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Dharna day 3: Visits to schools and the Delhi High Court

The day began early in the morning, both today and yesterday, for the young women of Children Against Dow Carbide. Safreen, Yasmeen and Komal kickstarted their Delhi school outreach with their message about Bhopal, about their lives made unusual by virtue of growing up next to a toxic factory site which had seen the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Yesterday, we had visited the Vasant Valley School in Vasant Kunj, where they’d spoken to about 100 students from the 7th and 8th standard. We reached late, with a really slow driver, agonizing over just how late we might be… but today, a super fast driver took us to the Sriram School in Gurgaon in record time, so that we were early. When Safreen and Yasmeen joked with the driver that they’d give him a certificate for good fast driving, he pleaded with us saying “No, don’t give me a poster or the police will come after me”. It took some cajoling to let him know we weren’t trying to get him into trouble but were complimenting him!

On Wednesday the kids who are also members of Children Against Dow Carbide went to address the students of Sri Ram School. A group of students welcomed them and gave the school tour. Yasmeen and Rafat were quite taken with the art and clay modeling units at the school. Soon the trio became quite friendly with the Sri Ram students and discussed the differences between their school and the facilities available to students in Delhi. Some 150 kids watched Hush baby, the film produced in 2008 and featuring our very own Sarita and Salim amongst others, followed by the documentary-It happened in Bhopal. Yasmeen told them the reasons that forced Bhopalis to be once again in Delhi. Rafat described the many different actions that happened in the 2008 protest campaign. Komal urged the students to support Bhopalis in every way possible. And then came in many questions- How many children in second generation are affected? Has the Prime Minister seen them? Why did he not meet you when you requested him? Did you write to him? But didn’t we give hearts to him last time? We did, but it seems he prefers to keep them locked away!

Rashida Bee, Namdev, Raja, Abani Roy, Syed Ali Pasha

Back at the dharna site, Chotu, whom you might remember from our six month long stay at Jantar Mantar two years ago, greeted us with hot tea. It is with this tea that we begin our protest early morning every day and pack up in the late evening. So instead of marching 800km for a month and a half, we now march some four kilometers every day between St’ Columbus school, our shelter home for the night, and Jantar Mantar. This day time protest isn’t our idea but Delhi Government’s, in light of the upcoming Common wealth games. If four months in advance of the Games the movement on the streets is so severely curtailed, it’s not hard to figure out what will happen in October. Possibly, in light of the “law and order situation”, Delhi Government might come up with ‘Stay at Home at all times and enjoy the games from your idiot box’ orders. Anyway, we filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court opposing the Delhi Government ruling that prohibits all over night stays at Jantar Mantar. The matter came for hearing today and was argued for us by Adv. Prashant Bhushan.

Despite viral fever, Prashant argued forcefully against the continuous imposition of Sec 144 over all of Central Delhi for the last ten years, effectively criminalizing the gathering of more than five people without police permission. He quoted Supreme Court judgments showing that Section 144 can not be used rampantly without any basis, and that a balance between its use with constitutional rights to free expression, association and movement. He said that Sec 144 is meant to cautiously used, citing case laws prohibiting abuse of the order, but instead the order has been continuously reimplemented with breaks of a couple of days between spells of its imposition.The government lawyer responded with little other than to claim that the boat club was the former scheduled site of democratic protest, and it was closed down when a large farmer agitation took place which was too large to handle, and that likewise too many offices of national security importance were near Jantar Mantar to allow free protest in the area. Advocate Prashant Bhushan said that prohibitions about the use of arms during protest could effectively satisfy public safety requirements, but that constitutional rights could not be trampled. The judges, Justice Deepak Mishra and Justice Manmohan deferred their judgment to Monday.

