Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bhopal Survivors Declare Indefinite Dharna at Jantar Mantar--and links to other struggles

The more I read, the more I am amazed by the kind of environmental struggles going on all over India.  And I'm not just talking about urban anti-littering campaigns or the many schools that are asking their students to make posters or pencil holders to celebrate Earth Day this week.  Those things are fine, of course, though they are often limited: for example, when I asked my daughter why she was decorating an old tin can after school the other day, she responded--and I'm not making this up--"because the teacher said that if we decorate it, we will get marks!" Oh dear.

But every day, I read at least one thing in a newspaper, a blog or an email that I wish I could write an entire post about. Some days, it's something big, like a development in the fight against poisonous mining, GM foods or unsafe nuclear power plants; some days it's something small, like a farmer who, without the benefit of a huge research and development budget, has invented a new piece of low tech, labour-saving farm equipment.  As we approach Earth Day, try looking at the world through green coloured lenses. I think you might be surprised at how much you see. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

The Financial Times of all papers, ran an important story last week by M Rajshekhar about a struggle in between mining giant Vedanta and the locals who inhabit the Kalahandi forest
Last weekend, the Independent People's Tribunal met in Delhi.  Testimonies and reports are here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6   Thanks to Space Bar and Kabir of the IYCN for these links. 

Speaking of the IPT, it's nice to see environmental groups willing to see their mission broadly.  It should be obvious to all, but of course it isn't, that living things--animal, plant, human--don't exist in isolation; they are all--we are all--connected! You can't, for example, clean a river if you don't attend to what's happening upstream.  Likewise, you can't stop the destruction of forests by looking at only one tree; nor can you ignore the people who've been living among the trees for generations.
Read about some of the legal issues in the struggle against Bt Brinjal here.
Finally, The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal is asking us all to spread the word about their new Campaign. Two years after the PM promised an Empowered Commission to get something done about the ongoing poison in Bhopal, and nothing has happened.  So activists from Bhopal are coming back to New Delhi for another dharna at Jantar Mantar.  Unfortunately in the name of the Commonwealth Games, protesters will no longer be allowed to camp overnight.  (This, my friends, is disturbing.  It is depressing to say, but nearly every country tries to sweep its litter (and poor people) under the carpet for big tourist events.   But to shut down space for peaceful protest? That's just silly! We should be proud of what goes on at Jantar Mantar because it shows there is still room for dissent in India--and without dissent, you really can't have democracy, which the Commonwealth says it stands for, at least when it's not busy organizing sporting events.)

For more information about Bhopal, you can go to, or read what we've written about it here. The Campaign is asking help in circulating this letter about the dharna and related activities.  It includes a list of things you can do to support the struggle, wherever you might be:
Dear Friend of the Bhopalis,

We are writing to you for your active support to our campaign demanding the setting up of an Empowered Commission on Bhopal (ECoB) by the Indian government for long term medical care and rehabilitation of the people of Bhopal poisoned by Union Carbide – Dow Chemical. As you know we urgently need the ECoB to be set up to stop the ongoing disasters in Bhopal that are still killing, injuring and maiming the unborn.

Your support has meant a lot to us and has contributed hugely to our victories in the last two years, particularly in the campaigns and the Padyatras of 2006 and 2008. As you know, we won the demand of the much needed ECoB on 29th May 2008 when, on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Minister of State in the PM’s office (PMO) publicly vowed that the government would establish the ECoB. This statement from the PMO came only after thousands of our supporters from over 30 countries sent faxes and emails and made calls to the PMO.

However, these promises have proven worthless as 20,000 people are still drinking poisoned water; 10,000 gas victims who were promised jobs remain jobless; medical treatment for the indigent victims remains elusive; the site and its surroundings are polluted, and the culprit – Dow Chemical – is freely doing business in India. Nearly two years have passed, and the Prime Minister has not set up the ECoB. The minister who read out the Prime Minister’s statement to us now says he does not quite know why the ECoB has not been set up and requested that we send yet another reminder, which we did on 6th Apr 2010. We have yet to hear from the PMO. Meanwhile, we (including 16-year-old Sarita and 75-year-old Ganeshi Bai and our supporter friends from Chennai) have been falsely charged under sections of criminal law that taken together could send us to jail for over 10 years. (Details here.)

We reckon that this year’s battle will be more difficult than 2008’s. At the Parliament Street police station, in the office of Suraj Bhan who led the custodial assault on Bhopali children and women on June 9, 2008, we were told that we can no longer camp on the pavement at Jantar Mantar as we have before because of the Commonwealth Games scheduled for October.
With public space for protest potentially taken away, we need your support more than ever.

We have announced the beginning of our indefinite Dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi starting on the 15th of April to demand that the Prime Minister keep his word and set up the Empowered Commission. (Press statement) To remind PM Singh of his promise and force him to stop neglecting the citizens of Bhopal who have endured this corporate crime with embarrassingly little aid from their own government for the last 25 years.

Please find some time to do one or all the actions suggested below to remind Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh of his two year old promise.
· Fax the PM by logging on to
· Call the PM and remind him to fulfill the promise he made to people of Bhopal 91-11-23013024, 23013040 (Ask for Ms. Vini Mahajan or Mr. T.K.A Nair respectively)
· Write to PM at Government of India, South Block, Raisina Hill, New Delhi, 110 011.
· Write to your Members of Parliament asking them to meet the Bhopalis, talk to PM about their demands or raise questions in Parliament. (Contact list of MPs.)
· Hold a solidarity action in your city. See and for ideas and contact us for more information.
· Contribute towards the food and accommodation expenses of the Bhopalis coming to Delhi for the Dharna. You can send cheques made out to The Other Media to the address The Other Media, J-42 South Extension, Part one, New Delhi 110049. Please enclose a piece of paper saying that it is for the ICJB Delhi dharna 2010 and your address so we can send an income tax exemption. You can contribute online at

Why do we need a commission?
An Empowered Commission on Bhopal will address the health and welfare needs of the Bhopal survivors and monitor their environmental, social, economic and medical rehabilitation. The Commission will be empowered to allocate resources to different rehabilitation schemes or research projects, issue tenders, identify implementing Central or State Government agencies, and change the agencies if their work is unsatisfactory. In short the commission will be a step towards ensuring a comprehensive resolution to Bhopal.

For more information visit

Rashida Bee, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh

Syed M Irfan,
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha

Rachna Dhingra, Satinath Sarangi,
Bhopal Group for Information and Action

Safreen Khan
Children Against Dow Carbide

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