FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
10 April, 2006. Austin: On Tuesday, April 11th six people, including three victims of the Union Carbide Disaster in Bhopal and three supporters, begin an indefinite fast resolving to end it only when the Government addresses their long-standing charter of six demands.
On April 13th, an American, Diane Wilson will join their indefinite fast at the West Mall, on the University of Texas-Austin Campus. Wilson plans to move her fast to the Indian Embassy in Washington DC after Earth Day if the Bhopalis demands are not heard.
Supporters in Austin, Boston, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Houston will hold candlelight vigils in solidarity with the Bhopal activists around 7:30pm* this evening. (Call for exact times)
All six fasters in New Delhi – Shehzadi Bee (49), Nafisa Bee (50), Guddi Bee (35), Satinath Sarangi (52), Satish Kumar (51) and Rachna Dhingra (28) – are part of a 46-person team that walked almost 500 miles from Bhopal to New Delhi in 33 days to underscore their demands and give adequate notice to the Indian Government. Despite repeated requests, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has refused to meet the Bhopalis, stating that he has nothing to say to them. “The Government cannot ignore us. We have come here for justice, and we’re not leaving without it,” said Shehazadi Bee.
On April 13th, Texas fisherwoman-activist Diane Wilson will begin an indefinite hunger strike to mobilize relay hunger strikers in the US. Tuesday, April 11th Wilson will hold a candlelight vigil in front of the Dow Chemical Union Carbide plant in her hometown of Seadrift, Texas, a plant that has contributed to the destruction of Lavaca Bay and her livelihood. The US programs include massive fax and email actions and vigils targeting the Indian embassies and government. Already more than 2200 faxes have been sent to the Indian Prime Minister. Last month, Wilson completed 150 days in a Texas jail for hanging a Justice for Bhopal banner in 2002 off a tower at Dow Chemical’s plant in Seadrift, Texas.
In 2002, Diane went on a 28-day fast along with Bhopal survivors and managed to mobilise more than 1000 people to fast in solidarity.
“The Bhopalis are starving themselves because their government has condemned them to a living death,” said Ryan Bodanyi, Coordinator of Students for Bhopal, an international group supporting the survivors. “The fact that these people – many of them sickened already by Carbide’s poisons – have to walk 500 miles and fast indefinitely for their human and legal rights is appalling. It’s sad that the Prime Minister of India, a country with a long and proud history, is putting the basic needs of his people behind those of the company that poisoned and killed them.”
Already, nearly a 100 hunger strikers have signed on via www.bhopal.net from India, UK, US, Singapore, Spain, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Singapore and Canada. In India, solidarity protests targeting the unyielding UPA Government are being held in four places in Tamilnadu, in Trivandrum, Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata and Vizag.
Two of the six hunger strikers – Shehzadi Bee and Nafisa Bee – are affected both by the gas and by contaminated drinking water in their neighbourhood outside of the abandoned Carbide Factory.
Guddi Bee is also exposed to contaminated water, but is not a gas victim.
Satinath Sarangi has resided in Bhopal since the day after the disaster, and is a founder-trustee of Sambhavna Trust Clinic which provides free treatment to 200 gas victims daily.
Rachna Dhingra also moved into Bhopal three years ago, after she completed her studies at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she helped set up a Bhopal support group and push through the first campus resolution on Bhopal in the US.
Satish Kumar, a resident of Trivandrum, is a filmmaker and activist who has been associated with the Bhopal campaign from the early days. He was involved in a health study five years after the disaster and published a report called Against All Odds. All six were part of the 46-person team that walked 800 km from Bhopal to Delhi in February-March 2006.
“We have waited 21 years during which we have been beaten up by the police, abused, accused of lying and exaggerating about our health effects. Now we have come not for our lives – that’s already destroyed – but for the lives of our children,” said Nafisa Bee, a grandmother of 10. Nafisa’s eldest son suffers from chronic chest pain and stomach problems; one granddaughter has chronic headache, and one grandson suffers from frequent bouts of dizziness.
Stomach problems, headaches and joint pains among youth are common among those drinking contaminated water in Bhopal. The water is known to contain high levels of mercury, lead and cancer-causing chlorinated chemicals.
“Will the Prime Minister give his grandchildren poisoned water? Then why does he think that poor people are any different? He doesn’t even have the grace to meet those who have walked 800 km to meet him,” Nafisa says.
Contrary to his hostility towards the Bhopalis, Mr. Singh has had two luncheon meetings with the CEO of Union Carbide’s new owner Dow Chemical, Mr. Andrew Liveris, and initiated steps within the Indian Federal Planning Commission to facilitate Dow’s investments in India.
According to well-placed Government sources, the Government is reluctant to address any of the Bhopali’s demands relating to holding Dow and Union Carbide responsible for fear of angering US corporations and the US Bush administration.
The Bhopal campaign has demanded that because Union Carbide is an absconder in the eyes of Indian criminal courts, Dow and Union Carbide should be barred from introducing into India any processes, technologies or products developed by or owned by Union Carbide.
The Bhopalis are also demanding clean water, clean up of contamination, a government coordinating agency with power and finances to implement medical and economic rehabilitation programs, 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.
www.bhopal.net – www.icjb.org
Bios of Hunger Strikers (not featured above)
Nafisa Bee is a mother of 3 sons and 2 daughters, and grandmother of 10 children. She lives in Blue Moon Colony and is affected both by gas and contaminated water. She suffers from chronic chest pain, and burning eyes. Because of the water, she also has stomach problems. Her mother-in-law died due to respiratory problems caused by long-term effects of the gas. Her eldest son suffers from chest pain and all children have stomach problems. One granddaughter has chronic headaches, and one grandson suffers from frequent bouts of dizziness. Her husband is unable to work for a living. He has severe stomach problems, and had nasal bleeding for nearly three years.
Guddi Bee was not affected by the gas. But her troubles began when she moved into Blue Moon Colony about 12 years ago. She has two boys and one daughter. The oldest boy, Qadir (18), has chronic chest pain and burning sensation in the stomach. The youngest boy, Kallu, also has severe chest pain and is very weak. He cannot hold his food, and gets tired very easily, preventing him from being able to earn a livelihood. The daughter – Sai Been-also has chest pains and white discharge.
“The water stinks here. If you drink it, you throw up. If you eat anything after drinking the water, you’ll throw up. We’ve been drinking this water for 12 years now,” she says.
Shehzadi Bee (49) has three sons and three daughters. During the gas leak, there were six people in her family including herself. Everybody in her family has some ailment or the other. Her husband is a TB patient. One son has cancer. One daughter lost her sight because of the gas. All the grandchildren have boils all over the body and stomach problems, and all are physically retarded. They cannot study because they suffer from constant headaches. Shehzadi too is a resident of Blue Moon Colony.
Nirveek Bhattacharjee, 410-627-7679 firstname.lastname@example.org
Aquene Freechild, 617-378-2579, email@example.com
Nityanand Jayaraman, +91 9868474437, firstname.lastname@example.org