Pervez Bari, TwoCircles.net, 17 April, 2008
Bhopal: An 11-year old girl Yasmin on Wednesday penned a letter to the Prime Minister of India in blood to get him to meet the long-standing demands of survivors of 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, the world’s worst industrial disaster.
The survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy after 38 days of “padyatra” (foot-march) from Bhopal to New Delhi, and 18 days on”dharna” (sit-in) at Jantar Mantar there with no response from the Prime Minister the letter was penned in blood by Yasmin to stir his conscious over their pathetic plight. The blood was drawn from survivors of the 1984 disaster, and those like Yasmin, who are affected by ground-water contamination in Bhopal.
School children hold the banner
The foot-march was organized by three NGOs namely Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha and Bhopal Group for Information and Action working for the survivors of Bhopal disaster.
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 Prime Minister 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 and other Bhopal children were joined by more than 100 Delhi school children in a rally from Jantar Mantar to Parliament Street in New Delhi 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.
According to Ms Rachna Dhingra of NGO Bhopal Group for Information and Action several studies and expert opinions from doctors confirm that the poison gas from 1984 and the toxins in the ground-water can cross the placental barrier and affect the developing fetus. 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 Principal 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, Ms Rachna Dhingra pointed out.
Satinath Sarangi, also of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, said 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.
Recognizing 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, Sarangi added.
Meanwhile, no schemes exist to extend social support to families with children requiring special care. Between 1992 and 1997, 14 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.
“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-organizers of the “padyatra” to Delhi, and the ongoing strike in Jantar Mantar.
According to Bhopal survivors’ organizations, 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.
Bhopal survivors currently camped out at Jantar Mantar have reportedly 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. (firstname.lastname@example.org)