Jhoot Bole Kaua Kate:
Atlanta Remembers Bhopal on the 25th Anniversary of the World’s Worst Chemical Disaster
by Alka Roy
While the world’s eyes were on climate and environmental talks in Copenhagen, a dozen local organizations in Atlanta came together to propose a “Resolution of Remembrance” to mark the 25th anniversary of the terrible gas leak in Bhopal, India. Considered the world’s worst chemical disaster, the leak has not only claimed thousands of lives but continues to exact a cost on the community today.
Close to 500 individuals and many other organizations added their signatures to the resolution from Dec 3rd, Bhopal’s anniversary to Dec 10th, the International Human Rights Day.
The resolution calls for the demands of the victims and survivors in Bhopal to be met by Dow Chemical and the Indian government, “including their right to land and water free of contamination.” It also makes a larger demand that “the accountability of global corporations must extend globally.” A copy of the resolution and the signatures were sent to Dow Chemical and the Indian government after Dec 10th.
The Atlanta Connection
The “Resolution of Remembrance” was presented on Dec 2nd, 2009 at Agnes Scott, at an event organized by Human Rights Atlanta with several local community leaders had gathered to talk about the “state of human rights” in Atlanta. They spoke of the “basic rights” and dignity of immigrants, refugees, transgendered people and the homeless in Atlanta. They spoke about the need to improve the way the police force interacts with the community and the need for access to affordable public transportation.
The message that resonated that evening was the message that connects Atlanta to Bhopal. A community, be it a wider global community, reveals its core fabric when faced with adversity and stress. It is how we treat those who are being victimized around us which truly defines us. Do we care enough to understand and perhaps witness and share someone else’s suffering?
Those gathered on Dec 2nd, and those who drafted and signed on to the resolution, definitely do. Individuals as well as organizations like Human Rights Atlanta, the local chapters of Amnesty International and Association of India’s Development, US Human Rights Network, Gentle Spirit Church, First Existentialist, International Action Center, Raksha and many others were part of the original proposal.
These groups see the connection between local and global, as Atlanta has famously and historically done. To them, demanding justice and basic human rights in Bhopal is an extension of demanding it here in their own backyard. Many remembered and spoke of meeting the women and young girls from Bhopal who have made their way to Atlanta on tours earlier this year as well as several years ago, brining their vibrant energies and stories of struggle.
What Happened In Bhopal?
The nightmare for the people in Bhopal started in the middle of the night on Dec 3rd, 1984. Without warning, tons of poisonous gases leaked from a Union Carbide factory and terrorized half a million people in Bhopal, jarring them out of sleep. Confusion and horror followed as thousands were died within days and others piled up in over-run hospitals. They didn’t know then that this leak could have been avoided by Union Carbide or that Union Carbide could have given them instructions on what to do in case of a leak.
But that was only the beginning of the turmoil. Years following the disaster have seen 20,000 people dead and thousands who survived continue to suffer. Their livelihoods and lives have been shattered forever. Courts, lawyers, Union Carbide (and now Dow Chemical) and the Indian government have put their own interests over what was fair, just and necessary. Many people have received no compensation. Others received meager amounts in the range of $500-$2500, hardly enough to cover their on-going hospital bills.
And it is not just about the exposure from 25 years ago. A new set of challenges have emerged for the people living near the old factory. The local water in the area now contains lead, mercury and other toxins. Tons of toxic wastes that were dumped and abandoned by Union Carbide near its factory have seeped into the ground and contaminated the drinking water to claim new victims.
Lie & the Crow is Sure to Bite
What keeps the world from forgetting what happened (and is happening) in Bhopal are the people of Bhopal. Many organizations in Bhopal, especially those run by the local women—young and old—have tirelessly and creatively organized campaigns to keep the issues alive.
Though the struggle continues, they have gathered supporters and victories along the way. A statement released from the organizations in Bhopal recently stated how, “Dow Chemical has not been able to make any significant investment in India for the last eight years after it took over Union Carbide.” Many Indian universities like IIT and a prominent Indian newspaper like The Hindu, have rejected sponsorships from Dow unless they address their responsibilities in Bhopal.
In response to the inaction by the state government, despite several court orders and assurances, the local organizations have launched the “Jhoot bole kaua kaate” (crow bites liars) campaign. For the 25th anniversary, they invited members of the state cabinet (in Madhya Pradesh) and bureaucrats to a “buffet,” serving “delicacies” such as “Semi-Processed Pesticide on Watercress and Lime Sludge Mousse.” The silent witness to the meal was a large, black, paper-mâché crow.
These women who live with the consequences of Union Carbide and the Indian government’s neglect know how to drive their point home. They are the reason that the people in Atlanta come together to remember the struggles in Bhopal and salute them in their resolution: “We are in awe of the courage and perseverance of the survivors and activists who continue to be dedicated to the cause of justice in Bhopal and keep the focus on the people suffering from this continuing disaster. Their struggles, marches, fasts and tours that have also brought survivors to Atlanta on two occasions, continue to inspire us.”
They are the reason that what has been left unaddressed in Bhopal can not be forgotten.