Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karamchari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Schoolchildren hold up their banner in Jantar Mantar today
NEW DELHI, 16 APRIL, 2008 – After 38 days of walking from Bhopal to New Delhi, and 18 days on dharna at Jantar Mantar to get the Prime Minister to meet the Bhopalis’ long-standing demands, 11-year old Yasmin today penned a letter to the PM in blood. The blood was drawn from survivors of the 1984 disaster, and those like Yasmin, who are affected by groundwater contamination. This letter and letters written by more than 500 children from Delhi and Chennai schools are to be submitted to the Prime Minister’s office by a delegation of children. The letters urge the PM to deliver on promises he made two years ago and do justice in Bhopal.
“Children of Bhopal have the dubious distinction of being victims of two of the world’s worst disasters — one caused by Union Carbide’s toxic gases, and the other by the thousands of tons of toxic wastes abandoned by Carbide in Bhopal,” said Yasmin. While more than 500,000 people were exposed to the poison gases, at least 25000 – many of whom are not gas victims – are being poisoned by the contaminated groundwater.
Yasmin explaining the contamination problem to Delhi schoolchildren today
Yasmin and other Bhopal children were joined by more than 100 Delhi school children in a rally from Jantar Mantar to Parliament Street to highlight the effects of Union Carbide’s poisons on successive generations of children born in water contamination affected areas or to gas-affected parents. Several studies, and expert opinions from doctors confirm that the poison gas from 1984 and the toxins in the groundwater can cross the placental barrier and affect the developing foetus.
In the years after the disaster, several scientists reported chromosomal aberrations among gas-exposed people. Such changes in genetic make-up could result in defects manifesting themselves in future generations. In 1991, the Indian Council for Medical Research abruptly terminated research on the health effects on children born to exposed parents after the disaster. This was despite the fact that the research’s Prinicipal Investigator recommended continued monitoring on the basis of findings that confirmed substantial deficits in physical growth and mental development among children born to gas-affected persons.
A study published by Sambhavna Trust Clinic in the Journal of American Medical Association in 2003 found that male children born to gas-affected parents were shorter, lighter, thinner and had smaller heads compared to children of un-exposed parents.
Recognising the spate of birth defects, and physical and mental development disorders among the second generation of the gas exposed, the Supreme Court had, in 1991, ordered that at least 100,000 children born after the disaster should be brought under medical insurance cover. Till date, not one child has been covered. Meanwhile, no schemes exist to extend social support to families with children requiring special care. Between 1992 and 1997, fourteen children had received official assistance for heart surgery and 13 for diagnosis of congenital brain anomalies, under a program called SPARC (Special Assistance to At Risk Children). But this program was terminated in 1997 citing financial constraints.
A 2002 study by the Fact Finding Mission on Bhopal found trichloroethene and chloroform in the groundwater, and mercury and chloroform in the breast milk of nursing women. All these chemicals can cause birth defects, and have the potential to damage the brain and/or cause cancer. Indeed, out of 65 children examined in a medical camp in December 2006 by Dr. Matthew Varghese of St. Stephens Hospital, New Delhi, 31 children suffered from brain damage. Most were residents of contamination-affected areas, and were brought to the medical camp organized by Chingari Trust. Chingari is a charitable organization set up to provide medical assistance to children with birth defects born to exposed parents by Rashida Bee and Champa Devi with the money they received along with the Goldman Environmental prize in 2004.
A book of Chingari assisted children on display today
“The Government has categorically refused to extend social pension to families with children requiring special care,” said Rashida Bee, who is also the president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, one of the co-organisers of the padayatra to Delhi, and the ongoing strike in Jantar Mantar. According to Bhopal survivors’ organisations, the Government has not allocated any money for care of children affected by the exposure of their parents. “The number of children requiring such care will only grow, given that more than 25,000 Bhopalis have been condemned to drinking toxic water,” said Rashida Bee.
Contamination affected children demonstrate at the dharna site in Jantar Mantar
Bhopal survivors currently camped out at Jantar Mantar have said they will not return to Bhopal until the PM declares setting up of an empowered commission for provision of medical, social, economic and environmental rehabilitation to the people poisoned by Union Carbide and their children for the next 30 years.
Rashida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh
Syed M Irfan
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
Rachna Dhingra, Satinath Sarangi
Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Contact : S-3, Tulsi Towers, Patel Nagar, Behind Sangam Cinema, Bhopal 462 001
In Delhi, contact: Rachna Dhingra: 9717516005