Central Chronicle, June 12, 2008
Bhopal, June 11: Nine Bhopal activists, including survivors of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, victims of water contamination and their supporters on Wednesday commenced an indefinite hunger strike in New Delhi to underscore their demands for a special empowered commission for rehabilitation in Bhopal, and legal action against Dow Chemical and Union Carbide.
Joining them in the global hunger strike is noted Booker-shortlisted author Indra Sinha, who will begin his fast today from his residence in South West France.
“The Indian Prime Minister underestimates the emotive power of the Bhopal struggle. The hunger strike will catalyze global opinion against the Prime Minister’s refusal to yield to the Bhopalis’ justified demands,” said Sinha, author of Commonwealth Prize-winning book Animal’s People.
According to news enamating from New Delhi three of the hunger strikers – Rachna Dhingra (30), Irshad Khan (20) and Meera More (27) – are among 36 that were arrested on Tuesday for staging a die-in in front of the Prime Minister’s Office, (PMO). To teach the Bhopalis a lesson, more than 15 policepersons, including one woman cop and two plainclothesmen, strip-searched, whipped and slapped Bhopali youth and children who were in police custody last night. Suresh Pal was stripped, beaten and locked up. Eleven-year-old Yasmin, who walked from Bhopal to Delhi, and six-year-old Naghma were beaten up by the police, while 19-year-old Imran was whipped with a belt and hurt in the eye for intervening when policemen began abusing and dragging Rachna into the lock-up.
Mahendra Singh, a plainclothesman who masterminded the operation, said “In saaliyon ke kapde fado.” (Tear the clothes off these bitches). The arrested persons will be produced before the magistrate today. Of the 36, 18, including 9 children, 7 women and two men, said they will not post a bail. If imprisoned, Dhingra, Irshad and More will start the fast in jail.
Bhopal activists have said that the police action is part of a good-cop, bad-cop game being played by the Prime Minister’s Office. “The presence of the plainclothesmen, the warning by the Deputy Commissioner of Police that “you will face the consequences this time,” and the mild platitudes periodically issued from the PMO are proof enough that this is not an act by a few rowdy cops, but something that has a higher sanction,” said Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
When confronted with news about children being beaten up at the police station, Director of Public Relations at the Prime Minister’s Office, Muthukumaran said “I have heard about it. It is shameful. I have informed the authorities, and we’ll see what can be done.”
Bhopal survivors have said that Muthuraman’s statement is as vague and insincere as last month’s statement by the Prime Minister’s emissary Prthviraj Chavan that seemed to partially concede to the demands. The statement by Minister of State in the PMO made no mention of the powers, funds and the number of years the Bhopal Commission will function and was silent on the issue of legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical. Bhopalis are refusing to accept a toothless Commission and insist that the Commission on Bhopal be enacted by the Parliament to get the powers it needs to function.
The demands for legal action against Dow Chemical and Union Carbide, they said, merely require the Government to do what it is mandated under law to do. The pesticides that were registered by paying bribes have to be deregistered. Warren Anderson and Union Carbide’s legal representative need to be extradited in line with the orders of the Bhopal Chief Judicial Magistrate.
Bhopalis have also called for revocation of an approval given by the Industry and Commerce Ministry to Reliance to purchase Union Carbide’s Unipol technology. The Bhopal CJM had ordered attachment of Union Carbide’s property in 1992. Unipol by virtue of its ownership is a confiscable property.
The persons fasting include Irshad Khan (20), Gabbar Singh (29), Meera More (27), Iqbal Khan Khokhar (54), Jabbar Khan (45), Sanjay Verma (24), Abdul Rafiq (38), Rachna Dhingra (30) and Satinath Sarangi (54). Barring the last two, all others are either affected by the gas disaster or by ground water contamination from Union Carbide’s chemical wastes.