CACIM DELHI DEMOS BULLETIN / CDDB 15 : Bhopal struggle launches indefinite fast in Delhi and USA / The forgotten people of the world / A fragment in the diary of a struggle

From New Delhi, Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The day has come. The Bhopal movement got no response from the government even after so many days of meeting people, so many discussions, so much entreaty, and so it has gone on strike from this morning, as it has been announcing. See item [1] in this issue.
So both movements in the Jantar Mantar area are now on an indefinite hunger strike. Even if they have not cooperated too closely over these past weeks, they are now, whether they like it or not, in the same boat; or rather, in the same river. Their issue demands may not be the same, but what they are essentially demanding of the world, and of the state, is the same : The right to live, and the right to die, if need be, struggling for what is right. They are meeting together this evening, to see how to move.
So far, the Indian state – and exhibited perhaps most clearly in the behaviour of the Prime Minister, who has so far been everyone’s darling for being / seeming to be such a civilised man – has been utterly callous. Unfortunately, there is very little that suggests that it is going to change in its stance. To the opposite, there is every sign that it is going to tough it out, hoping to crush the movements, body and spirit, in the course of this stand-off. Including slapping a charge on Medha Patkar, of the crime of trying to commit suicide, a step that would be laughable if the situation were not so grim. But this simple action reveals so much of how this government thinks.
As featured in CDDB 13, activists and supporters of the Narmada movement yesterday made a ‘call to the nation’, summoning people of conscience to come to Delhi for a major convergence tomorrow, April 12. It remains to be seen what the response is. In the meanwhile, they have also called a strategy meeting at the site this evening, and where they have also invited the Delhi movement to join. Even if this part has perhaps not been very well prepared (as item 3 in this issue, a report from and on the Delhi struggle suggests), this invitation is very welcome. Even if they have different demands on the surface, the different movements have much the same goal.
Given the general marginalisation of politics today, and given moreover the massive marginalisation that is taking place today in India of the labouring and working sections of society from social and economic processes, the only way they are going to be able to make ground is if they are willing to look at each other’s sectional interests and find common ground. United, they might just make some ground; divided, the prospect does not look too good.
All this happens even while we wait for news from the central government on its position within respect to the Sardar Sarovar dam. The fact finding team came back on April 8-9; its position was widely expected on the 11th; and today it is the 12th, and no news, even yet. The official excuse is apparently that today is a public holiday. Why do those on hunger fast find it so difficult to understand such things?
In this issue of CDDB:
[1] Bhopal victims & supporters launch indefinite fast in Delhi and USA (April 11)
[2] Forgotten People (April 11)
[3] A fragment in the diary of a struggle (April 11)
Note : All back issues of this Bulletin (the CACIM Delhi Demos Bulletin), number 0 onwards, are available @ :
[1] Bhopal victims & supporters launch indefinite fast in Delhi and USA
On 11.4.06 2:53 pm, “Shai Yashwant” wrote on remember-bhopal list :
11 April, 2006. New Delhi : Six people – including three victims of Union Carbide and three supporters, today began an indefinite fast and resolved to end it only when the Government addresses the long-standing charter of Bhopal demands. The six hunger strikers – Shehazadi Bee (49), Champa Devi Shukla (54), Sanjay Verma (21), Satinath Sarangi (52), Satish Kumar (51) and Rachna Dhingra (28) — are part of a 46-person team that walked 800 km from Bhopal to New Delhi in 33 days to underscore their demands and give adequate notice to the Government. Despite repeated requests, Mr. 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. Supporters in Austin, Boston, Seattle, Washington D.C. and Houston will hold candle-light vigils to support Bhopal activists.
Testifying to the massive international support enjoyed by the Bhopal campaign, two youth –Josh Imeson (French/American national, age 28) and Sebastian Juarez (French, age 20) – will join the Bhopal hunger strike for three days. On 13 April, 2006, Imeson and Juarez will hand over the fast to Diane Wilson, a Texan fisherwoman-activist, who will begin an indefinite fast in Austin, Texas, in support of the Bhopal demands. Wilson, a long-time Bhopal supporter will travel around the United States to highlight the collusion between the Indian and US Governments, and the US Corporations to shortchange the victims of the world’s worst industrial disaster. 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 Government of India was forced to accede to the Bhopali demands.
