From Nityanand Jayaraman in Bhopal
 


25 November, 2002


Bhopal, India -- The Bhopal police were in a vicious mood. It all started at
8.30 a.m. quite peacefully. No police. Children playing inside the
contaminated factory site made way for the gas-affected women and other
supporters from International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. We had
entered the factory site to begin our mission to contain some of the toxic
wastes abandoned by Union Carbide when they fled the country after the 1984
gas disaster. We were inside the factory site, beginning our work barely
100 meters from the broken wall defining the factory limits. Just outside
is the basti of J.P. Nagar, one of the areas worst hit by the poison gas
clouds during the 1984 disaster. For those of you who don't know what
happened: In December 1984, a poisonous gas leaked from Union Carbide's
pesticide factory in Bhopal, killing 8000 in its immediate aftermath. Since
then, more than 20,000 have died due to the long-term effects of the poison
gases.

Within 45 minutes of our arrival, the police arrived wanting to know what
we were doing inside the factory? We explained. Did we have permission?
Permission for what? Cleaning up toxic wastes that were polluting our water
and poisoning our children. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for the fact
that Union Carbide or Dow Chemical -- Union Carbide's new owner -- had
taken steps to clean up the wastes. We wouldn't be here if the toxic wastes
from Carbide's site weren't leaching into the groundwater and showing up in
the milk of mothers living here. We wouldn't be here if the Indian
Government had the courage to tell Union Carbide or Dow Chemicals to clean
up its mess. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for the fact that after 18
years of seeing these poisons contaminate people, we have ceased to believe
that the Madhya Pradesh State Government and the Government of India were
more interested in protecting the investments of American multinationals
rather than deliver justice to the victims of the world's worst industrial
disaster.

By 9.30 a.m., Reserve Inspector P.S. Chouhan was angry enough to start
pushing women and punching others. Even as we were sitting peacefully
outside, Chouhan pointed at one of us and started telling the other
protestors that we were Hindu fundamentalists come here to spread communal
disharmony. Fact aside that many of the people, including 19-year old
Waseem who's on his Ramzan fast, gathered today were muslims from the
locality. The crowd began chanting: We're Human Beings. We're Indian. (Hum
Insaan Hain. Hum Hindustani Hain). That did not make us popular with Mr.
Chouhan. He set upon us with a vengeance, punching, kicking and slapping
people. Meanwhile, outside the police had begun their business of beating
up innocent people. Women, including residents and bystanders, were abused,
dragged and pushed.

By 11 a.m., a bruised but spirited convoy of Bhopal women, and supporters
belonging to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal left the
factory premises for the police station. The police seemed content with
their quota of violence for the day, and after three hours, we (about 70
people) were released with charges of criminal trespass.
We went back to the factory site, called a meeting of the community and
explained to them what had happened inside.

Many of us were left dumbfounded by the violent attack of the police on
peaceful protestors. Leave alone securing justice for the Bhopal survivors,
the State Government actually beat them up for attempting to protect
themselves from the chemical poisons left behind by Union Carbide. And
where is Dow in all this? Shame on you Dow for prolonging the sufferings of
the victims of the Carbide disaster.

Tomorrow, day-after and in the days to come, we'll certainly return to the
site to complete unfinished business. Unless, of course, the State
Government decides it is wiser to serve the interests of its people rather
than humouring Dow Chemical.

Our demands remain the same:

1. Dow Chemical should subject itself to the ongoing criminal proceedings
in the Bhopal district court;

2. Dow Chemical should clean up the factory site, its surroundings and the
poisoned groundwater;

3. Dow Chemical should provide long-term medical care for survivors and
their children, in addition to setting up comprehensive monitoring programs
to tract long-term and transgenerational effects on people's health.

4. Dow Chemical should arrange for livelihood options for gas-affected
people, many of whom are too ill to work because of the health effects of
the gas.

Only this time, we're seeing stronger signals that the Madhya Pradesh
Government and the Union Government would rather ally themselves with Dow
Chemical to please their American masters than help their own people.

ciao, nity