Monday, July 21, 2008

Perfect faces, national poisons

Good news is, my brother has had a baby girl (on the 18th). She’s premature so is being watched closely but seems healthy. Everyone’s collective prayers seem to have been answered and I am now officially an auntyji.

Tomorrow, I shall distribute sweets. But two days ago, I was on a fast (though I had to interrupt it with a glass of nimbu-pani after getting light-headed and shaky in a very public space)

Coz the bad news is, in another city (where I also happen to have family) babies are born who have perfectly formed faces, but with the rest of their heads missing. The bad news is, we know who is responsible - one big, rich corporate giant who hasn’t paid for what could perhaps, if you were so inclined, be called a mistake. A giant that goes on making money, manufacturing and selling chemicals, in this very country where over 2o,000 have died.

I have to confess, there is a part of me – only a tiny part, I hope – that wants to forget. Like the prime minister, his cabinet, his planning commission and his advisers, and a succession of chief ministers in Madhya Pradesh have forgotten.

But I often think of those two other little girls I love – my little cousin sisters in Bhopal. They don’t live where the gas victims live. They don’t drink or bathe in that poisoned water. At least, I hope they don’t. Their parents, not native Bhopalis, don’t have 1984 as a constant backdrop to their negotiation with this country.

Like most families, we know what it is to lose children. And know that millions of rupees won’t compensate, certainly not Rs 1 lakh. Most people know how hard it is to forget one lost child – a grave somewhere, whose location you cannot forget, a toy not used enough, small clothes, a name that will no longer fetch a response. They know the lifelong ache of it, and the thousand and one curses one hurls against destiny or God or whoever took away that child, or gave a newborn child less than complete health.

Except that God didn’t. A certain corporation, led by people who make lots of money, did. And perhaps, several governments were conspirators – for not demanding the extradition of Dow's top bosses, not insisting that they show up in court in India, for not fining, insisting on a thorough clean-ups, insisting on appropriate compensation, and rehabilitation, and if need be, arresting and jailing them.

We all know that Dow wouldn’t have gotten away with this in its own country. We all know that, even if it went bankrupt and even if it never invested another cent at home or abroad, it would still have been made to pay and clean up and none of its future projects would be allowed to function unless they adhered to stringent safety norms and environmental clearances. Yet, in our country, they have gotten away with it and continue to make profits. And we sit back and let them.

Funny, about patriotism, isn't it? We get into fights with people in cinema theatres who don’t stand up for the national anthem. We file petitions if someone puts their feet up on a table which has a replica of the flag on it. We are so concerned about our ‘Indian culture’ that we cannot stand the sight of a short dress or a couple holding hands in a park. And for 23 years, a multinational chemical has been poisoning our people and we have not batted an eye. For 23 years, our mothers have given birth to deformed children. For 23 years, little girls have bled much before they reached puberty. For 23 years, we have settled for see-through lies, instead of justice. And we’re such patriots, aren’t we?

Perhaps it is just that, in tiny ways and large ways, we want to forget. Forget disasters and death. To get on with it, to move on, to make money and celebrate. And I wonder if, in this, we aren’t co-conspirators. What, after all, is a democratic government if it is not the will of the people? If the people chose not to forget, if the people remind the state that they have not forgotten… would a whole generation have grown up simmering under the knowledge that a huge injustice had been done and their own government was complicit?

Some people go on reminding. They travel on foot to Delhi. They sit, even now, without food or real shelter out on the street – reminding. Saying, let there be justice. 23 years is too long. One more day is too long. There are children drinking poisoned water. There are mothers giving birth to children, doomed to be unhealthy. One more day is too long.

But their hunger seems to have bypassed the state just like the hunger of a million others. And yes, I decided to fast in solidarity for a day, but who knows what it means? I could fast for a hundred days longer and so would a dozen others, but a dozen isn’t good enough. Perhaps, the hunger of a thousand would count. Or ten thousand, perhaps.

The thing is, I don’t know what else to do except sign petitions and fast and join protests and light candles. What should one do to bring about a justice that not enough people want?

It isn’t a good sign when I – who have not suffered a fraction of any kind of sorrow, loss or ill-health that the Bhopalis have – if even I cannot believe in my own government’s commitment to justice... And what’s worse, I cannot even bring myself to believe that even if this government goes, that the new one will live up to any commitments it makes. I am especially horrified that Dow has been allowed to set foot India again, in at least four different locations (at least two in Maharashtra), for different products and services, and through different subsidiaries. Some of these tie-ups are with very, very rich and very powerful corporations in India – the sort of corporations that could buy out a whole cabinet, if there was money enough involved.

I don’t know what to think or do. I really don’t know if Dow will ever be penalized the way it deserves to be. But if it isn’t, it will be one more sign that our democracy isn’t a healthy one. Some toxic poison has, perhaps, crept into its bloodstream and has messed it up genetically, so that generation after generation of leaders, businessmen, lawyers, judges – all have this twisted ability to turn a blind eye to justice.


D said...

Unbelievable! Our country's leaders will sell their souls to make a quick buck!

Banno said...

Our government is more concerned that Dow should be able to make "a clean start" in our country. What does that mean?

I think the toxic poison has infiltrated into all our blood stream. The culture we keep harping about is actually a culture of corruption, and hypocrisy.

It's sad that we have no choice left but to become cynical. What does one do?

Janaki said...

Firstly, after ages seeing you here makes me feel real good and secondly.. just yday I saw a movie... that emphasised, among other things, sticking to the truth, no matter what. Maybe that's the mentality to subscribe to.

A said...

Gonna follow your blog

Bindhu Unny said...

It's very sad. Even I don't know what to do.

Deepa said...

"One more day is too long." So very hard-hitting. The words just kept ringing in my mind hours after I read your post. The link you sent is a piece dated Dec 2007 Any updates after that? And hows your job with Mid-day?

Kunal said...

well, someone is doing something...what reasons, what scale, what nature, is another cant compensate enough for the past though...

Kits said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hetal said...

whatever punishment, if and when, Dow will be made to undergo will be too little, if they are allowed to continue to make money, and shamelessly proclaim their commitment towards betterment of India, "by promoting jaipur foot". Just because they might be doing a tiny bit of good which anyway costs them peanuts, that cannot not undo the immense impact they have had - not only on the people who have are facing the effects of the disaster, but also our government is screaming out and inviting that anyone and everyone is welcome to come and shit in India, as and when they please.

Fellow brethren, like me, are really angry - that Dow was allowed to go scot free, but our demands for justice will not be allowed, and we will have to take police permission for 'safety' it seems!

Can we really, really, start something that will catch the eyes of the international agencies of human rights, or some way that the government of the country where Dow is headquartered would participate in some way?

I often feel helpless. Very helpless. It scares me - living in this country. It scares me to even think of becoming a mother in this country - how I know for sure that the government will not maim my babies?

Tweets by @anniezaidi