“As citizens and youth from industrialised countries, we believe we have a responsibility to challenge the anti-poor, anti-environment development policies pushed by our countries. The Union Carbide disaster is the most vulgar expression of the ills of globalisation, and that is why we’re moved to joining the Bhopalis in their hunger strike,”
Imeson and Juarez said. Already, more than 120 people from 10 countries including China, Switzerland, Canada, UK, France, Germany, USA, Ireland, Spain, and Singapore have signed up via < > to fast in solidarity with the Bhopalis. Depending on the response from the Indian Government, the campaign may escalate with vigils and demonstrations at Indian embassies around the world. 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 – Shehazadi Bee and Champa Devi — in New Delhi are affected both by the gas and by contaminated drinking water. Sanjay Verma is one of 28 known Bhopal disaster orphans, and a member of Bhopal Ki Awaaz – an organisation of youth orphaned during the disaster. He lost his parents, three sisters and two brothers on the night of the disaster. He was one year old at the time of the disaster. Satinath Sarangi came to Bhopal right after the disaster, and has been involved in relief, research and campaign. He is a founder-trustee of Sambhavna Trust Clinic which provides free treatment to 200 gas victims daily. Rachna Dhingra 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 post-disaster and published a report called “Against All Odds.”
The Bhopal campaign has demanded that because Union Carbide is an absconder in the eyes of Indian courts, Dow and Union Carbide should be barred from introducing into India any processes, technologies or products developed by or owned by Union Carbide.
Besides this demand, the Bhopalis are demanding clean water, clean up of contamination, a 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.
For more information, contact:
Nityanand Jayaraman +91 9868474437. Email:
Rachna Dhingra. +91 9911289845. Email:
Website: < > or < >
BIODATA of those who have gone on indefinite hunger strike :
Shehazadi 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. She was diagnosed with leprosy a few years back. Her husband is a TB patient. One son has cancer. One daughter lost her sight because of the gas. One daughter 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. Shehazadi too is a resident of Blue Moon Colony.
Sanjay Verma (21) was one year old at the time of the disaster. Of his family of seven, only three remained. His brother, Sunil, began suffering from mental disorders in 1998, and has become suicidal since then. Now he is a loner, and gets anxious when in crowds. Sanjay is in his final year of undergraduate, and hopes to do a business degree, and chartered accountancy in the future. His education is being supported by some non-governmental organisations in Delhi, and he has received no support from the Government towards his education. He was in the orphanage with his sister, Mamta who is now 27, until the age of five, while his brother lived in JP Nagar separately. In July 2005, Sanjay suffered a partial paralytic stroke. He is otherwise healthy. His sister has some eye-sight problems, and headaches as a result of that.
Champa Devi Shukla (54) was born in working class family. Her father was miller in the Gun-Carriage Factory in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. She has always been poor. At age 13 [8th standard] she helped write a musical about what would happen if women did the things men do and vice versa. She studied till the 10th standard [and one among 3 or 4 in the organisation who can write], and had to drop out of school because the family could not afford to pay for her education. At 18, she became a teacher in a nursery school. She and her entire family, including her husband, 3 sons and 2 daughters were severely exposed to Carbide’s gases in 1984. She could no longer work in the factory. Her husband used to be confined to bed and finally died of cancer of the urinary bladder.
In January 2001 her grand daughter was born with a cleft lip and missing palate. One of the most active members of her women’s trade union – Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association, she has been a leading participant in all the protest actions including the month long march to New Delhi in June 1989. In 2003, she, alongwith Rashida Bee, received the prestigious Goldman Award.
Satinath Sarangi, aka Sathyu, (54) is a metallurgical engineer turned activist who arrived in Bhopal a day after the disaster and stayed on to become a key figure in the struggle for justice in Bhopal. He is a founding trustee of the Sambhavna Clinic, a non-profit clinic dedicated to the holistic treatment of gas-affected persons in Bhopal. Sathyu has been involved with relief, research, and publication activities towards the welfare of the survivors since the disaster.
