Poverty and Politics force Hunger Strike Showdown with Bhopal Survivors, US Bhopal supporters outraged at Indian state’s intentional neglect

International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB)
Wed., March 6, 2007
Bhopal, India – Six representatives of survivors of the world’s worst industrial disaster started an indefinite fast yesterday, demanding medical care, economic and social rehabilitation and protection from Union Carbide’s poisons that have killed and maimed for 22 years. Advocates from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal are anguished at the apathy of the Madhya Pradesh (MP) state government towards the Bhopal survivors, who made their demands known in public demonstrations for the last 14 days. Within a day of the hunger-strike announcement, concerned Non-Resident Indians and supporters sent over 400 faxes and made scores of phone calls to the MP Chief Minister Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s office (CMO) urging the government to accept the basic demands of the survivors.
Rajat Dua of Association for India’s Development – Atlanta Chapter said, “The death rate in Bhopal due the gas disaster, water contamination, loss of livelihood, and bad health care is at minimum 10-15 Bhopalis each month. Survivors are putting their lives on the line to force the Madhya Pradesh government to face what is really killing them – the government’s own inaction.” Indeed, the provision of clean water was mandated by the Indian Supreme Court and federal funds for the project have sat unused for many months.
“There are few deeds so dark as slowly poisoning a person to death,” said Ryan Bodanyi, the Coordinator of Students for Bhopal. “Yet the state government refuses to provide poison-free water to thousands of its own citizens. The Bhopalis want to live, and it’s a travesty that they’ve once again been forced to take to the streets by the cruelty and callousness of their own government.”
The fast is part of the ongoing “Jeene kaa Haq” (Right to Live) campaign led by four Bhopal Chemical Disaster Survivors organizations. The survivors also work with those affected by ground water contamination from the abandoned Union Carbide factory site where the deadly 1984 accident occurred. Current Carbide owner Dow Chemical so far has refused to clean up the site. The hunger strikers include Goldman Environmental Prize winner Rashida Bee, who lost six family members to cancer, and herself suffers from chronic health problems ever since the disaster. “We aren’t asking for much, just the right to live a decent life,” she says about the current campaign.
The survivors are demanding free medical care for the residents of communities near the abandoned Carbide factory who rely on contaminated ground water. They are also calling upon the state government to ensure adequacy of doctors and diagnostic equipment in the hospitals and clinics meant for treatment of the poisoned people.
Guddi Bi, Jabbar Khan and Shehzadi Bi, who live next to the Union Carbide factory and are affected due to contaminated ground water, have also joined Rashida Bi in the hunger-strike. Shehzadi Bi, who was also exposed to the toxic gases in 1984, has prepared herself for anything that may come her way: “If my death saves another 600,000 people from dying, then it’s worth it.” The survivors are supportive of other environmental justice movements and use ‘No More Bhopals’ as a frequent slogan.
The other two hunger-strikers, Rachna Dhingra and Satinath Sarangi have been involved with relief, research and campaign efforts in support of the Bhopal survivors for last several years. Sarangi, who moved to Bhopal the day after the gas-disaster, is the Managing Trustee of the Sambhavna Trust Clinic, which provides free treatment to 200 survivors daily. Dhingra, moved to Bhopal 4 years ago, after completing her studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she helped push the first campus resolution on Bhopal, as part of the student group, Association for India’s Development.
According to the organizations, over 50,000 people affected by the disaster in 1984 are unable to continue with their occupations as a result of their exposure-induced chronic illnesses. They pointed out that despite the expenditure of Rs. 600 million, the state government has provided jobs to less than 100 survivors. Survivors demanded effective utilization of infrastructure worth Rs. 230 million that the government built for their economic rehabilitation.
Citing the additional burden of medical care costs, the organizations are calling upon the state government to provide monthly pension of Rs. 1000 per month to families who have children born with congenital malformations caused by their parents’ toxic exposure. They are demanding that this amount should also be provided to women widowed by the disaster and to families in which the breadwinner has died or is too sick to work.
Starting from 1990, 10 government and non-government scientific investigations have confirmed the presence of cancer and birth defect causing chemicals in the ground water up to 3 kilometers from the abandoned pesticide factory of Union Carbide. The factory in which Greenpeace found mercury contamination up to 6 million times more than safe levels is open to children and cattle and the toxic waste lying within the factory continues to leach in to the soil and ground water.
The organizations are demanding that the state government make arrangements for secure containment of the toxic waste and build walls around the factory; they also are demanding provision of safe drinking water by the state government per the direction of the Supreme Court of India.
Nirveek Bhattacharjee, nirveek@bme.jhu.edu, 410-627-7679
Aquene Freechild, Aquene@gmail.com, 617-378-2579
See: www.bhopal.net

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