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Published On:08 August 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Bhopal Special Olympics: Disabled & Deformed Bhopal Gas Victims’ Kids Shame Dow Co. & Britons

By Pervez Bari

Spurred by the NGOs working for their welfare, the survivors and the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, the world’s worst industrial catastrophe, paraded their spirit of “Never say die” in admirable measure to participate in “Bhopal Special Olympics” on July 26, 2012, a day ahead of the opening of London Olympics 2012, to shame its sponsor the Dow Chemical Company. The Dow Chemical Company is the current owner of the killer Union Carbide factory that brought all round misery on people of Bhopal passing down from generation to generation.
Nearly maimed by the poisonous gas that spewed out of the Union Carbide pesticide plant, the survivors and their physically and mentally disabled progenies by their participation in the “Bhopal Special Olympics” exhibited their untold misery lingering for nearly last three decades in front of the world media, which had converged in to cover the games. In the process the survivors also shamed the Britons, who have ruled better part of the world in days of yore for centuries, by highlighting the atrocities committed by their rulers on the people of the Indian Sub-continent during their reign.

It may be recalled here that on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984 Union Carbide pesticide manufacturing factory had spewed nearly 40 tonnes of poisonous Methyl Iso-cyanate gas whereby 3000 people had perished virtually instantly and over the years about 25000 have kissed death and the sad saga is still continuing uninterruptedly. About half a million are suffering from the side effects of the poisonous gas and several thousand people have been maimed for life. About 100,000 people who were exposed to the gas now suffer from ailments that range from cancer, blindness and birth defects.

Poignant Scenes Witnessed

On July 26 poignant scenes were witnessed as physically disabled and mentally retarded children, the progenies of the survivors of the gas tragedy, participated in the “Bhopal Special Olympics” in Bhopal to oppose the sponsorship of the Olympic Games by Dow Chemical Company. Hundreds of the survivors of the deadly gas leak assembled in Arif Nagar stadium overlooking the now defunct Union Carbide pesticide plant with their children and grand-children suffering birth defects to vent their ire and to shame Olympic sponsor Dow Chemical on the eve of the London Games. Having failed to get Dow's Olympic sponsorship quashed, Bhopal activists carried through with their threat to hold their own "Special Olympics" to showcase the devastation caused by the gas leak.

The disabled children, the second and third generation, the worst affected in the disaster, whose future is as bleak as ever for not fault of theirs, participated in the “Special Olympics” unaware of what fate awaits them. They were also unaware of the fact that they are victims of the world's worst industrial disaster that claimed thousands of lives and that the games are being organised to protest against the Dow Chemicals.

It was like a D-day in the lives of these chuckling children in dozens in wheelchairs or limping on twisted limbs, cheered on by their parents and activists, who raced for “glory” in their own "Special Olympics". The enthusiastic participants put their best foot and even hands forward to give their 100 per cent in the games. The intermittent rains which marred the “Special Olympics” could not dampen the enthusiasm of the participants and the organisers as well.
About 80 teenagers and kids as young as 5 who have birth defects blamed on their parents' exposure to the gas — struggled across distances they normally would not attempt in spirited competition. They took part in 10 sports events. Some of the events were football, soft-ball throw, an "assisted walking" 25-meter sprint, wheelchair races, and a "crab walk" in which participants unable to stand on two feet race on their hands.

At the outset the “Bhopal Special Olympics” kicked off with a song versifying the theme “From the East India Company to Dow Chemical Company”, accompanying a “Jhadoos” (Broomstick) march by the participants – some on their feet and some on wheelchairs assisted by their parents. The “Jhadoos” symbolize their demand that Dow clean up the plant,

The three-hour long event began with an opening ceremony marked by march past by children with cerebral palsy, partial paralysis and mental retardation parading in wheelchairs and walking with the assistance of others around the stadium. The decision by London 2012 organisers to stick by Dow Chemical has caused anger in Bhopal and led to complaints from the Congress-led Indian government, which asked for the company to be dropped as a sponsor.

A dance drama was presented after the march past. Organised by Argya Kala Samiti, the ballet under the direction of Vaishali Gupta enacted the arrival of British and their East India Company, India becoming part of the British kingdom, the onset of the Independence movement, the Industrialisation taking roots, and ultimately the Union Carbide pesticide factory getting established in Bhopal. The angst against the Dow Chemical Company could well be adjudged amongst the audience as people present in the stadium were seen clapping and enjoying whenever the Britons were seen being over-powered by Indians during the show. 

Baby Zehra Cynosure of All Eyes

Zehra Javed, a completely disabled little baby girl, was cynosure of all eyes who won the first position in 25-meter crab walk event. Master Ali Iqbal came second in the same event while Master Umar Farooq won the third position. The event stole the show as it was planned for those who cannot walk. They ran through the distance all on their four limbs. All the participants completed the event, though some took their own time.

