Attn: Chief Reporter/Bureau Chief
10 April, 2006, New Delhi – For immediate release
Frustrated by the continued silence from South Block, more than 500 Bhopalis, including gas victims and those forced to consume water tainted by Carbide’s poisons, arrived in New Delhi today to support the impending indefinite hunger strike to be announced tomorrow. In a graphic and silent demonstration, the 500 victims took over Parliament Street in a die-in, where they lay on the ground, covered themselves with a shroud and played dead, while figures of death, George Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh danced through the corpses.
“Our demonstration is a reflection of reality. Those of us who are gas affected or living in the water contamination areas are the living dead. More than 20,000 have died, and our Government’s apathy – in addition to Union Carbide’s poisons – is the reason for all these deaths,” said Shehazadi Bee, a 49 year old gas victim who is daily exposed to Carbide’s poisons from the tainted handpump water in Blue Moon Colony behind the infamous factory. Union Carbide and its new owner Dow Chemical have refused to clean up the thousands of tons of toxic wastes left behind in Bhopal, and the Government has refused to hold them accountable for fear of hindering American investments in India.
Thirty-five days of walking from Bhopal to Delhi, and 15 days of waiting in the pavement of Jantar Mantar under the hot sun has proven inadequate to move the Prime Minister. “He must have a heart of stone to force the poison-ravaged people of Bhopal to go on an indefinite hunger strike after all that they have been through,” said Rachna Dhingra, a long-standing Bhopal activist who undertook the 800 km walk to Delhi. Six Bhopal victims and their supporters will launch an indefinite global hunger strike targeting the Indian Government tomorrow.
A 2001 study published by the State Government’s Centre for Rehabilitation Studies attributes at least 350 deaths annually to gas-related ailments. More recent studies by the same institute find that prevalence of diseases among gas victims is 3 to 4 times higher than among unexposed population. Studies done by health volunteers from Sambhavna Trust Clinic – a free non-governmental clinic that treats 200 gas victims a day – also report highly abnormal patterns of morbidity among gas- and water contamination-affected populations. A survey of men and women in Atal Ayub Nagar, where drinking water has high levels of carcinogenic Trichlorobenzene, found 95 percent of women and all men to be anemic. The national figure for anemia among women is 58 percent. Incidentally, Trichlorobenzene – a chemical dumped in large quantities by Carbide – is known to cause anemia and leukaemia.
Similarly, a Sambhavna study among girls in Annu Nagar, a settlement of 1500 gas- and water-affected people, indicates that 50 percent of the girls had not attained puberty even at the age of 15. Average age at puberty in India is 13.
“Those of us who have been forced to drink poisoned water are pained to see the kinds of effects it is having on our children. Some are born with missing palates, cleft lips, large heads, missing fingers. 16-year old boys look like they are 8 or 9 years,” says Shehazadi. “If the Government tries to send us back to Bhopal without meeting our demands, they will be condemning us and our children to a slow, painful death. A hunger strike is nothing compared to knowingly poisoning yourself and your children daily,” she said.
Health volunteers working in the 16 water contamination-affected communities have identified at least 70 children with gross birth abnormalities. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. A detailed study will reveal the impact of Government inaction and corporate irresponsibility on the health of children in Bhopal,” said Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information and Action. Sarangi is also founder-trustee of the Sambhavna Clinic.
The state of health care for Carbide’s victims in Bhopal is pathetic, a Supreme Court Monitoring Committee on health care in Bhopal reports. The report concludes that in the absence of a rational treatment protocol, of specialists and of diagnostic equipment, patients are being treated symptomatically, and are forced to come back to the hospitals for the same illnesses for several years.
The Bhopalis are demanding clean water, clean up of contamination, a coordinating agency with power and finances to implement medical and economic rehabilitation programs, curbing Dow Chemical from trading in Union Carbide products, processes and technologies in India, setting up of a special prosecution cell to pursue the criminal case against Union Carbide and Warren Anderson among others, and memorialising the disaster by including the Bhopal story in the educational curricula of schools and colleges.
For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman — +91 9868474437.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.bhopal.net and www.studentsforbhopal.org