Rachna Dhingra (28) has been in Bhopal for the last four years, before which she led one of the first student groups in the US to take up the issue of Bhopal. She was among an active group of youth in University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, that paved the way for the passing of a university resolution on Bhopal. She has since moved to Bhopal and is working full-time assisting with research, advocacy and organising survivors and water contamination victims. She is associated with the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
Josh Imeson (27) has French and American citizenship. He does non-profit documentary on social justice issues, and became involved in the Bhopal campaign through his interest in agricultural issues, and concern over the increased use of agrochemicals. He has been associated with worker movements in Washington state, and has also campaigned against the corporate take-over of resources and agriculture. “The Bhopal disaster and the continued difficulty that Bhopalis have had in securing justice should send an alarm signal around the world about delocalisation and globalisation. Citizens of industrialised countries have a responsibility to ensure that their lifestyles, Governments and corporations do not hurt those in less industrialised nations,” he says.
Sebastian Juarez (20) is a French national, who came in contact with the Bhopalis only recently. Touched by the plight of the Bhopalis, this high-school graduate hopes to bring to bear some kind of moral pressure to move the long-pending issues in Bhopal toward resolution. Juarez was part of a broad-based movement amongst High School students against new laws in France that threatened to liberalise the school system. “It is disheartening to learn that for 20 years, these people have been asking for their basic rights. I hope my joining the fast will motivate youth and others from my country to join in solidarity and add to the pressure to hold the guilty corporations accountable.”
[2] Forgotten People
By Joe Athialy
11 April, 2006
The Times of India
India’s two best known struggles are waging a battle for justice under the trees of Jantar Mantar in the capital — the Narmada dam oustees and Bhopal gas victims. Both have a 20-year history, albeit emerging from different contexts. Having borne the brunt of state brutality and yet remaining non-violent, they have been documented and recognised by the international community.
The Bhopal gas tragedy killed more than 7,000 people and injured many within two or three days. In the last 21 years, at least another 15,000 have died and more than 1,00,000 suffer from chronic illnesses caused by exposure to gas. Nobody has been held responsible for the leak till date. The plant site has not been cleaned. As a result, toxic wastes continue to pollute the environment and contaminate water that surrounding communities rely on.
In Narmada, the planners considered a geographical area without taking into account the people and environment for making a cascade of dams, starting with Sardar Sarovar at the west end of the river.
A considerably good rehabilitation package was prepared and integrated into the law, but never implemented by the states in letter and spirit. In spite of non-violent protests, the dam continued to go up. Emotions in favour of the dam were flared up, sometimes to absurd levels, by the states.
It put the lives and livelihoods of over 44,000 families (or nearly 2.25 lakh people) at peril in western parts of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat, according to official figures. As the World Bank review committee noted, another three lakh people still await the magic wand for being recognised as project-affected.
The role of the judiciary in these two issues has been disappointing. It dragged proceedings for years, its pronouncements on human rights actually yielding little on the ground. Its refusal to hold people responsible for violations of law encouraged more violations, and cemented the state’s conviction that they were not accountable to anyone. Calling Narmada Bachao Andolan Publicity Interest Litigation or Private Inquisitiveness Litigation was totally uncalled for.
Bhopal or Narmada, by not being able to translate into significant vote banks, failed to find a meaningful mention in common minimum programmes of parties or political formations. Till a decade back, the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party lent unstinting support to the dam in their election manifestos in Gujarat. In the case of both the struggles, the Centre and state governments kept passing the buck, frustrating the people. Politicians, once out of power, wholeheartedly supported the struggles. When elected to power, they busied themselves with other things and avoided taking action.
In the absence of an active media, these struggles would not have reached out to a large multitude. In the initial days of the struggle, when sting operations were confined to Bollywood movies and TRP ratings did not decide the news, the media had more space and time to report and analyse these issues. It helped generate a debate in civil society about development, human rights and state’s responsibilities.