Similarly, Master Hitesh, grabbed the first position in 25-meter Wheel Chair race. Master Sachin Jatav came second while Master Abdul Mannan grabbed the third position. While in the Walking with Walker Race Ashish, Shifan and Arman were placed first, second and third respectively. In the Assisted Walk event Karthik Sen emerged first followed by Abdul Mannan and Harsh Rajak in the second and third positions respectively.

Mrs. Jameela Bi brought her wheelchair-bound 11-year-old grandson, Amaan, who has cerebral palsy, to show what the disaster did to her family. "Today these children are participating, in spite of what Union Carbide did to them," Mrs. Jameela Bi said. "We are happy that they will walk. Those people will see that in spite of what they did these children are still participating."

Mrs. Nusrat Jahan, Zehra Javed’s mother airing her views on the occasion said: "We organised the Special Olympics at Arif Nagar as a mark of protest against Dow Chemical which has shrugged off its responsibility in connection with the Bhopal gas victims. The London Olympic sponsorship is a tactic of Dow Chemical to divert the attention of the world from its heinous act".

Baby Zehra's father Mohammad Javed is a victim of gas tragedy. "He was severely affected after the MIC exposure. Consequently, his eyes and kidney were badly affected," Javed's wife Nusrat said as tears rolled down her eyes.

Baby Zehra is a second generation gas victim with congenital physical problems. "After her birth, we came to know that she could not speak and her one leg was not developed. Later, we got to know that it was just because of the ill-effects of the gas that she got from her father," Nusrat moaned recounting her woes.

Olympics - Philosophy of life

Earlier, former hockey Olympian Syed Jallaluddin Rizvi, who represented India in 1984 Olympiad in Los Angles, inaugurated the Bhopal’s mock-Olympics. Jallaluddin, in his speech, said: "It is not just a game. It is the philosophy of life. It is bitter truth that most parts of the world forgot about Bhopal after gas disaster of 1984. Union Carbide abandoned the factory and went off to the USA but hazardous waste that company had recklessly dumped, is poisoning the ground water and soil.

Jallaluddin said that the most painful fact is that even after 3rd December 1984, the factory has not stopped causing damage. Even today, 28 years after the disaster, lethal poisons from the factory are leaching into the soil and the water. Because of the parents’ exposure to poisonous gases, children are born with disabilities, and hundreds of children are also being born disabled because of the contamination of ground water due to thousands of tonnes of hazardous waste buried in and around the factory. Recent scientific studies have shown that, there are cancer and birth defect causing chemicals in the ground water, up to 3 kms from the factory. Till recently, up to 40,000 residents from the neighbourhood of the factory were drinking water laced with chemicals that damage the kidneys, lungs, liver, brain and other organs.

“I am an Olympian and as an Olympian I am ashamed that the organisers of the Olympic Games have made Dow Chemicals a sponsor till 2020. Instead of spending dollars on protecting the children of Bhopal from poisons, Dow Chemicals has given a 100 million dollars for the Olympics. This is a betrayal of the fundamental principles that I mentioned before of the Olympic Games. I and 25 of my fellow Olympians wrote to the organisers of the Olympic Games and requested them not to make Dow Chemicals a Sponsor, and provide it with an opportunity to green-wash its crimes. But the organisers which include British Olympians such as Sebastian Coe did not respond to our letter, let alone drop Dow as a sponsor”, the ex-Olympian lamented.

“As an Olympian, and particularly as a Bhopali Olympian, today I am proud that these children are keeping the spirit of the Olympics alive. I salute the spirit of these children, their courage and their sheer enjoyment in making the effort”, Jallaluddin said.

Amitabh Bachchan Flayed

While NGOs condemned Bollywood megastar Amitabh Bachchan for carrying the Olympic torch at Southwark, a day before the opening ceremony of the sporting spectacle. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and NRI businessman Laxmi Mittal were among others who were part of the relay team. Bachchan even tweeted: "A proud moment for me and the country".

Meanwhile, the representatives of five organizations viz. Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information & Action and Children Against Dow Carbide jointly organised the “Bhopal Special Olympics”. 

According to organizers' spokeswoman Ms Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information & Action, the protests against Dow's sponsorship of London Olympics, which has a sponsorship agreement with the IOC until 2020, have been going on for a year now. “We want them to be dropped but we have realized this is not going to happen", Ms Dhingra said.
Dow, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, has repeatedly denied any responsibility for Bhopal and has refused demands, including from the Indian government, to increase a $470-million compensation package that Union Carbide paid to victims in 1989.

