Indra Sinha, guardian.co.uk, June 12 2008
Victims of the Union Carbide gas leak continue to suffer, their injuries and deaths uncompensated. We must support them
On July 26 2006, my friend Sathyu Sarangi called me in tears from Bhopal to tell me that our mutual friend, Sunil Kumar, had taken his life. Sathyu said that when they lifted Sunil down from the ceiling fan from which he had hanged himself, he was wearing a T-shirt that said, “No More Bhopals”.
Sunil was an orphan of the Union Carbide mass-gassing of Bhopal, losing his parents and three siblings on that night of terror. Aged 12, he began doing two jobs a day to bring up his surviving sister and baby brother Sanjay. He became a leader of the survivors’ struggle for justice and was one of the people I loved most in Bhopal.
The BBC reported, wrongly, that Sunil was the inspiration for Animal in my novel Animal’s People, but Animal certainly benefited from Sunil’s courage, sense of humour and ability to live on 4 rupees (£0.05) a day. Like Animal, Sunil heard voices in his head, and suffered nightmarish visions. You can read his story here.
On the day that Sunil died, Dow Chemical’s CEO Andrew Liveris visited the UN to deliver a much-publicised speech. Fireboats hired by Dow’s public relations agency jetted huge sprays aloft over the Hudson River as Liveris told the assembled diplomats “Lack of clean water is the single largest cause of disease in the world and more than 4,500 children die each day because of it … We are determined to win a victory over the problem of access to clean water for every person on earth … we need to bring to the fight the kinds of things companies like Dow do best.”
Stirring words. But when asked if he would clean up Bhopal, where the drinking wells of 20,000 people have been poisoned by chemicals abandoned by Dow’s subsidiary Union Carbide, causing an epidemic of cancers and hundreds of children to be born malformed and with brain damage, Liveris replied, “We don’t feel this is our responsibility”.
Liveris couldn’t be more wrong. Under the “polluter pays” principle enshrined in both Indian and US law, Union Carbide is responsible for cleaning up the contamination and compensating the thousands whose lives have been ruined. In buying Union Carbide’s assets, Dow also acquired its liabilities. Dow set aside $2.3bn to settle Union Carbide’s US asbestos liabilities. How then can it refuse to accept Union Carbide’s Indian liabilities?
The hard answer is that Indians are not quite as human as Americans. Dow paid $10m to settle out-of-court with an American child damaged by Dursban, a pesticide so dangerous that it has been banned for domestic use in the US. But Dow employees were found to have bribed Indian Ministry of Agriculture officials to license Dursban as safe for home use in India. If an Indian child dies I doubt if there’ll be $10m or even $10,000. As a Dow public affairs chief famously remarked of the paltry compensation paid to Union Carbide’s victims, “$500 is plenty good for an Indian”.
Why doesn’t the Indian government force Dow to clean up Bhopal? The Indian law ministry has advised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Dow is indeed liable for Union Carbide’s misdeeds in Bhopal. It’s exactly what he doesn’t wish to hear. He and his ministers are in contortions to appease Dow, which has offered to invest $1bn in India if freed from its Bhopal liabilities. When news broke of this sordid backroom hustling, 280 legal professionals, among them retired judges and eminent lawyers, said the attempts to exculpate Dow were unconstitutional and illegal.
Earlier this year, 50 Bhopali survivors, many old and sick, walked 500 miles to Delhi to ask the prime minister for safe drinking water and to make Dow clean the factory. For two months Manmohan Singh left them camped on a sweltering pavement without a reply. When Bhopali women brought their damaged children to his house and chained themselves to his railings, he had them arrested. The policewomen who led them away wept.
When India’s prime minister finally gave a reply, it was all prevarication, no substance. The Bhopalis then declared that they would launch an indefinite hunger strike until their demand for justice was met.
On the eve of the fast, police beat up women and children as young as six years old who had gone to protest outside the prime minister’s office. The police said they’d been told to get tough. Many of us around the world rang to protest and I asked a Mr Muthukumaran of the prime minister’s office if Manmohan Singh had ordered the beatings. “Are you joking?” he replied. On the contrary, I had rarely been more serious.
As I write this the Bhopalis are still in jail, and we hear that Dow Chemical is sponsoring an exhibition called The Gallery of Good at the Cannes advertising festival. Next Monday, Dow will present The Chemistry of Socially Responsible Marketing, which is presumably the advertising campaign on which it has lavished upwards of $100m. But telling lies beautifully does not make them true. Wouldn’t it have more socially responsible to use the money for cleaning up Bhopal?
I have spent much of the last five years writing a novel in which victims of a chemical disaster caused by a rogue corporation are sold out by their own politicians, triggering a desperate hunger strike. Animal’s People is set in the fictional city of Khaufpur, but whatever success it has had, it owes to the inspiring courage and spirit of the Bhopalis, and the descriptions of the hunger strike were drawn directly from the experiences of my friends.
