Shroud-wrapped corpses in dramatic re-enactment at Indiana University

It was a cold, wintry Saturday morning at Sample Gates, the entrance to Indiana University, brightened by the sunshine and the enthusiastic faces of volunteers from AID. Members started trickling in by 11AM and were initially outnumbered by the 3 (mock) corpses Suresh had prepared as props. We were worried about the turnout since the email about the protest had gone out late and our preparation overall had been a last ditch effort. But our worries were misplaced. Out earlier protest had honed our skills at organizing protests, given us a readily available set of posters and flyers, and our media relations were well in place. And by 11:30AM, we had a turnout of about 15 people, holding placards and distributing flyers.
AID Members hold vigil and protest at Sample Gates
The location we had picked out for the vigil was ideal: Sample Gates is right next to downtown and makes for a picturesque backdrop for the protest. Saturday morning found lunch crowds and people taking a stroll through IU pass by us. Many stopped by, intrigued by the “corpses” and the bright faces standing in the chill. We had our pitch ready, giving the graphic flyers, talking about past and continuing tragedy at Bhopal, and encouraging them to take action by signing our petition and by other means provided in our flyer. The location was at a prime bus stop too, so people waiting for the bus spent time chatting with us. We talked with about 40 people though the morning — the cold kept the crowd thinner than usual.
We had a good media turnout also, thanks to the work of Harini in reaching her contacts from the career fair protest. We had a reporter from Herald Times, the city newspaper, and IDS, the campus newspaper, along with a photographer. They spent about an hour talking with many of the protesters and others who stopped by. The venue made for good photo ops too. We made sure the journalists got our press packet with background information and followed it up later in the day with an updated press release. We expect a good media coverage on Sunday/Monday.
Sarah Combellick-Bidney, doctoral student at IU, holds a placard in front of Sample Gates
At about Noon, we took a funeral procession through some parts of the campus and downtown, leading the corpses with a ringing bell and a poster. When we talked about the idea of using corpses as props, there was mixed feelings among the AID volunteers. But it turned out to be an excellent asset and made people — and the reporters — curious and newsworthy. Part of an effective activism campaign is to loose our inhibition and make ourselves the center of attraction. We are gradually learning this. We ended the protest/vigil at 1PM with a brief memorial for the victims and a minute of silence.
AID Members take mock corpses in a funeral procession through downtown Bloomington
What we did right:
– Got our early press releases, thanks to Harini and the support from SfB
– Used the corpses and took out a funeral procession, again thanks to the idea from SfB
– Got several members from other groups such as No Sweat. We are getting better at building bridges with other groups.
What could be improved:
– We need a better banner that makes it obvious what we are protesting. The ones we have cannot be read from more than 5 feet and we lose our impact on peripheral crowd.
– Being near a crossroad, we could have had a “Honk to Support the Bhopal Survivors” poster. That would have been more engaging.
– We need to broaden our media base. We met a passerby who suggested contacts at the local community TV where we can potentially get a complete session to talk about Bhopal
– Be more pro-active. We had second thoughts about a procession within downtown without permission, but finally did it in the end. As Sarah said, it is better to do it and ask for forgiveness later, than not do it 🙂
– Plan better. Compared to the career fair protest, this virtually had no planning. That meant the email went out late and we got 20 people when we could have possibly had 40. We also did not capitalize on the chance and get many petitions signed.
– Weather/Day: Though we could not do much about it, the weather turned cold and it was a Saturday morning. That mean a poor crowd.
A big thanks to all those in AID who did their tasks like a well oiled machine, including Suresh, Giri, Harini, Aparna, Ramyaa, and other members of AID – Sarah, Pavithra, Sowmya – and No Sweat, and the reporters from The Herald Times and IDS who showed the resolve and purpose to come on a cold weekend. Also, kudos to the SfB team that planned this action and provided many resources and tips to reduce our burden a lot.
[More Pictures from the vigil, from the original site]

Anyone wanting to use the series of “mask” images, one of which features in this article can find them here.

Mock funeral procession marks India disaster anniversary: Students protest Dow Chemical’s role in accident
Kasey Hawrysz, Indiana Daily Student, December 4, 2006
Georgia Perry • IDS | IU student activists protest Dow Chemical’s ownership of Union Carbide Saturday at the Sample Gates. Union Carbide ran a pesticide plant responsible for the Bhopal tragedy of 1984.
Holding a body-shaped shroud on their shoulders, graduate student Giri Krishnan and IU researcher Suresh Marru followed a seven-person funeral procession down Indiana Avenue as the procession’s leader slowly banged out a funeral cadence with a pot and spoon. The rest of the group carried posters depicting deformed children and other grisly images.

Krishnan and Marru, members of the IU Association for India’s Development, held the mock funeral to mark the 22nd anniversary of one of the worst industrial accidents in history and to send a message to the the group they say is responsible for the action, Dow Chemical Company.
“We didn’t choose to be graphic to get attention, but this is what happened,” said Krishnan, the president of AID.
In 1984, 3,000 people in Bhopal, India, died after a chemical leak occurred at a Union Carbide factory, which has since been purchased by Dow Chemical. More than 50,000 people are said to have permanent disabilities as a result of the accident, according to a 2004 article on the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Web site.
The leak also poisoned the ground water in Bhopal, and today, an estimated 150,000 people are still suffering because of it, Krishnan said. Birth defects have occurred in children born of parents exposed to the toxins, he said.
The Union Carbide Corp. has stated the company worked diligently to provide immediate and continuing aid to the victims and set up a process to resolve their claims, according to a statement on the corporation’s Web site. It also states all claims arising out of the chemical release were settled 17 years ago with the explicit direction and approval of the Supreme Court of India.
Despite the $470 million in reparations paid to the victims in 1989, AID representatives said the settlement is not nearly enough since it works out to only $500 per affected victim.
The group is demanding that Dow Chemical clean up the site of the accident, provide long-term health care for the thousands affected by the accident and provide a new livelihood for those displaced or disabled by the leak, Krishnan said. AID also wants Union Carbide and its former CEO Warren Anderson to face trial in a Bhopal criminal court.
Most people are not aware of what happened, said IU optometry professor Jenni Wilkinson, who stopped to look at the protest. She said she knew about accident but believes she is probably in the minority.
“It goes across the news, and then it just flips to the next thing,” Wilkinson said. “It is basically in one ear and out the other.”
AID has protested Dow Chemical’s presence on campus in the past, such as recently at November’s Life Sciences Career Fair.

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