Shalini Sharma, Students for Bhopal, Delhi, December 6, 2006
Finally, the day comes. To the last minute we are busily preparing the press release, drawing on placards, gathering together double-sided tape, scissors, and other such essential tools for action. Then off we go, nervous and anticipatory, moving from the cluttered busyness of South Delhi, out to the more expansive land of shopping malls and posh apartment blocks, Delhi’s sprawling, ever-growing suburb, Noida. Noida is the place where well-off folks go to escape the hectic pollution, noise and madding crowd of the city. It is an ordered, sanitized, prettified area, no slums here, instead lots of gleaming shiny corporate offices, air conditioned vast malls filled with ever-moving escalators, coffee shops selling 40 different types of coffee, levi, apple mac and nokia stores. This is where Dow has been hiding from us, hidden away in this suburban nowhereland, and this is where we will give them a shock, wake them from their slumber, remind them that Bhopal and the world is watching…
We slowly arrive in dribs and drabs, skulking around the neighbouring area. 12 more students are on their way, stuck in traffic. We wait for them, eager for the strongest impact. Once all are gathered together we disperse again taking cycle rickshaws to ferry us the 10 minutes distance on to the infamous office. Some confusion ensues, it’s a complicated place to move through, everything looks boringly similar, and big, and we don’t want to give the game away by conspicuously asking for the office, but eventually half an hour later we are all assembled together, slightly ahead of the office.
We quickly adorn ourselves with posters, placards, headbands, and carry piles of factsheets and handouts about Bhopal and Dow. Together 30 of us march up and down the length of the road, some 600 metres or so, shouting ‘Dow, Dow, wapas Jao’ (Dow, Dow, go home now) Then we return and fan out in front of the actual offending building itself.
It is a strange-looking office. The outer wall and gate are high and seemingly impenetrable, designed to protect from inquisitive eyes such as ours. The guard’s shelter is equally fortresslike, with only a small glass section, thr ough which an enquirer can peer with difficulty. The gate and wall bear no name or address plaque, though someone has scratched ‘dow’ onto the gate, to make the postperson’s job less difficult. In big black bold letters, a sign over the main door of the building reads ‘Footwear International’. However higher up, a small, weather worn red Dow triangle hangs on the wall and higher and smaller still is a sign saying ‘Dow Agrosciences Ltd’. The big black letters seem to have done the job of misleading people though, as anyone we spoke to in the area who had noticed the office tells us the employees there work on something to do with shoes!
We line up in front of the office, and a largeish crowd of curious bystanders, tea-drinkers, neighbouring workers also gathers around. We shout different slogans (fill in here!!) and generally make a noisy ruckus. We hand out fliers to everyone in the vicinity, and Suroopa in particular vividly regales all who will listen (and happily it is many!) with tales of Dow’s poisonous history. We plaster the gate, walls and surrounding trees and area with posters, pictures, fact sheets. We also have simple but effective signs showing big black arrows and asking ‘Where is Dow hiding?’ or reading ‘Beware! Dow in your neighbourhood’. We slip lots of leaflets under the gate and hand them to the bemused guards also.
The guards inform us that no-one is in the office, as it is a Saturday, though there is a suspicious looking car behind the gate. We are adamant that we want to speak to someone, but the guards are equally adamant that they do not have a single phone number to call of anyone in the staff. We ask them what they would do if the building were to go on fire, and who they would call, and they stick to their story ; do nothing, call no one !! Akhil tells the media that this is exactly the response they had 22 years back when a tank exploded in the Union Carbide plant…no one knew what to do! We have a Memorandum to deliver to the company, but they refuse to accept it. They seem genuinely taken off guard by the whole event, not knowing what to do when confronted with 30 angry students banging at their gate and demanding justice.
After an hour or so we head off happy to know that we have given Dow a shock, warned them that we know where they are, and told their neighbours of their dirty deeds, on this day, 22 years after the event.
What we Feel
There is no doubt but that now we know exactly where they are hiding we will come back again some day when they don’t expect it in search of answers for the questions they have not listened to today. We will not let Dow ignore or forget Bhopal or evade its liabilities there. This is just the beginning…!!!
The action was covered by national media in both print and electronic. Asian Age, Deccan Chronicle are some of the newspapers that covered the protest on their main India page with bold headlines- ‘Big Protest at Dow office.’
ANI and others send their reporters and cameraman to cover the event. NDTV,ZEE TV, Star TV, India TV, CNN IBN were the prominent television channels that covered the action protest.We are now trying to get a copy of coverage from them.
Some low points
Despite our efforts to cover the entire event ourselves on a handicam, we could not get good quality pictures. We are still trying to get the pictures from friends who participated in the event and hopefully will get some. Still a learning lesson- to be self sufficient when it comes to camera and other gadgets.
Some High points
The enthusiasm with which all members worked for the entire event was really inspiring. A group of students from a girls college in Delhi University not only participated in the event with full vigour but they now intend starting a SfB Chapter from their college. This is a very promising development.
Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.