Sunil is dead, but on their small stretch of pavement in Delhi, now battered by monsoon rain, nine others have sat down to begin an indefinite fast for justice. Among them are my old friend Sathyu and, grown up into a fine young man, Sunil’s baby brother, Sanjay.
How can I not join them? How can we all not support them?
• To join the fast for a period, or to register your support, please visit www.bhopal.net. Donations for medical care in Bhopal may be made at www.bhopal.org/donations/
Comments in chronological order (Total 21 comments)
Jun 12 08, 05:18pm
Wow. Thanks for this article, Indra. Here’s hoping that the Bhopal victims finally get justice.
Clip | Link AmanitaGalactica
Jun 12 08, 05:21pm
Sorry, but killing yourself through starvation is neither productive nor respectful to the victims.
Shall we all blind ourselves in sympathy of the mustard gas victims of the 1st world war?
Surely, your talents could be better spent in some other method.
Clip | Link yungyoof
Jun 12 08, 05:36pm
The first time I heard about the Bhopal disaster was in GCSE geography, I was upset by it then and upset by it now.
I personally do not think you should go on hunger strike, the very people you are raising funds and awarness for/of do not have the things you are depriving yourself of.
It’s nearing 30 years since it occured (being closer to thirty than fifteen years ago), there has to be another way to get bastards of such incomptent greed to do something subtantial nearly three decades down the line.
Anyway, good luck in all your endeavours.
Clip | Link shellshock
Jun 12 08, 05:53pm
As India is one of the most unequal unjust countries I have ever visited, I wish you luck in your endeavour.
Clip | Link Indra
Jun 12 08, 06:26pm
AmanitaGalactica: I am fasting in support of the Bhopal survivors (they refuse to regard themselves as victims) who are themselves fasting in Delhi. The question of disrespect therefore can’t very well arise.
We do hope the fast will be extremely productive, or we wouldn’t be doing it. We are not trying to be martyrs, but want to make a powerful point, draw attention to the unethical behaviour of certain people in the Indian government, and the inhumanity of this corporation, Dow. We want to bring about a positive result for the survivors, real commitment to a Commission on Bhopal and real action against the two corporations involved.
Dow and Union Carbide have been treated with kid gloves for so long that for them the Bhopal issue is no longer a legal, social or humanitarian concern, but a mere question of PR.
I mentioned in my article the bizarrely Orwellian phenomenon of Dow Chemical at the Cannes Advertising Festival hosting an exhibition called “The Gallery of Good” during which they’ll present “The Chemistry of Socially Responsible Marketing” — in other words their “Human Element” campaign.
Dow, manifestly lacking in humanity, decided that the only way to get some was to buy it, and duly spent above $100 million on a set of exquisitely filmed platitudes: in effect a series of beautiful masks. I urge everyone to check out the counter-campaign by Paul Phare, which can be seen on my website at http://www.indrasinha.com/masks.html – and spread it round the net as widely as possible.
Finally, if anyone is in Cannes on the night of Monday 15th, please do go along to Dow’s big show and let them know that telling lies beatifully does not make them true and humanity is not something that can be bought.
Clip | Link FractionMan
Jun 12 08, 07:18pm
All the best my friend. No more Bhopals.
Clip | Link Ieuan
Jun 12 08, 07:35pm
Wasn’t their an international arrest warrant put out by the Indians for the head of Union Carbide… which the US authorities refused to implement?
One wonders what would have happened if it had been an Indian owned factory in an American city which had caused the disaster?
Clip | Link nightships
Jun 12 08, 08:52pm
Just another honored human rights of poor Indians victims by the George Bush’s Department of Justice and the complicity of the Indian Government, all in the name of profits of the industrial-pharmaceutical complex.
Clip | Link afancdogge
Jun 12 08, 09:27pm
You have my full support as do the people of Bhopal. The more publicity the better. Take care of yourself and the other protesters, more deaths will not right the injustice.
Complex problems such as Bhopal always allow many defences – many of them spurious. The passing over of responsibilty from one company to another is a prime example of this kind of dishonest dodging of responsibilty. My approach to complex problems is to divide the isues into three parts. The Earth ( the planet and associated problems ) – the World (politics, systems etc) – the people who can be either bridges to a solution or walls preventing discussion or a way through to a solution. The Bhopal incident and the resultin g suffering has both roots and consequences in all three divisions.
The polluted wells and other environmental damage – this is a serious problem on its own.
The systems -once created by man , along with all the inbuilt limitations – allow for the manipulation which springs from self defence. We have allowed these systems, in many cases, to cut out any consideration of human rights or justice. The systems protect themselves.
Which leaves the people. you have lots of walls to circumvent or tear down. You and the people of Bhopal are the bridges. How can we, the would be bridge builders, help you?
