A few months ago I wrote about Indra Sinha’s Booker-nominated novel Animal’s People, a fictionalized take on the 1984 Bhopal Union Carbide gas disaster.
In Animal’s People, several of the main characters embark on a hunger strike, including Zafar, the leading activist in the fictional town of Khaufpur. Now, a new development in Indra Sinha’s story, where his fiction is meeting his life: On June 10, Sinha began an indefinite hunger strike (from his home in France) in solidarity with 9 other Bhopal activists in New Delhi, many of whom are victims of gas or water contamination. His action is part of a global fast to finally force the Indian government into action to bring US giant Dow Chemical to justice in India.
Two days after the Worldwide Hunger Strike Relay has begun, 60 people in India, the US, Europe and South America have already signed up online to participate. Of this number, nine have committed to indefinite fasts, including Indra Sinha.
In his piece “Why I’m Going on Hunger Strike for Bhopal” in The Guardian today, Sinha writes:
I have spent much of the last five years writing a novel in which victims of a chemical disaster caused by a rogue corporation are sold out by their own politicians, triggering a desperate hunger strike. Animal’s People is set in the fictional city of Khaufpur, but whatever success it has had, it owes to the inspiring courage and spirit of the Bhopalis, and the descriptions of the hunger strike were drawn directly from the experiences of my friends. … On their small stretch of pavement in Delhi, now battered by monsoon rain, nine [people] have sat down to begin an indefinite fast for justice. Among them are my old friend Sathyu and, grown up into a fine young man … How can I not join them? How can we all not support them?
More on the strike and how to get involved, below the fold, as well as a look at Dow Chemical’s ironic “Human Element” ad campaign. Global efforts to raise awareness and effect change have been building up since March when 50 Bhopalis undertook a 35-day padyatra to New Delhi to request a meeting with PM Manmohan Singh. With no meeting to date, it is hoped that this hunger fast will deny immunity to Dow Chemical and follow through on its rehabilitation schemes in Bhopal. [related article]
From the “International Hunger Strike Relay site:
Since February 20, 2008 â€“ when 50 men, women and children set off on foot to cover the 500 miles from Bhopal to New Delhi â€“ the Bhopalis have faced numerous hardships over more than one hundred days. They arrived in Delhi on 28 March and set up home on a small piece of footpath close to parliament. They’ve been arrested several times, including two times for protesting in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence. Finally, on June 2nd, the Prime Minister conveyed his “in principle” agreement to a Special Commission for rehabilitating Bhopal. But like past unfulfilled promises, no details nor timelines were provided, no proper health care or clean water were guaranteed. In the matter of the government’s neglected responsibilities as prosecutor of the criminal case still ongoing against the fugitive Dow/Carbide, there was silence. On June 9th, in desperation, 33 women and children and three men lay on the ground outside the PM’s offices. After arrest, several of them, including 6 and 11 year old minors, were beaten and verbally abused by police. This is the context we must react to now. In this important hour of our struggle for life, dignity and justice, we desperately need your solidarity and participation.
In San Francisco tomorrow, there will be a hunger strike solidarity protest from 10 am to 12 pm [details]
While all this is going on, it seems a bit creepy and ironic to catch a glimpse of Dow Chemical’s “Human Element” advertising campaign. You might have caught a two-spread ad in “The New Yorker” a few weeks ago or seen this ad.
Now, watch this interpretation of the same ad.