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For more background on the village Champa Devi visited, see this article by our own Shai Yashvant




CHAMPA DEVI SHUKLA talks about her experiences in Tamilnadu and Pondicherry

13 November, 2002, CHENNAI

"In terms of language, I was as much at a loss in Tamilnadu, as I was in Switzerland. But there was no mistaking the warmth of the people, and the numerous women I came in contact with. We had three rallies, two public meetings at crowded places outside industrial estates. My visit to the village in Cuddalore SIPCOT [chemical industrial estate] moved me to tears.

When I saw the state of the people there, I felt that there was another Bhopal in the making. What kind of a Government will willfully allow their people to suffer like this, especially after having gone through the world's industrial disaster in Bhopal.

The village we visited (Sonnanchavadi is a village of inland fisherfolk lying along a slow-moving river) would have been a beautiful place to live in had it not been for the pollution. Now it is ugly. The place smells bad. Throughout the day, it's like living through a gas leak. After an hour, I felt dizzy, and wanted to leave. If this happens to us in such a short time, what about the people who live here. The children here are so badly affected. And all the men folk suffer from serious skin disorders because of the polluted river that they fish in.

"We spoke to the villagers and told them about our experiences with Bhopal, Carbide and Dow. We urged them to join hands and fight, because nothing can be won without a fight. The next day, during the rally in Cuddalore, we were really encouraged when we saw the mass of people gathered here. That's when I felt that the companies here better watch out.

"Today in Chennai, we had a 2 km rally, and a demo at the MLA Guest house. It was heartening to be amidst plenty of women, angry women, women who knew what they were doing and why. We had a Gate meeting at the Ambattur Industrial Estate. The place is filthy and unfit for habitation. There are so many factories here, and no security for people's lives. There's garbage everywhere. The meeting was at a crowded traffic junction with a public announcement system. Many people, mainly workers, waiting for their buses were there. We told them the story of Bhopal. We told them we're here to warn them against the possibility of a Bhopal in Ambattur if they aren't careful. And we asked them for their support in our fight and the fight against Bhopals in Tamilnadu and anywhere else.

"Wherever we went, we got support from all kinds of people. The support from women was great. In Pondicherry, at the gates of Anabond Essex (a company in which Dow has 50 percent share), in the rallies in Cuddalore and Chennai, we had more women than men. That is as it should be. After all, mothers have the most concern for the child. And when children suffer, the women suffer the most. It was very important that the women were out in force."