Over the last two days, in an overwhelming display of solidarity, students and citizens from North America and India have inundated representatives of the Indian government with written and spoken demands for disbursal of the $300 million remaining compensation money, and for clean drinking water for Bhopal residents affected by Carbide’s lethal contamination. The day of action was organized by Students for Bhopal and included the participation of Voices in the Wilderness (US) and Groundwork (SA)amongst others.
“We for Bhopal”, based at Hindu College, Delhi University, approached the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, directly with a petition signed by 650 students. Today the group conducted a press conference and distributed black bindis and black ribbons (tied around the wrist) around several colleges to be worn as marks to symbolise the “blots” on “shining India”. Numbers of students asked to join the campaign. One student, Shivani, summed up the growing momentum poignantly: “watching the press I have just begun to feel Bhopal on my pulse as though something is pressing on my nerves.”
A huge huge thanks to everybody who took part: we hope and expect that the Goverment of India has at last been shamed into remembering its lawful obligations to its citizens and will act accordingly. Keep watching this space.
You can see a transcript of the letter delivered to Mr. Vajpayee in this DOC1.
US students also sent powerfully moving appeals to Indian diplomatic staff:
“I am writing to you with deep concerns about how the Government of India is treating its citizens in Bhopal. So many survivors of the Bhopal disaster have spent the last 19 years struggling and their struggles appear to have no end. I was in the room, at a conference in Pittsburgh, when I was moved to tears hearing the heart-rending account of the struggle of the victims of the gas tragedy. Champa Devi, a survivor from Bhopal who lost several family members due to the gas leak, spoke of the hardships that they have had to endure. She told us her story and in the middle of talking to us, her head started pounding and she had to pause, sit down and collect herself. This is an everyday ocurrence for her. This and taking pills and medicines that only dull
her pain – no cure has been found for her and others who continue to live with the symptoms from the exposure to the gas leak in Bhopal.
“What is difficult for me to understand is that this grandmother who only wants to live quietly and decently has to travel so many miles to come here and starve. She has to repeat the horrors of that night to strangers – city after city – traveling in Greyhounds and packed cars. This is what the government of India has forced her to do with its inaction. And what is she asking for? What grand demand does she have? Safe drinking water and medical attention. Compensation that is due to her – her basic human rights. She is asking for so little! And the government has turned a deaf ear to her legitimate demands. Why? I don’t know.
“I am ashamed, embarrassed and saddened by how this has been handled. I and so many of us live very comfortably here, take our basic rights for granted. I know the Government of India has resources to come to the support of the victims. I have read reports (and I trust these completely) that according to official records more than US$300 million still remain in the settlement fund, that should have been disbursed to the survivors. In fact, a survery carried out by the Sambhavna Trust shows that in Jaiprakash Nagar, the community right across Union Carbide’s factory, 91% people received only $500 as compensation and an average interest amount of about $550 had not been paid to the claimants. This interest has accrued to some $84 million on the original settlement sum over the past 15 years.
“In addition to resources, I believe that the Government has also had enough time to come to the support of the victims of the tragedy. Why then does it not serve its citizens? Why does Champa Devi need to travel the world telling her story and asking for help?
“I implore you and the government of India to correct this wrong. I am told that on Feb 24, the survivors of Bhopal are making demands for what is due to them. I implore you to listen to Champa Devi, Rashida Bee and countless other women, men and children who continue to suffer from a disaster that happened over 19 years ago. I implore you to protect their rights and meet their demands for their basic needs – safe drinking water and proper compensation so that they can live more comfortably and tend to their medical needs properly.
“We cannot continue to disappoint them year after year. I await your expedient attention to this matter. Please let me know if there is anything that I can do to speed up this process.”
Already, written replies have begun reaching participants in the action:
“Thank you for your message addressed to Dr. B.K. Agnihotri, Ambassador-at- large.
Your concerns and suggestions have been duly communicated to the concerned government authorities for appropriate consideration and follow-up action.
Regards and best wishes
Office of Ambassador-at-large for NRIs ans PIOs
A Bhopal family gather their day’s supply of poisoned water in 2002 (photo by Maude Dorr)