Enter with me into the
sufferings, not only of
the people of India but
of the whole world.
Non-violence is a more
active and real fight
against wickedness than
retaliation whose very
nature is to increase
wickedness. It is not a
weapon of the weak. It
is a weapon of the
strongest and bravest.

MAHATMA GANDHI

The Delhi Dharna, 28 June to 17 July

The action began on 28 June when two women survivors of the Union Carbide gas leak, Tara Bai, 36, and Rashida Bi, 46, accompanied by long term Bhopal activist Satinath (Sathyu) Sarangi, 48, sat down outside the Indian Parliament at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, and vowed to take no food until the Government reversed its decision. They were accompanied by hundreds of gas survivors from Bhopal, with their children. The survivors sang songs and bhajans to keep up the morale of the three.

The hunger strikers

TARA is thirty-six years old. She was nineteen when the gas leaked, and three months pregnant. The gas burnt her lungs as she fled the lethal cloud. She lost her baby, and was told that she could never conceive again. She is partially blind, has chronic breathing difficulties and has been diagnosed with neurological problems.

RASHIDA is forty-six and has lost five gas-exposed members of her family to cancers. Left permanently semi-blind by Carbide’s gases, she leads one of the most active survivors’ organizations. This hunger-strike is not the first time she has undertaken an ordeal. In Bhopal she is legendary for having once led several hundred women and children on a month-long march to Delhi. They walked, day after day, through the heat, often thirsty, sleeping at night in forests full of snakes and scorpions and animals as hungry as they were.

SATHYU is forty-eight. A brilliant metallurgical engineer, he gave up everything to help the gas-affected of Bhopal. He came to the city the day after the disaster and has stayed ever since.



Tara, Sathyu and Rashida, satyagraha in
45C heat

They demanded that the Indian Government should

i) REVERSE ITS APPLICATION TO DILUTE THE OUTSTANDING CRIMINAL CHARGES against Warren Anderson and Union Carbide, from which they have been absconding for 11 years. And PRESS FOR THE EXTRADITION of Warren Anderson and Carbide executives from the USA, invoking the existing treaty.

ii) COMPEL DOW CHEMICALS (of which Union Carbide is now a wholly owned subsidiary) to assume Union Carbide's liabilities in Bhopal as they have done in cases in the USA

iii) RESCIND ITS ORDER to distribute the compensation money, that rightfully belongs to the survivors, among 20 non-gas-affected wards. Instead, the Government should arrange to distribute the money to the victims of the disaster, 94 percent of whom have till date received a meagre Rs. 25,000 ($500) for lifelong health impacts and lost livelihoods.

Early progress of the Dharna

Quite early on there were fears about how soon the hunger strikers would be in danger, because the overdue rains did not come and day after day the sun beat down on them, lifting temperatures to 45C, 115F.

UPDATES: 6 July 2002 - Day8 . 8 July 2002 - Day 10

On 10 July - Day 12, an urgent email appeal in the form of a long letter was sent out giving the background to:

  • Warren Anderson (Carbide CEO) and Carbide refuse for 11 years to appear before Bhopal court
  • in contempt, they are declared "absconders from justice". Interpol warrant issued for Anderson
  • are rewarded by the prospect of having charges against them reduced
  • the Delhi dharna
  • medical consequences of prolonged fasting
  • satyagraha, Gandhiji's ultimate expression of non-violent protest
  • "Torture me", a poem by a gas survivor
  • response to despair and constant denial of justice
  • questions that Union Carbide have never had to answer in court
  • failure of multiple safety systems at the Carbide factory
  • "THAT NIGHT " -- what actually happened in Bhopal on 3 December 1984
  • comparison and contrast with 9.11
  • the opening shots of the legal battle -- ambulance chasing lawyers arrive from NY
  • Carbide moves to have case heard in India - promises to obey Indian courts
  • Carbide attempts to obstruct proceedings - threat to call 500,000 witnesses
  • the Indian Government assumes role of plaintiff and sells out survivors
  • Carbide's stock on Wall Street leaps at news of paltry "settlement"
  • seventeen and a half years of illness - the continuing medical catastrophe
  • unacknowledged epidemics - menstrual chaos, monstrous births, cancers
  • survivors have had just $500 for nearly 18 years of suffering
  • Carbide (now Dow's) refusal to this day to reveal composition of gases that leaked (trade secret!)
  • Carbide (now Dow's) refusal to this day to share results of its medical studies on MIC
  • inaction of US and Indian governments on extraditing Anderson and Carbide officials
  • compelling evidence to link Anderson and board to cutting safety measures at Bhopal plant
  • Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro's new book "Five Past Midnight In Bhopal"
  • the neglected and abandoned Carbide factory is still full of lethal chemicals
  • a 2001 fire at the factory emits clouds of MIC, the main gas that killed 17 years earlier
  • local communities being poisoned by dangerously contaminated water
  • Dominique Lapierre's description of drinking a glass of water from a well near the factory
  • profiles of the two women hunger strikers, Tara Bai's suffering and courage
  • Rashida Bi's long walk to Delhi with 300 women and children through jungles and heat
  • urgent appeal for help in view of imminent court hearing
  • concluding words about the third hunger striker, the writer's friend, Sathyu Sarangi
  • short extract from a book "The Cybergypsies" about Sathyu's character

It was circulated by networks of friends and was widely published throughout the world. Full text here.

UPDATES: 12 July 2002 - Day 14 . 14 July 2002 - Day 16

 

16 July - Day 18 without food - worldwide protests

Environmentalist Bianca Jagger's message of support

In New Delhi, a mass rally of survivors and their supporters, among whom was writer Arundhati Roy, marched to Parliament to support the hunger strikers' demands. Promises of support were received from many political parties, including from Sonia Gandhi, President of Congress (I). At this rally, Tara and Rashida, whose bodies were already weakened by gas-injuries suffered on "that night" and seventeen and a half years of illness, became faint and collapsed. They were rushed to hospital.

In India, large rallies in Chennai, Bangalore and Baroda echoed the hunger strikers' demands.
Around the world there were protests outside Indian embassies and High Commissions in New York, Washington DC, Cape Town, Madrid and other places. In London a 1000 signature petition was handed in to the Indian High Commission. In Venice, Deputy Mayor
Gianfranco Bettin and members of his administration were in the middle of a three-day fast supporting the Delhi hunger strikers. Groups and individuals protested in Stockholm, Amsterdam, Ramatuelle and Castelfranc in France. In the USA there were actions in Texas, Louisiana, Delaware, Ohio, Oregon, California, Florida and many other places.

Above: Poster used in the 16 July actions

 

A partial victory and 40 days in the wilderness

The Government conceded the third demand. Gas survivors' money will now not be distributed in non gas-affected parts of the city.

Despite widespread protests around the world, on 17 July the Government went ahead with its application in the Bhopal Magistrates Court. However the Court accepted a counter-submission from the survivors' organisations and adjourned the case until 27 August. After the adjournment was announced, Sathyu broke his fast, accepting a glass of orange juice from a Bhopali child.

Immediately on the far side of the world, a fisherwoman, skipper of a shrimp trawler in San Antonio Bay, Texas, took over the hunger strike and launched the Worldwide Relay Hunger Strike.