130 People 800 Km : Bhopal to Delhi

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Two decades after the tragedy, ailing gas victims are compelled to drink poisoned water. Will the prime minister help this time, or leave them to their slow death, asks Tanaz K. Noble
Rashida bi, 54, lost her father along with five other members of her family due to cancer. But today, it’s not just the incidence of that fateful night 22 years ago that is plaguing the tens of thousands of the Bhopal gas tragedy survivors. It’s the water they drink, and the generations of mutant children with no one to seek help from, that continues to shadow their existence. “We are breathing gas. Every mother’s milk has poison in it. Cancer and tuberculosis are spreading,” said Rashida. “We’ll go hungry. Die of starvation, but we won’t return till our demands are met. We have come to meet the prime minister so we can live with dignity.”
Out of the 130 survivors that set out on February 20, only 39 made it through the 800-km-long stretch from the Union Carbide factory in old Bhopal to Delhi. Around 500 more victims have joined them in Delhi. Last Sunday they were blocked by the police at India Gate and so were people from the Narmada Bachao Andolan who wanted to join them in solidarity. On Tuesday, March 28, they were brutally manhandled by the police, forcibly dragged and arrested; two women fainted and several children were traumatised. Is this a signal from the prime minister’s office?
All the survivors wanted was to present their six demands to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that is, if he at all decides to meet them: a) The setting up of a National Commission on Bhopal to oversee medical and social rehabilitation. b) Supply of safe water to communities currently drinking poisoned water. c) Speedy prosecution of the accused, including Union Carbide Corporation and its former chairman. d) Environmental remediation. e) Curbing Dow and Carbide’s business in India. f) Historically documenting the disaster by including it in the curriculum of schools and colleges and building a Bhopal memorial in consultation with the survivors.
There are 16 colonies in Bhopal where groundwater has been poisoned by Union Carbide’s toxic waste. “My grandchild was born with an abnormally big head. So many women are giving birth to disfigured children,” says Banoo Bi. And what happened to the Rs 25,000 compensation? “Medical treatment. It’s all over.”
Although there is one government hospital that provides free aid to the survivors. Shehzadi, a survivor, says, “We get medicine, but there is no relief. How does one earn without being able to work? Saans nahin le sakti, dikhayi nahin deta, aankhon mein jalan, pet mein jalan, neend nahin aati…”
There have been many promises, but nothing has been done. “In 2004, we, 300 women of Bhopal, tied Babulal Gaur (former BJP chief minister) rakhis on which was written, ‘Bhai, hum behenon ko is zeher se bachao (Brother, save us sisters from this poison).” Nothing changed. In 2005, he promised clean water by 2006. In December 2005, he called us and said, “I never promised any such thing.” He even put a case of thievery on us followed by a lathicharge and seven of us were jailed,” Shehzadi recollects. “My 18-year-old Rubina’s chest hurts so much we suspect she has chest cancer.” At least 25,000 people live within these 16 colonies surrounded by poisoned water. “Hamaraa haq hai ki hum apni zindagi jee sakein,” says Shahzadi. “We too are Indian citizens.”
Will the prime minister help?
Apr 08 , 2006

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