Towards the afternoon Jantar Mantar was literally taken over by around 4000 members of Jat community who threatened to disrupt the sporting extravangza unless their demand of reservation in government jobs is met. The Jat Arakshan rally fiercely announced, while surrounded by the biggest ring of police I’ve ever seen in Jantar Mantar, that they’d storm every MP’s house, halt the commonwealth games, and cause widespread unrest unless their demands were met. Jantar Mantar was transformed into a war zone.

In the evening Rachna and Shalini went to meet Mr. Paswan, Member-Rajya Sabha, who is not only former Minister of Chemicals and the Fertlizers but was also an active member of earlier GOM which recommended setting up of an Empowered Commission to the Prime Minister in 2008. He has been very supportive to our demands so far.

Tonight all the people who arrived on the 26th are returning to Bhopal, and a fresh batch people arrives tomorrow. The dharna continues!

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Dharna day 2: Rain and the art of the languriya

The rains came and went with irritating irregularity. We had moved from our first day’s stakeout to the other side of the road. Not only was the original site more slush prone, located as it was right next to a public toilet, but also because the site across the street had an additional tree. We strung several water proof tarpaulins to trees nearby to remain dry. The elaborate set up of the first day — stage, green carpets, public address systems, Bhopalis, Delhi supporters — all had shrunk considerably. Many Bhopalis left last night. On 29th, the big rally is to arrive. All festivals will be over by then.

We were a small group today. As I looked around, familiar faces from yesterday were missing. The morning session, I am told, was energetic — sloganeering, songs. Some of the Hindu women in the dharna are particularly adept at a folk song form called languriya. Normally reserved for religious occasions, the repetitive, and somewhat plaintive tunes allows one singer to lead the song, making up verses as she goes, with others joining in chorus. The songs sounded like the rise and fall of waves, almost as incessant, and soothing. Just after lunch, another lot left leaving behind about 50 survivors and two young ones.

The dharna site would have given a deceptively quiet appearance to visitors who came around 3 p.m. One knot of women clad in brightly coloured saris and salwar kameez sat together talking. Another group of city supporters and some Bhopal activists sat in a group discussing the plans for the days ahead — what media opportunities, what logistics and various other what-ifs and but-whens were debated.

Mehfooz, a characteristically hyperactive five-year old boy, punctuated the early part of our meeting shouting out for his 9-year old sister Kaajal. “Kaaju, Kaaju!! Aey Kaaju.” It was only after his sister heeded his call and took him away did the meeting progress.

We sat on the pavement loudly debating, consulting, calling people and assigning jobs. The traffic went honking by without an apology, without a glance. It is almost as if we were without bodies. Come to think of it, it is as if all people sitting on the streets were without bodies. Invisible to passers by. Irrelevant and rejected.

Chai was a welcome break to the planning that we were engaged in. The attention quickly shifted from ‘who does the letter drafting’ to ‘we don’t want chai in a plastic cup.’ No amount of telling the chaiwallah that helped. He is hard of hearing, and so continued to pour the tea unmindful of our demands for an ecofriendly container. And just in time for tea, a large number of women returned with their bags from the station. This group hadn’t managed to elbow their way into the crowded unreserved compartment in the train to Bhopal. They returned dejected. One person’s misery, another’s mirth. The women in the tent welcomed their friends with taunting, but affectionate, laughter, thankful to have more company.

It didn’t really rain in the afternoon. But nevertheless we stayed together, closer and happier under one small piece of shelter today.

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Dharna day 1: Camped in a hostile city, Bhopalis sing

BY A NUMBER OF VOLUNTEERS

Coming to Delhi to knock at the doors to the conscience of the Central Government — the Prime Minister, in particular — is something that Bhopalis have done four times in the last five years. Each time supporters from India and abroad have responded with remarkable warmth. Each time, people in Delhi — albeit a small group of committed individuals and organisations — have extended their full support to Bhopalis. Each time they went back with an elaborate list of promises made by the Prime Minister Office. Each time these promises remained on paper. At 26, it is a matter of surprise and great unhappiness to the Government that struggle for justice in Bhopal is still alive and strong. The Government’s hopes that nobody other than the Bhopalis would be affected by things that affect them were shattered on June 7. The verdict by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal sentencing seven convicted Indian former officials of Union Carbide India Limited to a mere two years of bail-able jail time triggered a renewed wave of public outrage over the justice denied. The Congress-led UPA Government was in the spotlight, and mighty uncomfortable.

