10th Feb 2009, Chennai:
A group of 75 Bhopalis, including 15 members of ‘Children against Dow –Carbide,’ were in Chennai for the ‘Justice Rocks Concert’. While hundreds of Chennai Youth hummed to the tune of “Don’t work for dirty Dow’, Bhopalis decided to have a protest right at Dow’s hideout in Chennai. And the preparations started. As usual, after dealing with what, when, where, who and how, the group was determined to leave Dow in no doubts about why it will have sleepless nights now on. With 2009 being the 25th Year of the Disaster and the ninth year in a row of Dow’s constant mockery of Indian law and lives, Bhopalis have resolved to bring Dow to book.
Dow has been looking towards Chennai even more anxiously after it was pushed out of Pune by warkaris and Bhopal supporters. Chennai supporters figured that Dow has been operating out of Olympia Tech Park, Guindy Industrial Estate in Chennai and were quietly enraged at having Dow in their neighbourhood, so they took the lead in the logistics support. In no time preparations were done. Placards, shrouds, pamphlets, paper mats, banners, press release in place. We were all set for today’s actions.
The group got up quite early in the morning and started for Olympia Tech Park. This comprises of three huge buildings with offices of several companies, guarded on all five gates. Once there, Bhopalis wasted no time in setting the stage for yet another die-in action that Dow will remember for years to come. Around thirty women covered themselves with shrouds and lay down in front of gate no 1.
Children sat next to them wearing placards.
The rest of the Bhopalis and their supporters made a human chain.
Both the gates were covered with banners saying, ‘Bhopal: 25 years. 25,000 dead and counting’ and ‘No Justice No Business, Dow Out of Tamil Nadu’.
In no time the road was almost blocked. It was impossible for anyone nearby not to stop and enquire about the protest. Volunteers were ready with pamphlets and didn’t miss a car, scooter, auto or anyone who passed by until they ran out of stock. Guards tried to disperse the onlookers but all in vain.
Even the employees of the other companies stopped by and enquired. Tamil Nadu police were quick to reach the venue, and stood silently once Bhopalis made it clear that they wouldn’t leave without meeting Dow executives.
The reception staff at Olympia Tech Park insisted that Dow didn’t have an office there. However we were convinced about Dow’s presence because on its website Dow lists Olympia Tech Park as its office base. Some of the employees and security guards mentioned that Dow operates a two member office from there. While this confrontation was still on, one of the supporters saw a bunch of Dow executives running towards Thamarai Park. Bhopalis followed them and staged another die-in at Thamarai Park.
This is located just a block ahead of Olympia Tech Park and was the site of a massive protest against Dow organized by Youth For Social Change members in August last year. If you ever want a tour of lifeless, ghostly, prison like spot this is the place to be. With huge buildings giving no sign of life and employees managing a glimpse of outer world through the dark glass windows that envelop the entire building, Thamarai Park looks almost like a cemetery. No wonder it seemed like a place meant especially for die-ins.
At Thamarai, too, for quite some time the staff tried misleading us by denying Dow’s presence. However, when one of the local supporters checked in with the guards about Dow officials they gave him the visitor’s register confirming this to be Dow’s local hide out. More police arrived, this time along with women cops. It was already noon and the heat was at its peak. We asked the guards for some water and one of them gave us the only water bottle that he had brought from home. Apparently they were not allowed to enter the building for drinking water and would carry water from home. Of course, after all the Blue Planet Run and millions spent on fake advertising about how concerned Dow is about providing clean drinking water to all, it must have exhausted its ‘human element’.
While Bhopalis sat for over an hour waiting for Dow officials to come out of their cocoons, they sent a message through the security officers that they were scared to come out and would rather have two representatives sent in with the demands. Bhopalis recognized Ms. Mahiti Parshuram (PR Officer for Dow India whom they had also seen at Jaipur Foot Camp organized recently by Mahavir Viklang Samiti in Chennai) peeping out from behind one of the pillars.
Dow PR stooge Ms. Mahiti Parshuram skulks in the shadows at Thamarai Park
Unanimously, the Bhopalis rejected the idea and told the cops that they would neither enter the office nor would they leave the venue. By then, Dow officials had filed a complaint against the Bhopalis and forced police to arrest them on charges of unlawful assembly.
72 Bhopalis, including 38 women, 11 children and 23 men along with some of the local supporters were arrested and taken to Mount Police Station. The cops were empathetic and were quite reluctant to arrest them. As one of the officers put it, “We know that you are right. We don’t want to take any action against people who have been poisoned. They (Dow executives) refuse to come out and have filed a complaint. We are forced to take action due to procedural requirement. We would like you to walk into the police van.” The Bhopalis complied. Coming from a police officer, this speaks volumes about the support and empathy that Bhopal survivors elicit across the country, bridging all divides of culture, language, geography and profession.
They were released within an hour. Time now for lunch, endless talks and celebration!
Dow be warned. There is more to come.