INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR JUSTICE IN BHOPAL, MUMBAI, NOVEMBER 8, 2006
ICJB press release here
BHOPALIS, RATHER THAN BHOPAL, are perhaps the worst nightmare of the chemical industry. Just as India’s high-profile alms-seekers – the Ministry of Chemicals, the Planning Commission – were all set to lay out the red carpet to chemical multinationals at the Indiachem 2006 trade fair, more than 200 survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster from Bhopal landed at the plush 5-star conference venue in Mumbai to deflate the organisers’ enthusiasm by reminding them of the unfinished business in Bhopal.
The trade fair, perhaps the most important chemical industry event in India, was scheduled to begin today with a conference at Hotel Grand Intercontinental in Andheri, and an exhibition at the Goregaon grounds where the World Social Forum was held. The Minister of Chemicals & Fertilisers, Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan, is to deliver the keynote address. Executives from Indian and foreign chemical MNCs, including Dow Chemical, Dow Corning, United Phosphorus Ltd, were among the key speakers at the conference.
At 10.30 a.m., just as the Conference was to get underway, Bhopal activists arrived at the Hotel and chained themselves to the side of the gate. They could have obstructed the traffic. But out of consideration for all those poor rich souls staying at the Hotel, they stayed on the side belting out slogans about the Government and the Chemical industry’s irresponsibility.
INDIACHEM, SHAME, SHAME – NO JUSTICE, NO BUSINESS
Indiachem, shame shame was among the tamest slogans. More educational ones like: Indiachem Kya Karega; Mulk Mein Bhopal Banega [Indiachem, what will it do? It will create Bhopals all over India.]
The streets rang with ultimatums such as: Bhopal Mein Insaaf Nahin tho Rasayan ka Vyapar Nahin. [No Justice, No Business] The protesters also chanted slogans offering guidance for the special treatment of various industries: Zahar Banane Vaalon Ko; Jootha Maro Saalon Ko. [Makers of poison, beat them with shoes]
Within minutes, frantic organisers called the cops who responded with alacrity. But after arriving with a band of 15 male and 2 female police, woefully inadequate to handle the battle-hardened women of Bhopal, the police stood on the sidelines not knowing what to do.
By 12.30 p.m. the conference still hadn’t gotten underway. In all likelihood, IndiaChem will start with lunch, with the Bhopalis having provided the appetizer.
LOCALS RALLY TO SUPPORT PROTESTERS
In true Bombay Ishtyle, the aam janata (meaning the non-5-star public, the ordinary people) were extremely supportive of the protestors. Taximen near the Hotel pooled money and fed the Bhopalis hot vada pavs (a Bombay speciality consisting of fried curried potato fritters sandwiched in a bread with a spicy chutney spread).
Even as the Bhopalis were waiting for the vada paavs, who should stop by but the Minister of Chemicals himself. Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan who was driving to the Conference to deliver his keynote address stopped his car, walked to the Bhopalis who were sitting on the sidewalk and struck up a conversation.
He had the 6 demands of the Bhopalis ready at hand. The Bhopalis wonder if he sleeps with them. While he tried to convince the Bhopalis that the Government had met all demands, the Bhopalis educated him otherwise. Paswan’s secretary concurred with the Bhopalis that precious little had been done beyond promises.
Paswan has offered to meet a delegation of 10 Bhopalis after his talk in the belly of the beast.