A Sad Commentary

It is a sad commentary that despite the hype given to “Bhopal Special Olympics”, not a single political leader, not even the local MLA, or any prominent social worker turned up during the event or to sponsor refreshments to the participants in the event.

"It's because, this is not the election time. The sympathy of leaders for the gas victims peaks during the election time, but dies down soon after that. No one bothers about the plight of victims once the elections are over," said Balkrishna Namdeo of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha, one of the five organisations fighting for the gas victims.

"But our protest would continue as Dow still remains the sponsor of the Olympics. The demands of gas victims were once again overlooked probably because even our government was not keen on taking up the issue," said Ms Dhingra.

Referring to the participants like Zehra, Ms Dhingra said: "This is what we wanted to convey to the London Olympics organisers that despite facing odds in the life, even small kids affected from gas would keep protesting the decision of taking sponsorships from Dow chemicals."

"But our protest would continue as Dow still remains the sponsor of the Olympics. The demands of gas victims were once again overlooked probably because even our government was not keen on taking up the issue," said Ms Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action."
Dow, which is sponsoring a decorative sheath around London's Olympic Stadium, was trying to use the Games to wash away its responsibility to the people of Bhopal, said Satinath Sarangi, a protest organizer. "Dow Chemical as a sponsor violates the very spirit of the Olympics," he said.

Survivors say Dow should pay $8 billion in compensation to the victims and their families and clean up the soil and groundwater around the plant.

Survivors’ Demands

Meanwhile, the demands of Bhopal Survivors from The Dow Chemical Company include: 1. Provide medical information on the leaked gases withheld by wholly owned subsidiary Union Carbide Corporation; 2. Present wholly owned subsidiary Union Carbide Corporation that is absconding for the last 20 years from the ongoing criminal case in the Bhopal District Court; 3. Pay additional compensation of 8.1 billion US dollars for deaths and injuries caused due to the gas disaster; 4. Clean up buried hazardous waste and contaminated ground water in and around the abandoned factory in Bhopal up to international standards and 5. Pay compensation for health damages, birth defects and deaths caused due to toxic contamination.

Ongoing Cases against Dow Chemical

The ongoing cases against The Dow Chemical Company, USA in India are: (i) In High Court of Madhya Pradesh regarding summons from Bhopal District Court to make Union Carbide appear in the ongoing criminal case; (ii) In High Court of Madhya Pradesh regarding clean up of contamination and payment of compensation for environmental and health damages; (iii) In Supreme Court of India regarding payment of additional compensation of 1.2 billion dollars for deaths and injuries caused by the gas disaster and (iv) In District Court of Patiala case against Dow Agro Sciences India Pvt. Ltd. regarding bribing of Indian officials for expediting registration of Dursban, Nuril and Pride pesticides.

Dow Chemical Denial

Meanwhile in a statement, Dow reportedly expressed sympathy with the victims but accused activists of trying to rewrite history. The company reiterated that it never owned the pesticide plant. It is linked to the tragedy because 16 years later, in 2001, it bought the Union Carbide Corporation, an American company that had a majority stake in the Bhopal plant.

Dow said the legal case was resolved in 1989 when the Union Carbide settled with the Indian government for $470 million, and that all responsibility for the factory now rests with the government of the state of Madhya Pradesh, which now owns the site. "Those trying to attach Dow to the incident are misinformed or misguided," said Scot Wheeler, a Dow spokesman.

“Jhadoos”

Meanwhile, to trace the “Jhadoos” (broomstick’s) associations with the Bhopal campaign, asserting “Women’s power against Dow Chemical” women leaders of organizations of survivors of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal had launched the “Jhadoo Maaro Dow Ko” [Beat Dow with brooms] campaign.

“We will take care of all Dow’s designs and all their advisory panels with our jhadoos” said a confident Mrs. Hajra Bi [40] from Jaiprakash Nagar, a community just opposite the Union Carbide factory. She described their current plans to collect used brooms from individual households in the affected communities and deliver them to Dow Chemical’s head quarters in Mumbai.

“We will bury Dow in a mountain of “Jhadoos” so they know that they cannot survive in this country unless they clean up the continuing mess in Bhopal”, said a confident Mrs. Sheila Thakur [50] who is still grieving the death of her severely exposed husband after years of confinement in bed. Mrs. Sheila played a prominent role in the relay fast that was joined by over 1500 hunger strikers from ten different countries. She described their plans to visit different parts of the country to launch a nation-wide ‘Jhadoo Maaro Dow Ko” campaign. “The broom is one of every woman’s personal weapon against injustice. We will turn it in to a political weapon for justice in the worst corporate crime in history” said Mrs. Sheila. 

[Pervez Bari is a senior Journalist based at Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Madhya Pradesh). He can be contacted at pervezbari@eth.net]

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