By Ana B. in Delhi:
Here’s the situation:
We are at day five of the hunger strike. This is where health begins to decline. Media attention is wavering and the Prime Minister’s office is playing games. Maybe we’ll get a meeting with him Monday and maybe we won’t.
This is a hunger strike. A strike: like a blow. People have said “hunger strikes are manipulative and useless. Why hurt yourself instead of your enemy?” It’s hard for many in other countries, particularly in the US, to understand why it is done, what it means in the context of a country founded by Gandhi. It is hard to understand that gesture, the gesture that says “I know so deeply, I believe so certainly, that I would put my life in your hands to make you understand, to make you act.”
Here’s what it does: it makes everyone else feel uncomfortable.
Here’s what I feel – rage, guilt, fear, anxiety, frustration, helplessness, to start. Perhaps many of the same things that those in Bhopal, ignored for so long, are used to waking up to, are used to tasting in the water. The hunger strike forces us to feel, force us to face our own beliefs (what do I believe that deeply?). It can force us to challenge our own helplessness.
Are you helpless? No. Please realize that. The Bhopalis give you that gift. Your phone call, your email to the Indian government, your fax to the embassy, your screaming voice outside an official’s home at night. Yes! Your newspaper editorial, your cousin the news producer, your political bookgroup, yes. Now is the time. Activate them! Please. Think creatively, take to the streets, and throw your weight around. They would not do so, but I am begging you.
Here is what a hunger strike can do: it can shame, deeply shame it’s targets (we can compliment the Indian government here for still being vulnerable to shaming). A strike makes them consider their own power, their brutality is exposed, just as it makes me and you consider our power, our brutality. What can we do, how do we act?
I don’t know if you understand what is at stake here. Yes, Bhopal was the world’s worst industrial disaster. Yes, 20,000 have died, 20,000 are drinking contaminated water every day, and hundreds of thousands of second-generation children may always suffer. No, no one has been held criminally responsible for these deaths. But this is even bigger. Bhopal is about what kind of a world we will all live in. If India can stand up to the biggest chemical company in the world and say “you can’t do business here until you repair the damage you have done to our country and people,” that precedent could fundamentally challenge the reign of profits over people globally. It could become a building block for all the movements for social justice and for a non-toxic future that have piled up behind it for twenty-one years.
The Bhopal campaign, all six demands of the Marchers (re-posted below), can be won. Everything from the clean water that so many here would die for, to “Blacklist Dow,” the statement that cuts to the heart of India’s love affair with chemicals and multinationals, can be won. From the sidewalk at Jantar Manter we can starve and sing and talk, but we cannot move mountains. This battle will be won with international support.
Or, still, it can be lost. I don’t mean to manipulate you but from here on the ground, I don’t know what else to do. Your actions could save the lives of friends now and they could change history forever.
I read this today: after five days of starvation the body enters ketosis, where it begins cannibalizing itself. When it does so, the breath of the faster begins to smell of fresh pears. Oh my, this won’t be pretty.