New York, April 12th, 2008
Amnesty International Group 133 threw a fantastic ‘Get on the Bus for Human Rights Action’ this year! Bhopal was a side action organized with help from the Boston Coalition for Justice in Bhopal and the Columbia University Amnesty Chapter.
Side actions usually consist of 10-30 people who are specially gathered for the purpose, out of the over 1000 who come to Get on the Bus. Before the action, I spoke to all 1000+ protesters in a packed church. I gave a 5 minute talk about the children of Bhopal who are living this disaster out every day. The audience was roused with chanting – Justice for Bhopal! Walk your Talk! Justice for Bhopal! Walk your Talk!
On the way to the Indian consulate in New York
We managed to get more than 100 screaming and angry protestors from ages 10 to 40 out right smack in front of the Indian Consulate on this small street from 1:10-1:40. Firebrand Emily Setton had them chanting passionately for at least 5 blocks, before they even got to the embassy. Without a single bullhorn, those who joined later said we could be heard blocks away. In the past, we have only been able to protest along Central park about a half block away from the consulate. This year because we had smaller numbers and no noise permit, we were able to face the consulate with our full fury.
As if that was too little to ask, the students gathered signatures for the fax action, pushing the total gathered by the Bhopal campaign past 1000 (so we have sent 2500 faxes total including those that PANNA gathered). NDTV and Associated Press came to the event and interviewed several people.
We had been writing, emailing, calling and faxing the consulate for over 3 weeks, in order to get a meeting with a key official at the Consulate with no results. After the protestors left, Roshan, Emily and I walked into the consulate uninvited and were summarily escorted back out. But we didn’t back down in asking for a meeting, so the guard took our names and after about 5 minutes came back out and escorted us to meet with Consul (HOC) and CPV P.S. Sasi Kumar. Kumar was relatively sympathetic – we talked for about 15 minutes with him and he heard the demands fully. I put a picture of one of the kids affected by a mild birth defect in front of him and asked him if he had kids. We pressed upon him that this not a meeting about a peice of history, that these kids are living this disaster every day, and until there is a Commission that includes the survivors the state government will continue to delay progress and waste resources, while not meeting the survivor’s basic needs. Emily told him about her meetings with government officials in Bhopal last summer and how clear it was how little had been done. Roshan impressed upon him how urgent it was that this be addressed immediately. He seemed to hear us and said he would forward our concerns on.
Roshan Kumar of the Boston Bhopal Coalition took the lead in the many months of planning and coordinating this fantastic action. We owe him a great debt of gratitude. (He even bought pizza for the ravenous protestors who had skipped lunch ahead of 4 solid hours of pounding the pavement and screaming thier lungs out – in order to demand justice for Bhopal). Emily Setton of Columbia’s Amnesty Chapter and of the Students for Bhopal Advisory Board played a key role in the planning and coordinated the bulk of the media outreach, along with Arielle Schwartz who wrote our press materials and Daniel Yoew who was our photographer. Tony Millard the Padyatra Media Coordinator edited releases and advisories as well and none of this would have happened without the wonderful Amnesty Group 133 who are too many to name.
In addition to full coverage of the Bhopal protest by NDTV, the Bhopal rally was mentioned in the following papers that covered other aspects of the Get on the Bus for Human Rights Day of Action: