’s corpses.
Due to the decline in vulture population, Parsis have had abandon their ancient customs since the corpses now take up to six months to disappear from the towers. It is somewhat cynical, that this anti-inflamatory drug causes Zoroastrian Parsis to cremate their dead.