The Odyssey Live Chats from India!
Chat 1- Bhopal, India: The Bhopal facility was part of India's Green Revolution aimed to increase the productivity of crops. Bhopal was chosen as the site for the Carbide plant because of it's central location in India, a railway system that spanned the country, a large lake which provided a reliable source of water, and sufficient electricity and labor to sustain a large scale industrial plant. According to many, Bhopal is the site of the greatest industrial disaster in history. On the night of December 23, 1984, a dangerous chemical reaction occurred in the Union Carbide factory when a large amount of water got into the MIC storage tank # 610. In that time, a large amount, about 40 tons of Methyl Isocyanate (MIC), poured out of the tank for nearly two hours and escaped into the air, spreading within eight kilometers downwind, over the city of nearly 900,000. Thousands of people were killed (estimates ranging as high as 4,000) in their sleep or as they fled in terror, and undreds of thousands remain injured or affected (estimates ange as high as 400,000) to this day. The victims were almost entirely the poorest members of the population.
(Transcript from live chat)
<moderator>Hello from Bhopal! Welcome to The Odyssey Live Chat!
<moderator> Today we're being joined by 6 young people from Bhopal, India. They were all very young during the gas leak - under 5 years old - but all have memories of that terrible day. There are three of us right now: Niloufer, Ruby and Arman.
<From Bhopal> Does anybody have a question about the tragedy here?
<Moderator> Many, even though they were only 8 or 9 years old also participated in a Protest March from Delhi to India in 1989. At that time, 100 gas affected women and children walked 700 kilometres (that's about 500 miles), sometimes selling off jewelry to buy food, in a one month journey to protest at lack of jobs and poor pay for gas survivors.
<Moderator> Mohammad Ilyas and Nafees are both guys in their early 20’s. They were 9 and 11 years old during the march. Samina Sayed, Niloufer, and Nazma Bi (Prefers to be called Pappi) – These three girls are 18 years old now. They were 2 when the leak happened, and almost 8 during the march. Niloufer’s brother Arman is 16 years old and was a 1 year old baby when the gas leaked
<Moderator> We're ready to chat! So keep sending in your questions!
<Ruby> We want some information about our friends from America!
<Rose (Seattle, WA)> Does Union Carbide still have operations active in Bhopal?
<Ruby> No, the factory's shut down now..It is in fact rusting but still has a lot of hazardous chemicals stored in it. Thw water in the neighbourhood has been contaminated. It has been shut since `1984 but the chemicals have not been treated. It looks like a ghost when we pass by it.
<Rachel, CA> can you tell us about what it was like to walk so far?
<Arman (16 years old boy)> Those who went on the foot march to Delhi are not here. But we can tell you about their experiences. We went in the month of June. It was very hot in the tropical summer heat. Many of the kids and women who marched to Delhi fell ill. People all along the way provided them with food and shelter. They even had to sleep in jungle during night. Everyone had blisters on feet. Although they walked for a month for 700 km, but sadly, the authorities didn't pay any heed thereafter.
<Karen (Nevada)> What did they do once they got to New Delhi?
<Ruby (girl-17)> I want to know if such a colossal industrial tragedy had occurred in the USA, what would have the people done..??????
<Nilofer (18-girl)> It was Saturday. The marchers went to the Prime Minister's House (Prime Minister in India is as powerful as the President of the US in terms of statutory powers). But the Prime Minister (Rajiv Gandhi) displayed rank insensitivity and said he didn't meet people on weekends and reserved them for his family. The marchers, who protesting low wages and lack of Government aid, had to come back after the Prime Minister refused to grant them audience.
<Jeremy(California)> Has Union Carbide apologized? Have they done anything to try to fix things, make them better?
<Arman> We wear the stigma of being `gas victims'. They've not apologised. They also got away by paying measely compensation through a settlement with the Government of India in the Supreme Court. The Carbide-funded hospital here has yet to begin functioning fully. Even 15 years after the accident, the hospital has not been staffed.
<Rob (Pennsylvania)> We had a nuclear accident in 1979 at Three Mile Island. The nuclear reactor came close to a melt down. Now, 20 years later, people are still suffering health damages and feel that justice was not done here either.
<Susan (San Francisco, CA)> Have many locals moved away from Bhopal since the water sources are contaminated? Do the local authorities supply good drinking water?
