By Pervez Bari, IndianMuslims.Info, March 14, 2007
Bhopal, March 14 (indianMuslims.info): The survivors of the December 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, the world’s worst industrial disaster, even after 22 years continue to run from pillar to post to get attention of the authorities for the redressal of their grievances to lead a normal, healthy and a dignified life.
Over 1000 survivors of the Union Carbide pesticide factory disaster, demonstrated in Bhopal in front of the residence of the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan today against the indifference of the rightist Bharatiya Janata Party, (BJP), ruled State government towards the suffering of the people poisoned by the American multinational. They vent their spleen condemning the Chief Minister for remaining apathetic towards the health conditions of six survivors and supporters who have been on indefinite fast for the last 9 days demanding medical care, economic and social rehabilitation and protection from Union Carbide’s poisons. The protestors said that while Union Carbide’s poisons are still killing people, survivors are also dying untimely deaths because of the Madhya Pradesh government’s failure in providing proper medical care and rehabilitation.
The Bhopal district and police administration were taken by surprise as the demonstrators, mostly women and scores of them being Burqua-clad, marched in the afternoon determined to meet the Chief Minister and confront him with their unending sufferings with no relief, whatsoever, in sight. The police had to hurriedly block the way to Chief Minister’s residence about 500 meters away near Bharat Bhavan by parking its four-wheeler vehicles across the road and had to call reinforcement of women personnel to handle the fairer sex who were in great numbers in the rally.
The air rented with slogans like “Shivraj Singh Hosh Mein Aao”, “Jeene Ka Huq Leke Rahenge”, “Jo Sarkar Jeene Ka Huq De Na Sake Woh Sarkar Nikammi Hai” etc. raised by the survivors in a frenzied tone.
Bhopal gas victims protesting at Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister residence by covering themselves with shrouds
Satinath Sarangi, activist in the Bhopal Group for Information and Action leading the protest, talking to newsmen at the site of the demonstration said that it is criminal negligence of the State government not to provide proper succor to the survivors. He said that in the perception of the Bhopal Gas Victims Welfare Minister in the state’s BJP government the problem is of Muslim minorities alone residing in the walled city where the killer factory, which spewed venom on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, stands. On this count the government’s apathy towards the survivors continues, he pointed out.
“This is totally absurd and against available statistics of the religious denomination residing around the now abandoned factory. Among the victims and survivors of the disaster only about 50 per cent are Muslims while the rest 50 per cent are Hindus and others”, Sarangi asserted. “The minister is only interested in to get the residents of new Bhopal, in the remaining 36 wards wherein 90 per cent is Hindu population, as gas-affected”, he added.
Syed M Irfan, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, said that the State Government was ignoring the decisions of the Coordination Committee on Bhopal set up by the Prime Minister of India last year for relief and rehabilitation of Bhopal victims. He claimed that it was also guilty of not following the Supreme Court of India’s directions in May 2004 till date regarding the supply of safe water to those residing near the abandoned Union Carbide factory where the ground water had been contaminated.
While Union Carbide and its current owner Dow Chemical Company are responsible for the ongoing contamination of ground water, the Madhya Pradesh government shares equal blame for poisoning about 25,000 residents of communities in the vicinity of the abandoned factory. Because of the state government’s failure in supplying safe drinking water the residents are forced to consume water that is polluted with cancer and birth defect causing chemicals.
Ms Rashida Bi, one of the survivors on fast, was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize of 125, 000 US dollars in year 2004 for leading the struggle of the survivors of the Bhopal disaster. She has set up the Chingari Trust with this money that is providing medical treatment to children with congenital malformations born to gas exposed parents and those exposed to ground water contamination near the factory. Six family members of Ms Rashida have succumbed to cancer linked to their exposure to Carbide’s toxic gases.
Ms Rashida said that the Madhya Pradesh Government’s criminal neglect of the plight of the people poisoned by the Union Carbide gas leak was prolonging the suffering of the victims and causing their untimely death.
Guddi Bi and Jabbar Khan, who are also on fast, suffer pain and burning in chest and stomach, giddiness, pain in limbs and other health problems due to their exposure to highly toxic contaminants in the water they drew from their community hand pumps.
Shahzadi Bi, also on fast, is a victim of the disaster in 1984 and has been additionally poisoned since she moved in to a community next to factory some years ago. She suffers from chronic problems such as breathlessness, chest pain, diminished vision, headache and body ache as a result of her toxic exposure. She has not been able to do any physical work because of her exposure induced illnesses.
Ms Rachna Dhingra and Satinath Sarangi, both activists in the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, are also on fast in solidarity with the struggle of the survivors. Rachna was a IT consultant in the USA who left her job in 2002 to come and join the struggle of the Bhopal survivors. Satinath, who has a Masters degree in Engineering, came to Bhopal right after the disaster and has been involved with relief, research and campaign activities for the past 22 years.
The health of all six persons on fast are being monitored by doctors from the Gandhi Medical College and the latest reports show gross reduction in weight, lowering of blood pressure, increasing pulse rates and abnormalities in their blood and urine tests.
Meanwhile, it may be recalled here that in a sudden move about one hundred agitating survivors on March 4 last had gate-crashed into Chief Minister Chouhan’s residence and staged a lie-in in front of it to draw his attention to the ongoing “dharna”. The survivors, most of them women, lay on the road opposite the entrance to the Chief Minister’s residence covering themselves with “shrouds” (white sheets). Bhopal police arrested nine people, including five women, who were later released.
Supporters of the Bhopal struggle from all over the world have been calling up the Chief Minister’s and Chief Secretary’s office expressing concern over the deteriorating condition of the hunger strikers. The Chief Minister who had earlier promised to accept all “logical and lawful” demands of the Bhopal survivors remains to respond to the specific demands of the protestors even after nine days of fast.
The charter of demands of survivors also included making arrangements for medical treatment of victims, providing jobs, supplying pure water and disposing of chemical waste accumulated in the now-closed Union Carbide factory premises.
It may be mentioned here that the agitation for the gas survivors is being heralded by four NGOs working for their welfare. They are Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information & Action and Bhopal Ki Aawaaz. (firstname.lastname@example.org)