But now media would rather devote space and time to details of ‘wardrobe malfunction’, and heap scorn on these struggles as the very height of all impediments. Hence, the over one lakh families rendered homeless due to demolitions in Mumbai and Delhi, or the hundreds of farmer suicides in many states, do not come under ‘breaking news’. Two groups of protestors sitting at a distance of a few metres from each other at Jantar Mantar do not invite much media attention. Nor can they pose any political threat to the government, though they are only a couple of kilometres away from Parliament. Their presence in Delhi with demands for a just rehabilitation speaks volumes for India’s human rights record. Unless that record is set straight, talk of 10 per cent growth or the Sensex crossing 11K does not make India developed or, for that matter, even civilised.
(The writer is with Amnesty International. Views expressed are personal.)
[3] A fragment in the diary of a struggle
Jai Sen, April 11 2006, reconstructed from a phone exchange with Lalit Batra of the Hazards Centre, New Delhi, on April 11 2006
[Background : As readers will know from earlier issues of CDDB, and in passing from Joe Athialy’s article featured in this issue, parallel to the Bhopal and Narmada struggles in Delhi there is also a life and death struggle going on in the city itself, by the working and labouring classes of the city. (CDDB numbers 0, ‘Some news from Delhi : Sajha Manch Rally Update’ (March 30 2006), and 5, Cacim Delhi Demos Update 5 : News Of Mobilisation Among Urban Dwellers In Delhi (April 6 2006)).
This article attempts to crudely sketch out what has been happening over these past some days on that front, based on a phone interview with Lalit Batra of the Hazards Centre, New Delhi, this morning, just before he left town. Lalit and colleagues are desperately busy; given that they don’t have the time right now to write, this article has been written simply in order to get on record something of where this movement also stands, and also in relation to the Bhopal and Narmada struggles. I take responsibility for what is said below, but readers will hopefully excuse any minor errors; and Lalit is warmly invited to come in as soon as he can with corrections and clarifications.
Please definitely note however, that the actions outlined in this article are just one small fragment of a much wider and more sustained struggle that is mostly going on in the settlements, attempting to resist evictions – certainly those where no rehabilitation if provided. Thousands upon thousands of people have now been evicted in Delhi over these past some months, and a large proportion has not got any resettlement – and so, since they are not just going to sit down and die, and cannot just disappear, they continue to struggle to find a place to live in this city – which is becoming increasingly exclusive, now courtesy the caring attentions of the justices of the Supreme Court of India (on whose rulings all these demolitions are taking place, towards the beautification of the city).
The Hazards Centre is perhaps the key civil organisation involved in the Delhi struggle. At the time of writing, all its main members – along with a number of people from the settlements of the city – are on their way to Mumbai, where it is co-organising a major meeting in Mumbai over these next few days on the so-called ‘Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission’ – yet another central government / neoliberal instrument for ‘renewing cities’, aka cleansing them of the labouring and working classes. For a detailed overview, see :
Lalit Batra, nd c.March 2006 – ‘Trajectory of Urban Change in Neo-Liberal India : The Case of JNNURM’, in Janata (Mumbai), Annual Number 2006, vol 61 no 1, pp 35-39.] On April 7th, the Delhi movement gheraoed (surrounded in protest) the DDA (Delhi Development Authority) office. They had been trying to get an appointment with the Vice Chairman of the DDA, including by trying to go through the PA of Ajit Maken, the new Minister for State for Urban Development in the central government and who has a reputation of being supportive of the struggles of ordinary people, but nothing was working. So they finally decided to just barge in, and insist on talking.
So on April 7, about one hundred people barged into the offices of the Vice Chairman, and sat down on the floor. The people included residents of the Mandavini settlement, whose homes were demolished on February 23, who got no resettlement of any kind, and who are presently living on the rubble of their homes. The DDA officials of course protested, saying that “not more than three people are allowed in, how did you get in”, and so on.
They were ultimately not able to meet the DDA Vice Chairman, who did not show up, but he sent the Land Commissioner and the OSD (Officer on Special Duty) assigned to him. These official gave the usual line, full of vague assurances. This only led to the people getting angry, and shouting slogans. The meeting ended with their getting nothing, once again.