There is always hope, that if enough of us get together that the internal logic of the systems you are up against can be overcome. We have to be imaginative and determined.
I think, from previous post that you are 19. Welcome to CiF. Happy to know that the youngsters are joining in on the side of justice.
Clip | Link afancdogge
Jun 12 08, 10:41pm
I intend tomorrow to visit some of my friends who attend the Temple in Neasden (London) and ask for their support. They have many members – I hope they will support their own people and make representation to the British govt.
Clip | Link arun1
Jun 12 08, 10:47pm
In what way is the American company criminally liable for the freak accident?
They have paid $2.3b , a huge sum and if the Indian govt has not distributed the funds to the victims after 25 years whose fault is it ?
Third world countries will never make any progress unless they learn to accept responsbility for their actions and stop always blaming the west.
Clip | Link afancdogge
Jun 12 08, 10:51pm
I have sent an email to the temple authorities asking for their support
Clip | Link Bamboo13
Jun 13 08, 01:01am
The tragedy of Bhopal is very sad. Why the racist spin? which helps no one, and diverts attention from the Indian government which is responsible for every thing that happened after the accident.
U.C. made an offer which was accepted, and all that has occurred since is indifference and corruption of the Government.
By focussing on U.C. you allow the government to avoid scrutiny. while opting for the populous option. When are we in India going to take responsibility for ourselves, and stop blaming others, we are pathetic.
The idea of hunger strikes has also become meaningless. How many of our politicians involve themselves in rolling hunger strikes or indefinite strikes that last a few hours, pathetic.
Why does Bhopal not elect politicians that will resolve the issue? Answer that
question, and you will find the key. The answer may be, most Indians do not care enough to make a difference, and that is the case across a multitude of problems.
On a personal note, you appear obese, why not use this opportunity to shed weight
For those not familiar with India bureaucracy, too many officials demand bribes to move files from one desk to another, not for any gain, that will be additional, but just to submit a form, that the government itself has demanded. The police often require an “inducement” to pursue an inquiry.
Indians have accepted corrupt government, but not the consequences of it, and are still unwilling to be responsible.
Clip | Link ticklebrick
Jun 13 08, 01:12am
Jun 12 08, 10:47pm (about 2 hours ago)
In what way is the American company criminally liable for the freak accident?
In what way indeed?
I suppose we’ll never precisely find out until the day the craven, criminally fugitive mass poisoners deign to turn up in court and defend themselves against the charges of culpable homicide and criminal negligence that still hang, suspended in space and time for 17 years, in the court room of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Bhopal.
You see Dow wants the rights of a person in law but it doesn’t want to act like any person ever known to God or man before the law.
If you or I are summoned to court over a criminal matter, we either attend sharpish or we take our chances and go on the lam, making like Carlos the Jackal and assuming a whole new identity somewhere else. We’d hardly hang around in the same jurisdiction, doing the same things and expecting not to be caught. Carbide wasn’t so brazen. It sold all its assets and ran. Ok, there was some sneaky patents business done through third parties, but nothing anyone would notice.
Dow is a whole other kind of beast altogether. It gets the Carlos the Jackal thing: though Carbide shareholders got 25% of Dow’s stock during the takeover, making the deal in law a de facto merger and triggering the unfortunate fact of ‘successor liability’ – and though Dow executives make up every single official on Carbide’s board – it still insists that Carbide is some wholly other sort of outfit, unrelated to its grand, philanthropic, responsibly caring self. The Indian Law Ministry, despite its best intentions to the Indian cabinet, has reluctantly seen through that flimsy disguise. But it doesn’t stop Dow, chest puffed out, Carbide products under one arm, striding straight back to the scene of its – alleged as we’re having difficulty getting to the bottom of it – crimes. And expecting to be greeted like some great and noble memsaab bearing alms.
Freak accident you say? Those damned impertinent natives keep sticking to this line about an accident-in-waiting being no accident. They’ve built a whole criminal case around it, apparently.
Clip | Link ticklebrick
Jun 13 08, 01:38am
Jun 13 08, 01:01am (12 minutes ago)
Ah, the old feckless, shiftless, corruptible Indians schtick. And the frankly somewhat dim notion that only one party across the false, dualistic divide can be at all culpable.
Must try harder.
Meantime, consider that Dow was recently caught red-handed bribing Indian bureaucrats to obtain registration of a pesticide, Dursban, thought so hazardous it is banned from domestic use in the US but is, according to Dow, “perfectly safe” for Indians. Must be their strong constitutions: not namby pambied, you see.