<Matthew (Midland, PA)> If something like that happened here, the company would get sued and the people would get millions of dollars. how does a company that's American get away with killing so many people and they get to just keep making money like nothing happened?
<Ruby> No, they can't go anywhere - they're so poor. They are forced to drink the water laced with highly toxic chemicals like carcinogens. The State Government of Madhya Pradesh, which is responsible for making arrangements for drinking water, has not done so.
<Nilofer> 95 per cent of the gas tragedy victims have been given Rs. 25,000 in compensation (that is US$ 350 each). I think politicians here made a botch of it. As for Carbide making money, it's you who have to ask them. We had to face a lot of problems as regards judicial evidence.
<Nilofer> Since most of us were illiterate, we couldn't understand the judicial procedures. Even US $ 350 that almost all of us got as evidence has been given in instalments.
<Alan (Midland, PA)> Lots of companies get away with things in the US too. It's all about how much power and pull they have. It's like, if a person here does something like rob or hurt someone, they get sent to jail and fined and stuff. But if it's a company, sometimes hardly anything happens. They maybe pay a little money and sometimes but not usually one or two people will get sent to a really nice prison with a pool and visitors and stuff.
<Mike (Texas)> What do you think would be fair compensation?
<moderator> Fair compensation should have been computed on the basis of accurate assessment of our needs. It's not only about money, it's about employment for victims who've been driven out of jobs. We should have each got at least US $ 12,000. We should have been provided better medical facilities. We have to close down these companies. Fight against them. Boycott their goods. How can they do this to all of us, globally, with impunity and get away with it.
<Arman> All the above replies were sent by Arman
<Jennifer (South Carolina)> Why were victims driven out of jobs? Because they were sick?
<David (Idaho)> Is there anything people in America can do to help the situation?
<Ruby> We are something of an outcast now. People are wary of marrying gas affected people and their offsprings.
<Arman> You can press your Government as we cannot come over there. You can convey our problems. Please fill the letter on the www.worldtrek.org (MAD section) and forward it.
<Ruby> We were labelled as physically emaciated. So, nobody thought we could work. Ironically, no alternative employment, involving less physical labour, was ever explored.
<Jeff (Boston, MA)> I think compensation should be based on your needs, but it should also be based on how much money the people at Union Carbide made. You all should share in any profits they made. The executives at the company shouldn't have any money or privileges that you all don't have. If they had any conscience they should sell all their rich toys and help you! They shouldn't be allowed to travel or buy things until you are taken care of! Let them come and live with you and share your lives!
<Jessica (Colorado)> What is it like in Bhopal now? Are people sad all the time? Do they talk only about the accident - or have people moved on with their lives?
<Nilofer> Yes, they should do this. In fact, only when they live like us - without proper medical treatment for chronic diseases, then they will realize how juch we've all suffered.
<Nilofer> We do not talk about it all the time. But it's at the back of our minds. Whenever the diseases trouble us, we remember it. We often suffer serious headaches. It affects our studies adversely.
<Sarah (Ketchum, ID)> What kinds of things do you all like to do for fun in Bhopal? What are your hobbies?
<Ruby> Nilofer likes to pen down songs. I play the Tabla Indian percussion instrument). Arman is a big cricket buff. Cricket is a game like baseball.
<Moderator> Our time is coming to a close - send in your final questions now!
<Ruby> I would like to know why you are interested in us (Bhopal Gas Disaster victims). I also want to know what you all do.
<Adam (Chicago, Ill)> Since you were so young when the accident happened - how did it affect you personally?
<Arman> While growing up, we learned about the tragedy and our medical problems due to it.
<Melanie (Washington DC)> I'm in 6th grade. We read about you on the website while studying the environment in class. We wish we could do something to help!
<moderator> Now as we're growing up, we want to fight them and bring them to book.
<moderator> We are grateful for your concern. Please convey our problems. Please take up the issue with the UCC and Dow which are about to merge. We feel good you've taken interest in our problems. Please complete the letters on the www.worldtrek.org.
<Moderator> Thank you to Niloufer, Ruby and Arman for joining us, and telling us about your lives! And thank you to all the classrooms that participated!
<Nilofer, Ruby, Arman> Thanks everyone there - we're grateful. you can write to us on email@example.com
<Moderator> If you want to make a difference on this issue - check out our MAD on our website - and write a letter!