Perrier, Evian, or B’eau Pal?

bhopal water 3.jpg

A few days ago, I received a press announcement for a new line of luxury bottled water: B’eau Pal. (Oo la la!) But the fine print was a little less enticing:

The unique qualities of our water come from 25 years of slow-leaching toxins at the site of the world’s largest industrial accident. To this day, Dow Chemical — who bought Union Carbide — has refused to clean up and whole new generations are being poisoned.

An explanation? Suffice it to say that The Yes Men have been at it again. In 2004, one of the Yes Men impersonated a Dow spokesperson on BBC World TV and announced that the “company was finally going to compensate the victims and clean up Bhopal.” (We blogged about it here.) Immature? Perhaps. But it was remarkably satisfying to watch Dow, with its tail between its legs, distance themselves from this false announcement, which temporarily decreased Dow’s share price by two billion dollars.

Some of you may remember that stunt. Others of you, like me, may even be old enough to remember when Bhopal unfolded in December 1984. (And I’m young enough to have associated Indira Gandhi’s assassination earlier that year with trick-or-treating.) As Bhopal prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of this disaster, a recently released report by the Sambhavna Trust shows that

local groundwater, vegetables, and breast milk are contaminated by toxic quantities of nickel, chromium, mercury, lead, and volatile organic compounds. The report describes how a majority of children in one nearby community are born with serious medical problems traceable to the contamination. [source]

I’m trying to find a copy of the report, but in the meantime, find it worth mentioning that the Sambhavna Trust, composed of scientists, doctors, writers, and social workers, is working to “evolve simple, safe, effective, ethical and participatory ways of treatment monitoring and research for the survivors of Bhopal.” Part of this approach involves re-examining what in their words has been the dominant treatment of Bhopal victims so far– “the indiscriminate prescription of steroids, antibiotics and psychotropic drugs [that] is compounding the damage caused by the gas exposure.”[[source]](As the spawn of an Indian physician who emigrated to the United States in the late 1960s and as an antihistamine junkie, I cautiously agree that Sambhavna may have a point.)

Watch below as the Yes Men collaborate in their latest stunt with Bhopal activists, including Sathyu Sarangi (pictured above) from the Sambhavna Clinic, who attempt to offer random Londoners a taste of their toxic water before attempting to deliver it to Dow headquarters in London. (Dow doesn’t seem to be at home.)

Given that some younger people (at least in this video) have no memory of this disaster, I think that this PR gimmick is effective in raising awareness about both the disaster itself, and the fact that much, much more needs to be done. But what say the mutinous hordes?

11 thoughts on “Perrier, Evian, or B’eau Pal?

  1. Given that some younger people (at least in this video) have no memory of this disaster, I think that this PR gimmick is effective in raising awareness about both the disaster itself, and the fact that much, much more needs to be done.

    Bhopal is a forgotten tragedy, plain and simple. I hadn’t even heard of the Yes Men till this post, and inspite of a high profile novel that made it to the Booker shortlist just a year or two ago, there’s no talk about it. Heck, there’s not even the highest form of homage one can pay to serious issues – a Facebook meme, or a Twitter profile pic mod, that everybody’s participating in right now. Warren Anderson will live out his life in the comfortable confines of Long Island, and neither the US nor the Indian government cares a whit about having him answer for the disaster, in spite of toothless subpoenas, letters, and declarations of abscondment and contempt of court. The top industrial houses all support Dow’s indemnity for their own personal interests, be it Ratan Tata, or Ambani, who even was seriously considering buying Dow just two years ago. I am glad the Yes Men are doing their bit, but I don’t really have hope that this egregious crime will enter the public consciousness.

  2. But what say the mutinous hoards?

    Since you’re a professor, and I’m apparently inclined to be annoying these days, let me not hold back on my nitpick: shouldn’t that be hordes? Unless you are collecting all of us as your preshhyusss?

  3. This site makes me despise my desi/brown identity!

    Awww…..You’re so fragile, so precious.

  4. Rahul, you’re sweet. This professor can’t spell before she goes to bed, so she’s going to change the spelling right now. Thanks! But all of you are preshyuss. In your own way. Even you, Rahul.

    The Yes Men ringleaders came to talk at Cornell many years ago so I’ve been a fan since they started talking about Bhopal– way back in 2002. Have fun with their site. The scary thing is how many people buy their shtick, and that’s precisely their point.

  5. The devil-worshipping predatory capitalists of Dow Chemicals/Union Carbide need to reimburse the poor, innocent victims of the Bhopal tragedy. I respect the passive resistance of the Yes Men. They are comedic angels who are advancing humanity.

    India should BAN DOW CHEMICAL PRODUCTS TO INDIA UNTIL THEY REIMBURSE THE INDIANS AND ADMIT GUILT. In return, the Indians should allow business relations with Union Carbide, and accept them as friends without any historical grievances.

  6. hello Rahul, and others…

    Yes, we also feel that there is an element of Bhopal being a ‘forgotten disaster’ and we, at the Bhopal Medical Appeal, are trying to change that. People who were too young to have been around, at the time of the disaster, need to know what happened and, just as importantly, what is STILL happening in Bhopal.

    We are only a tiny organisation, with very limited resources, and were very lucky to have this opportunity to tie up with the Yes Men for this publicity stunt. We hope that this is, at least, a start as far as getting the issues across to a younger audience is concerned.

    We will also be looking at developing some of the other web ideas you mentioned. We do have a Twitter account but I’m afraid we don’t have too many followers yet! I was very busy Tweeting, while we were having the fun and games with the Yes Men, but I have less interesting stuff to put on it now!! The Twit profile is BhopalAppeal.

    But we will certainly be developing these things as we get closer towards the anniversary and we are always very happy to hear from people who want to get involved/ help out…