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How The White House Responded To A Petition For The Victims Of The Bhopal Gas Tragedy

By Kokila Bhattacharya:

If I have seen hope turn into despair in a city, it has to be mine.

1984 was when the debilitating MIC gas enveloped Bhopal and killed thousands with an aftermath that’s even worse. That’s 32 years.  Lost somewhere in the blame game of authorities, government officials and denizens of an ignorant community are the lives of thousands at stake still. Now, three decades later, contrary to what people believe, it’s not over. The impact of the tragedy is engraved deep in the blood of the victims, so much so that their offspring bear the consequences as well.  Teeming with individual stories of despair and despondency, the tales of us Bhopalis expose the corrupt machinations of power.

Sketch_kokila_Bhopal

A few months back, Bhopalis discovered that the honourable White House responds to pleas on its online forum if it’s addressed from over a lakh of people. We needed answers.

And, after 31 and a half years, another of the many campaigns kickstarted. It told the US Department of Justice, to “Uphold International Law! Stop Shielding Dow Chemical from Accountability for Corporate Crimes in Bhopal, India.”

Voila! As the clock struck its final days, alongside supporters overseas, we exceeded the required signatures. As I was preparing myself, in clandestine ways, to finally recount a struggle half-won (the least at that), I wanted to be sure I was being realistic.

Bhopal has lent its name to an association of a ‘tragedy’, an unfortunate ‘accident’ and a ‘disaster’. People forget to remember; to remember its deep-rooted ties with the words, ‘industrial’, ‘corporate’, ‘mass-murder’ and ‘negligence’. My generation might have turned away from witnessing the remnants of this holocaust, but no amount of ignorance can keep up with how alive the struggle is, resurging above disappointments of all hues.

We cannot, in all pragmatic ways, eliminate the possibility of another Bhopal in the future, whether India, in its nuclear deal frenzies and sprouting infrastructure like wild mushrooms, is ready to deal with a future crisis or not.

Moreover, the parent company, Dow Chemicals, lives on in prosperity putting millions of lives across the globe in jeopardy and happily sponsoring the Olympics while the children of Bhopal hop on to their paraplegic lives. By 2016, Dow Chemicals (the mighty lord of all companies, post-marital ties with another chemical giant Dupont), who have, in their glorious solo crime sprees, have infamous records. They are collectively responsible for the violation of human rights, environmental devastation and compromising of safety standards in pursuit of profits. While they made scrupulous attempts to wipe off true stories by punching ‘sustainability’ reports all over their brands, the US Department of Justice, conveniently and successfully shields them, or as we say in India, “pallu mein chhupa ke.”

Companies like Dow and their toxicity are omnipresent when it comes to the end number of products we’re using each day, consumers be wary of what they bring home.

Am I drifting? Two months later, the White House did respond to the petition.

Served in a hyphae of words tactfully dipped in discretion & garnished with a blatant disregard was this:

“to avoid the appearance of improper influence, the White House may decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government. That’s why we’re declining to comment on the specific request raised in this petition.”

A few months back, public outrage hit Hindustan Unilever to commit to compensate for 15 years of toxic legacy to its former workers, many of whom are still living with the health impacts of lax safety standards in the Kodaikanal factory in Tamil Nadu. From Kodaikanal to Bhopal, Mettur to Singrauli, justice lies at way further point than mere acknowledgment, remediation or rehabilitation from the state, central government or the company responsible.

Well, somewhere amidst the blaring slogans and the heat of the burning effigies of Obama in a city vested in the heart of India, you’d see wrinkled faces. You’d see tired, cracked feet and countless children with a fainter idea of what has dawned upon them.

“Justice buried, justice denied” seems more like a universal phenomenon for victims worldwide. Survivors, more than often in indigence, have come to terms with one fact, though; you wouldn’t see an Indian executive, if at all, who managed to flee from the USA under charges of culpable homicide or more, sunbathing peacefully in Goa.

I guess we all know why, and it’s high time things change.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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