Buckling under the public pressure generated by the public and media outrage, and the increasing focus on the possible role played by then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in letting Anderson get away, the Prime Minister acted swiftly to deflect attention. A Group of Ministers on Bhopal was constituted to recommend measures for addressing pending issues in Bhopal. What the Government did not achieve in 26 years was sought to be achieved by a Group of Ministers in four sessions spread over four days. Naturally, their recommendations like before fall far short of addressing the real issues facing the survivors. Seasoned by experience, the Bhopalis know that this promise too like other promises will vanish in thin air unless they do something to remain in public sight long enough to win the real demands and see them fulfilled.

After all it was only due to their 800km March to Delhi from Bhopal in 2006 and 2008 respectively that Government finally realised that not only are there second generation children in Bhopal who are being born with grave physical and mental effects but also an even larger population facing severe health risks from contaminated drinking water.

PICTURES FROM DAY ONE: CLICK TO ENLARGE

And hence, the fourth trip to Delhi. Today, about 150 of them arrived in Delhi to claim their space in Jantar Mantar. Between 1000 and 3000 were expected. But the Gods intervened to frustrate our plans. Guru Purnima ensured that the Hindus didn’t leave in large numbers. Shabb-e-raat (night to remember the ancestors) put paid to the travel plans of Muslim victims. But 26 July is an important date — the first day of the Monsoon session of the parliament.

But Delhi of 2010 is a hostile city, especially to people who look poor. As it is gearing up to host the Commonwealth Games, Delhi doesn’t want its pride to be hurt by its shame. It is ashamed of India’s poor. So rather than get rid of poverty, Delhi Government has gotten rid of the poor and banned them from being in the city. Little wonder that most common people equate the Commonwealth Games to the darkest period in free India’s history — the time when PM Indira Gandhi declared emergency and suspended democracy. Like then, now in Delhi democracy remains suspended till after the Games. Protestors, even if they are from out of town, are not allowed to camp out on streetsides after 5 p.m. To make the city look as if it is the capital of a country with no poor, beggars have been driven out. Streetside vendors’ shops have been wrecked; rickshaw pullers have had their rickshaws confiscated and destroyed; Delhi University students have been asked to vacate their hostels to make way for the athletes and tourists expected for the Common Wealth Games.

No camping in at Jantar Mantar where Bhopalis had stayed in 2006 and 2008. With no alternate accommodation Bhopalis are facing a tough choice — to surrender their civil liberties or to uphold their constitutional rights and demand a life with dignity and Justice. Bhopalis are determined to go with the later. On 27 July, a case is being filed by Bano Bee challenging the police order prohibiting overnight stay at Jantar Mantar. An indefinite dharna is announced at the Press conference at 4:30pm.

A quarter century of dissent, despair and agony has caused deep lines on the faces of those who sit here today, seeking justice after a gruelling overnight train journey. With cries of “Bharat Sarkar hosh mein aao, Anderson ko wapas lao!” (Indian Government, come to your senses; Bring back Anderson!), they make it clear that justice means hope for all those here today. Rashida Bee, in the struggle ever since the tragedy, says “We came from Bhopal this morning and there are more who will join in. We will protest in Delhi till justice is granted”.

By 4:30pm in the Press Conference MPs from various political parties came and spoke to those assembled at Jantar Mantar. D. Raja from CPI addressed the Bhopalis, assuring them that he has always been a part of their struggle and will walk in solidarity until the battle is won. He also said that he understands the agony behind the issue and that he will fight for them both inside and outside the parliament.

