By Pragya Bhagat
I see myself surrounded by passion. In the circle where I sit, I see people that have devoted their Labor Day weekend to one cause – justice for Bhopal. And even though the gas leak that killed thousands happened twenty-two years ago, the hearts of those present here are brimming with compassion for the victims of the disaster, with rage for the criminals walking free, and with smiles for the 30 other people around them, gorging on bagels smothered with cream cheese. It’s eight-thirty in the morning in Bloomington, Indiana. The 2nd Annual Students for Bhopal Conference has begun.
Do not let the term ‘students’ mislead you. The attendees of the conference range from college going students that are wise beyond their years, to working professionals that are young at heart. The beauty of it all is that age aside, we are all students here, striving to learn more from the residents of Bhopal at the ground level, from each other, and from ourselves.
The conference is a tremendous success for various reasons. Superb organizing by volunteers of AID Bloomington results in smooth transitions, punctual food arrivals, memorable social events, and long lasting bonds between conference attendees. Conference calls with Rajan Sharma, the attorney for the International Coalition for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), and Sathyu Sarangi, a vital figure at the Sambhavna Clinic, provide us with valuable updates that will influence the direction our campaigns will take at the local levels. The Advisory Board’s debut is also a highlight of the conference, as they are spearheading the national SfB campaign along with Ryan Bodanyi.
Like any other conference, this one is also contains numerous sessions that are both interesting and informative. These sessions allow us to extract information from experts in their fields, and apply what we learned at our local chapters. We learn how to create local campaigns, how to recruit and retain members, how to expel Dow from our universities, and how to create city council resolutions. We learn the meaning of direct action, and we understand how to effectively pitch events to the media. We learn that we can contribute our strengths through various workgroups that have already been set up, workgroups that will strengthen SfB and help us grow as an organization and as a movement. We learn from the experiences of others, what worked and what didn’t, where we’ve succeeded and how far we have to go to win. We learn as students, thirsting for knowledge and never running out of questions. We learn as much as we can, and then we learn some more, till the last session of the conference.
As the weekend comes to a close, we sit outside in a circle, on the damp cobblestone of Indiana University, and pass around a label of Sevin, the chemical that “is responsible for the deaths of thousands”, as Aquene Freechild puts it. As we share our thoughts with each other and the street lamps dimly light the somber faces, I embed this image in my memory – a group of individuals from all walks of life who have come together here in search of a better future for those that live an ocean away from them. And as the conference began, it ends- I see myself surrounded by passion.