Now please make a polite bow to Stephen Gaghan, circa 2005:
“Corruption? Corruption ain’t nothing more than government intrusion into market efficiencies in the form of regulation. That’s Milton Friedman. He got a goddam Nobel Prize. We have laws against it precisely so we can get away with it. Corruption is our protection. Corruption is what keeps us safe and warm. Corruption is why you and I are here in the white-hot center of things instead of fighting each other for scraps of meat out there in the streets. Corruption is how we win. If we had to pay every individual Saudi the true value of their mineral rights, it would be America with 50% unemployment. Imagine this country with 50% of its good, industrious people out of work: you’d have Christian fundamentalists chopping off hands and feet in Central Park, public stonings of adulterers, and everything else would be run by the military.”
Clip | Link singtothebreeze
Jun 13 08, 01:46am
Namaskar Indra Sinha
Twenty four years ago – and STILL no justice… Unbelievable.
This from your website:
‘That Night – December 3, 1984’
Shortly after midnight poison gas leaked from a factory in Bhopal, India, owned by Union Carbide Corporation. There was no warning, none of the plant’s safety systems were working. In the city people were sleeping. They woke in darkness to the sound of screams with the gases burning their eyes, noses and mouths. They began retching and coughing up froth streaked with blood. Whole neighbourhoods fled in panic, some were trampled, others convulsed and fell dead. People lost control of their bowels and bladders as they ran. Within hours thousands of dead bodies lay in the streets.
— Good luck Indra – you are a courageous human being!
Clip | Link agentorange420
Jun 13 08, 08:20am
my support goes out for your cause. the after effects of Bhopal are much like the effects that agent orange victims are suffering fro a third generation in vietnam, yet another Dow Chemicals cunning legal side step. why is america allowed to get away with poisoning parts of the world where they would are are fined for at home?
Clip | Link elscollonsdelgos
Jun 13 08, 08:45am
The Chemistry of Socially Responsible Marketing
CSRM – The Chemistry of Socially Ruthless Manipulation
I support you. Thousands of people are still waiting for justice
Clip | Link edwardrice
Jun 13 08, 01:05pm
Union Carbide – ##”We don’t feel this is our responsibility”.##
Maximize profits for the shareholders. Until the laws are changed to make corporations *responsible* then there is nothing to stop something like this happening again.
Thoughts are with you Indra.
Clip | Link Indra
Jun 13 08, 06:03pm
Thanks, everyone for your support. It would be terrific if you could go to the Bhopal.net website and either sign on for a day or two of fasting, or send a fax to the Indian PM, the latter takes only a few seconds.
Clip | Link springpondbver
Jun 13 08, 06:49pm
How to kill pests without killing yourself or the earth……
There are about 50 to 60 million insect species on earth – we have named only about 1 million and there are only about 1 thousand pest species – already over 50% of these thousand pests are already resistant to our volatile, dangerous, synthetic pesticide POISONS. We accidentally lose about 25,000 to 100,000 species of insects, plants and animals every year due to “man’s footprint”. But, after poisoning the entire world and contaminating every living thing for over 60 years with these dangerous and ineffective pesticide POISONS we have not even controlled much less eliminated even one pest species and every year we use/misuse more and more pesticide POISONS to try to “keep up”! Even with all of this expensive and unnecessary pollution – we lose more and more crops and lives to these thousand pests every year.
We are losing the war against these thousand pests mainly because we insist on using only synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers There has been a severe “knowledge drought” – a worldwide decline in agricultural R&D, especially in production research and safe, more effective pest control since the advent of synthetic pesticide POISONS and fertilizers. Today we are like lemmings running to the sea insisting that is the “right way”. The greatest challenge facing humanity this century is the necessity for us to double our global food production with less land, less water, less nutrients, less science, frequent droughts, more and more contamination and ever-increasing pest damage.
National Poison Prevention Week, March 18-24,2007 was created to highlight the dangers of poisoning and how to prevent it. One study shows that about 70,000 children in the USA were involved in common household pesticide-related (acute) poisonings or exposures in 2004. At least two peer-reviewed studies have described associations between autism rates and pesticides (D’Amelio et al 2005; Roberts EM et al 2007 in EHP). It is estimated that 300,000 farm workers suffer acute pesticide poisoning each year just in the United States – No one is checking chronic contamination.
In order to try to help “stem the tide”, I have just finished re-writing my IPM encyclopedia entitled: THE BEST CONTROL II, that contains over 2,800 safe and far more effective alternatives to pesticide POISONS. This latest copyrighted work is about 1,800 pages in length and is now being updated at my new website at http://www.thebestcontrol2.com .
This new website at http://www.thebestcontrol2.com has been basically updated; all we have left to update is Chapter 39 and to renumber the pages. All of these copyrighted items are free for you to read and/or download. There is simply no need to POISON yourself or your family or to have any pest problems.
Stephen L. Tvedten
2530 Hayes Street
Marne, Michigan 49435
When a man who is honestly mistaken hears the truth, he will either quit being mistaken or cease to be honest.