Abani Roy from the RSP stressed that the extradition of Anderson and the punishment of the people from the then ruling party responsible for his flight from the country should be considered non negotiable. Syed Azeez Pasha from the CPI said that the compensation being offered is not enough and that the government has failed miserably in assessing the true number of Bhopal gas tragedy survivors and those affected. He also added that the 300 crore that has been set aside for the clean up of the Union Carbide factory site should be Dow’s financial responsibility, and that by using tax payer money India is setting a bad example.

Hanan Mollah from CPI(M) contrasted the pathetic track record of delivering justice to Bhopal victims with the alacrity shown by the Government in protecting nuclear technology suppliers from the financial liability in the event of a nuclear disaster. The Civil Liability for Nuclear Damages bill, currently being debated in the parliament, proposes to fix a maximum liability cap of $450 million on operators of nuclear facility, even while offering immunity to those who may have supplied the equipment and design.

If justice delayed is also justice denied then 25 years is no small number for Bhopal. This tragedy born of wilful negligence by Union Carbide, in the pursuit of profit over safety, has been one of the world’s worst industrial accidents. Today, in the light of the Nuclear liability bill being proposed in the parliament, the legacy of Bhopal poses the question: How much does India value its people?

While this question remains to haunt us, at the dharna site the supporters bring in some fresh air. Be it through – songs of survival, songs mocking the institutions meant to “serve the public” or songs of life and faith. Neeraj and Rahul of Manzil sang and elevated the spirits of everyone present. It was heartening to learn that Hemant, who led the manzil band in their solidarity concert for Bhopal in 2008, has been successful in realising his dreams of higher education. Like Manzil, Vimlendu and Sunny of another Delhi-based organisation Sweccha sang songs to salute the resilience of Bhopalis. This was followed by some beautifully self composed songs sung by the people of Sangwari (of Jan Sanskriti Manch, Forum for Democratic Initiative) and New Socialist Initiative, Delhi. NSI sang about the commonwealth games and the disaster it has spelt for the people of Delhi. A song from Sangwari about inequality was another instant hit: “rasgullas (sweets) for rich and boiled potatoes for the poor”, and everybody joined in to sing in full strength. While people were still clapping a woman rose from the background and walked up-to the mic, to ask the artists to sing the song again. And so we all smiled and sang it again. Long live Struggle! Long live Solidarity!

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Bhopalis launch indefinite dharna in Delhi

More than 150 Bhopal survivors and people from water-affected areas began an indefinite dharna in Jantar Mantar that will last through the parliamentary session. The agitation intends to pressure the Central Government to revisit its recent decisions on issues of compensation, health care and rehabilitation, legal action against Union Carbide and Dow Chemical, and hazardous waste clean-up. Simultaneously, a Bhopal survivor has filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court asking the court to strike down the Delhi Police’s arbitrary order prohibiting overnight stay at Jantar Mantar. “The Police order violates our fundamental right to express ourselves,” the five organisations coordinating the dharna said.

Members of Parliament, including Mr. D. Raja (CPI), Abani Roy (RSP), Syed Azeez Pasha (CPI), Hannan Mollah CPI (M) visited the dharna site in solidarity. Mr. Raja, General Secretary of CPI said “The Government is insincere and insensitive to the plight of the Bhopalis, and has gone back on its promise to set up an Empowered Commission that would take care of all rehabilitation issues.” He said “The Group of Ministers was not formed to help the Bhopal survivors. It was formed to save the Congress party from accusations that they had allowed the culprits to escape.”

Mr. Abani Roy of the Revolutionary Socialist Party said “Irrespective of party, the NDA and UPA have betrayed the Bhopal victims.” Mr. Syed Pasha and Mr. Hannan Mollah also pledged to take up the issue in this upcoming parliament session.