On April 8th and 9th, the Banuwalnagar settlement in Pitampura, in East Delhi, was demolished. Over the past one to one and a half years, the DDA has generally told people where they would get resettled. This was done on a basis of eligibility. First, only those who had documents to prove they lived there, were eligible. Second, those who could show they had been there since before 1990 got 18 sq metres; those since between 1990 and 1998 got 12.5 sq metres; and those after 1998, nothing.
In this case, the people initially got nothing, but because they had with them people such as Subhash Bhatnagar of the National Construction Workers Union (many of them are construction workers), and they were also associated with the larger Delhi movement, 950 out of the 1,600 households in the settlements were able to get resettlement, 650 in Bawana and 300 in Narela. It is almost always the case that something like 30-40 per cent of the households in settlements are from after 1998, and so get nothing.
On April 8th, the Sajha Manch, a platform for local organisations of workers and dwellers in Delhi, held a planning meeting, to try and spell out next steps in the struggle. But this was the same day as the Banuwalnagar demolition, and so there were very few people there. From Hazards centre, only Dunu Roy attended. The basic decision taken was that they should continue to try and meet as many political people as possible. The movement has been meeting people such as Kapil Sibal (Union Minister) and Ajay Maken (Union Minister of State, as above), both elected from Delhi, and Jaipal Reddy (Union Minister for Urban Development). Since Sibal and Maken are aware that they are losing their mass base as a result of these evictions, they have shown some interest; there seems to be some sympathy.
In particular, Ajay Maken has been saying that if the movements can prepare and put forward a draft bill on housing rights, then he will try and push that. So the Delhi movement is now beginning work on this, and drawing on the draft bill prepared by the NCHR (National Campaign for Housing Rights) back in 1992 as well as subsequent related efforts by others in this field.
The movement is also feeling the need to work more closely with V P Singh, former Prime Minister and around whom the Jan Chetna Manch (‘People’s Consciousness Platform’) has grown, who is perhaps the only politician with whom the working and labouring classes seem to want to work.
In terms of relations with the Bhopal and Narmada struggles, Lalit Batra agrees that it would have been very useful if there were stronger links. From the Hazards Centre, they have been talking with some activists in both movements, but the response from the people of Delhi has been very lukewarm to this. They are supportive, but they are not participating.
One reason of course is that evictions are going on. But this is not enough. The lack of interest may also have to do with communication problems. People seem to have a sense that ‘Well, something is going on there, but others are going, so we don’t need to go.’ There is in fact going to be a strategy meeting in Jantar Mantar this evening, looking towards building something larger, and the Sajha Manch has promised to get representatives of some 20-30 groups there for the meeting.
At the same time, the Manch has been getting very little news from the Narmada and Bhopal struggles. If the two movements are serious about building a larger front then the Delhi movement should be getting many more calls and much more information. That has not been happening, so far.
CACIM – India Institute for Critical Action : Centre in Movement
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* FORTHCOMING in 2006 :
o Nayi Rajniti (‘New Politics’), Hindi edition of Talking New Politics, Sen and Saini, eds 2005
o Nayi Subah Ki Or (‘Towards A New Dawn’), volume 1 of Hindi edition of World Social Forum : Challenging Empires
o Are Other Worlds Possible ? Books 2 & 3 – ‘Interrogating Empires’ & ‘Imagining Alternatives’
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January 2005 : ‘Are Other Worlds Possible ? Talking NEW Politics’
Preview :
Publishers : Zubaan /
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In late 2004 :’Explorations in Open Space : The World Social Forum and Cultures of Politics’
Issue 182 of the International Social Science Journal
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2004 Book : ‘World Social Forum : Challenging Empires’
Edited by Jai Sen, Anita Anand, Arturo Escobar, and Peter Waterman
India / South Asia distribution : Viveka Foundation,,
2005 : NOW OUT also in German, Japanese, Spanish, and forthcoming in Hindi and Urdu
Jai Sen
CACIM – India Institute for Critical Action : Centre in Movement
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