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Children of Bhopal, children for Bhopal
By Paromita Pain

The Bhopal gas disaster has suddenly been in the news over the last few weeks. The gas tragedy that killed roughly 10,000 people within three days of the leakage of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas from the Union Carbide pesticide plant actually took place 26 years ago, on December 2-3, 1984. But it was only in 2010 that a local court pronounced nine people who were in charge of the Union Carbide factory at the time guilty of causing death by negligence.

For 26 years, people all over the world have been demanding justice for the families of those who died, and for the 100,000 more who are still suffering from the effects of this gas. Generations of children have been born malformed many years after the tragedy. Many are still being damaged by the contaminated water that they are forced to drink in the localities surrounding the factory, since all the poisonous material in the plant has not yet been cleaned up by the owners of the factory or by the government.

Many children have been part of the campaign for justice in Bhopal. In fact, children have done as much as anyone. From padyatras and discussions with children in cities across India to forming clubs to keep the momentum going, these young crusaders are fighting on. They have even taken their battle to the United States, travelling to 36 cities in the US in 2009 to spread awareness.

Kids for a Better Future (KBF) is a non-profit organisation run entirely by children based in Brooklyn, New York. It is dedicated to improving the lives of children around the world. Founded by 12-year-old Indian-American activist Akash Mehta, activists and young people recently tried to issue a summons to Warren Anderson, former chief of Union Carbide, in New York.

If you happened to be around Jantar Mantar in Delhi in March 2008, you would have bumped into 9-year-old Shanu. Born with congenital deformities to gas-affected parents, Shanu and her family continue to be poisoned as they consume the contaminated water around their house. Too poor to buy bottled water, they are forced to drink stuff they know will harm them.

You may also have run into Arjun whose parents breathed in poisonous fumes and are lucky to be alive. Born in 2003, Arjun can’t stand and has a distended stomach.

These children were on a padyatra from Bhopal to Delhi, attempting to draw the government’s attention to their plight. It was an 800-mile trek to the capital and they matched the grown-ups step-for-step. Second-generation victims of the gas tragedy, in the age-group 2-19, walked the long arduous march without complaint. What kept them going? The belief that the prime minister would keep his word and get them justice.

Children Against Dow

Sarita Malaviya, at age 14, was one of the founder members of the organisation Children Against Dow that today is the umbrella organisation for children wanting to have a say against the corporate giant Dow Chemical, which bought up Union Carbide some years ago, washing their hands of any responsibility for the gas disaster that has been called the world’s worst industrial disaster. Like all club members they have fun, but Children Against Dow members also make sure they reach out to more young people to inform them about Dow’s injustices.

Speaking in schools is something the children enjoy. It was their many visits to Chennai that prompted schoolchildren in the city to take to the streets after the recent verdict. What draws them to participate and make this issue their own? “Imagine drinking poisoned water,” exclaimed Parthasarthy, a Class IX student at Olcott Memorial School.

Rafat (14) and Yasmeen (11) are also active members. The sisters say: “Children of Bhopal have the dubious distinction of being victims of two of the world’s worst disasters -- one caused by Union Carbide’s toxic gas, the other by the thousands of tonnes of toxic waste abandoned by Carbide in Bhopal.” Read more at http://bhopal.net/2010dharna/blog/?p=1999.

“The government has categorically refused to extend social pension to families with children requiring special care,” says Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh. According to Bhopal survivor organisations, the government has not allocated any money for the care of children affected by their parents’ exposure. “The number of children requiring such care will only grow, given that more than 25,000 Bhopalis are condemned to drinking toxic water,” explains Rashida Bee.

If hunger strikes and padyatras aren’t your style, use whatever you have at your disposal to make people listen. Blog about the issue; write what you feel; talk about it in school; create plays that highlight the issue; write songs about it to your favourite tunes. Send them in to the protesters. Let them know you are on their side.

Visit http://www.bhopal.net/march/dharna2008_blog.html. If you want to add your voice to the demand for justice, call Rachna Dhingra (09717516005) in Delhi or Swetha Narayanan (09444024315) and they will tell you how to get involved.

(Paromita Pain is a senior reporter and sub-editor with The Hindu and its feature supplements Young World and NXg)

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