“The arbitrary recommendations of the Group of Minister (GoM) will deny compensation to 93% of those who the government has certified to have suffered gas exposure. Because of the GoM’s hasty decision, in communities as severely affected as Jaiprakash Nagar which is right opposite the Union Carbide factory, 91% of people who have only received Rs 25,000 as compensation so far will receive no additional sum. We simply cannot allow this and will not rest till all gas victims receive additional compensation,” said Rashida Bee of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh. The organizations also plan to hold the government to its promise of filing a curative petition against the Supreme Court’s 1989 judgment on the settlement, in order to extract more compensation from Union Carbide Corporation, USA. “The Government will not move on anything if we are out of sight. We can’t afford to leave until all our demands are addressed,” Bee says.

Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information & Action charged the central government of going back on its promise of setting up of an Empowered Commission for long term medical care and rehabilitation of Bhopal victims and their children. “In sanctioning over Rs. 500 crores for rehabilitation of the victims to the Madhya Pradesh government, the central government has chosen to ignore rampant misutilization and misappropriation of funds, non implementation of vital projects and more importantly the adverse comments of its own ministries and the planning commission on the state government’s plans. We will continue to fight for setting up of the Empowered Commission that the Prime Minister had promised us in 2008,” he said.

The organizations expressed satisfaction that the central government has filed an application for Rs 350 crores from Dow Chemical for clean up of hazardous waste. If the government is serious about making the Polluter pay, it should become a party in the ongoing litigation in the US federal court on the issue of contamination. “We also want the government to move on the extradition of all foreign accused absconding for the last 18 years. Along with Anderson, the government needs to bring the authorized representatives of Union Carbide Corporation,USA, Union Carbide Asia, Hong Kong and Union Carbide Asia Pacific, Hong Kong, said Mr Balkrishna Namdeo of Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha.

Syed M. Irfan of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha expressed his dismay over the lack of response on the part of the central government with regard to the offer of financial and technical assistance of the European Union for the scientific assessment of depth and spread of the poisons in and around the Bhopal factory. He said that such an assessment is essential to decide on the best means for environmental remediation and assessing the compensation payable by Dow Chemical. He said that the survivors of Bhopal and organizations in Pithampur and Indore will not allow the government to transport and incinerate the hazardous waste from Union Carbide.

“We are also demanding that the government scrap plans of dismantling the plant structures in the abandoned Union Carbide factory. How can they do it? It is part of world heritage. Instead of bringing them down the government must ensure that they are no longer poisonous and make them a part of the memorial. Also we will ask the government to include material on the Bhopal disaster in school and college text books.” said Safreen Khan of Children against Dow-Carbide.

Syed M Irfan
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha Mob. 9329026319

Rashida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh Mob. 9425688215

Balkrishna Namdeo
Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha Mob. 9826345423

Safreen Khan
Children Against Dow-Carbide Mob. 9826994797

Rachna Dhingra, Satinath Sarangi
Bhopal Group for Information and Action Mob. 9826167369

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Bhopal survivors will begin indefinite dharna in Delhi

The June 7 verdict by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal triggered a renewed interest in the plight of the Bhopal survivors.

Buckling under the public outrage generated by the media coverage of the disaster, the Prime Minister set up a Group of Ministers.

The recommendations of the GoM fall way short of addressing the real issues facing survivors, and sidesteps commitments made by the Prime Minister in 2008 on key issues. To remind the Government that it cannot go back to sleep on the pending issues in Bhopal, Bhopal survivors plan to remain in Delhi through the Parliament Session and thereon until their demands are met.

SUPPORT THE SURVIVORS AT THE DHARNA SITE ON JULY 26

WHAT: Press Conference Launching Indefinite Dharna by Bhopal survivors
to Remind the Parliament of Pending Issues in Bhopal

WHEN: 4.30 p.m. 26 July, 2010

WHERE: Jantar Mantar

WHO: More than 1,000 Bhopal survivors, Members of Parliament and Eminent Persons

CONTACT: Shalini Sharma — 9958924989; Rachna: 9582314869

READ DAILY DHARNA REPORTS ON ACTIONS.BHOPAL.NET

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