Air, Water, Earth
And The Sins Of
The factory that killed 15,000 in 1984 is still poisoning
new victims. As survivors march to Delhi, RAGHU KARNAD tells the chilling story of Bhopal's ongoing disaster
March 16, 2008. Padyatris rest
at a school in Farah, after a 28 kilometer
trek from Agra. The marchers are aged between 11
THERE IS a face of
our democracy that you only see when you follow a 60-year-old woman marching
800 kilometres on swollen knees. That is the distance fromBhopal
to Delhi, and she hopes that if she walks for a month, instead of taking
the overnight train, she will remind Delhi about something in Bhopal.
Not that the gas that leaked from the Union Carbide factory on December
2, 1984, killed 15,000 people. That is world history; that is not why
she is marching. Some people remember that the five lakh Bhopalis who
survived that night had their bodies ruined. This explains her swollen
knees, her painful lungs, the sudden dizziness that occasionally drops
her onto the roadside.
heard that after being denied a hearing in
court, after being denied a humane compensation,
the gas peedith are spending their lives
being denied medical care they were supposed
to receive, being denied jobs they were trained to
do, being denied justice. But there is another reason
she is marching.
Almost nobody ever heard that the factory
which leaked poison into the air in 1984 [see box:
The Story of that Night] has been leaking it, constantly,
into the soil and water ever since.
For 23 years, the
chemicals that went into Carbide's pesticide process have been ignored,
left to leach into the groundwater. That groundwater feeds tubewells and
handpumps from which 25,000 people in neighbouring areas drink. Most of
these people were nowhere near the gas leak on December 2. They belong
to a new category of victims, the paani peedith, and every year their
numbers and their toxicity symptoms increase. Their existence is being
denied altoget her. Everyone knows the Union Carbide gas leak killed more
than 15,000 people. Almost nobody has heard that the killing never stopped.
That is why the woman is marching.
AS YOU READ this, 50 padyatris between the ages of 11 and 82 will be entering
New Delhi. For a month, they have been hitting the highway at 5 am, marching
until the sun burns the neck like a rash, breaking for a nap, then marching
again until Delhi is 25 km nearer. They've been sleeping in school houses,
wedding halls, open fields. Most are in ill-health from exposure to toxic
gas or water: what keeps them going is sweet tea in the morning, painkillers
at night and a fierce desire to hold their Prime Minister to account.
This is not the first time they have made the padyatra: it is a Bhopal
survivors' tradition. In 2006, a group marched to Delhi and presented
their demands to Manmohan Singh.
In essence, the demands
were: provide support to the survivors. Clean up the toxic waste at the
plant. Give water to the communities whose water it has poisoned. Take
legal action against Dow Chemicals, which bought over Union Carbide in
2001. They say the Prime Minister nodded as they read out the first three,
and when they reached the fourth, he placed his hands over his ears. He
would not endorse any bans or any arrangements for the special prosecution
of Dow. Many of the padyatris from 2006 are marching again this year,
to remind him of those promises.
has been a little progress on the first
three demands – not much, but enough to put
the survivors' movement on its strongest footing
in years. But as it turned out, that fourth demand
is a wedge under the door.
Ever since 2001, Dow Chemicals has maintained
that while it acquired Carbide's assets, it
did not inherit its liabilities. The survivors are
det ermined to see Dow held to account. The
Cen tre is determined to see it let off. For two
years, the tangled question of Dow's liability has
ensnarled progress on every other front.
NATHIBAI, HER HUSBAND
and their three-year-old son Sonu left their village in 1990 and moved
to Atal Ayub Nagar. This mohalla presses up against the wall of a dilapidated
factory, and terrible stories about what had happened there were repeated
to Nathibai often. Many of her neighbours were gas peedith – survivors
of that night – their lives were pitiful, wasted waiting in lines
at the hospitals. The factory still looked desolate, perhaps haunted,
but the compound was full of ponds and birdsong.
IT WAS two years before
Sonu began having problems. He never learnt to talk, and although he continued
to grow, he became uncontrolled and erratic. His mind was regressing;
he droo led and was incontinent. Today he is 21, but mentally still an
infant. Nathibai is around 50, but looks two decades older. She can never
leave Sonu alone. Some times he becomes violent, striking and scratching
her. Doctors never explained what was wrong. Something was poisoning the
Children who had
been healthy for years developed
neurological conditions, even regres
sed into mental disability.
New borns had low birthweight,
grew too slowly, suffered from
cerebral palsy and deformities.
Healthy children began to behave
in frighteningly abnormal ways,
with disorders like Pica: com pulsively
eating mud, faeces, bone, even glass.
People who had never been near the gas
found their families beginning to sicken, and
sometimes die. In two wards – 18 communities– there was a slow escalation of the rate of
anaemia, skin disease and cancer. Girls in their
late teens had not started menstruating and
women in their mid-thirties had stopped. Entire
communities sagged under fatigue, nausea and
bodily pain. 'Now people here just stay ill constantly,'
Nathibai says, 'There is no respite.'
WILDFLOWERS GROW INSIDE
the Union Carbide compound; palash trees are in full bloom and look like
The cobwebbed, cluttered floor of
the Union Carbide laboratory is
symbolic of 23 years of criminal
evasion. 386 tonnes of deadly
chemical waste still lie in sacks in
the factory premise. Outside,
a toxic landfill, seeps its poisons
into the groundwater. But a statecommissioned
survey declared the
groundwater safe for drinking
graze cattle on the thick brush until guards come by and threaten them.
The rust monsters tower above this pastoral scene, skeletal arrangements
of girders, inscrutable valves, disembowelled regulators and long, long
intestines of rusted piping. Nostril-singeing chemicals cling to the machinery,
especially the huge, corroded storage vats in the processing plant. In
the summer, says the guard, the wind blows a stinging scent through their
quarters. They develop headaches, and become dizzy on their rounds. He
knows the word – dichlorobenzene – even though he was never
warned about toxicity when first posted here. He hustles us on, 'It is
not good to stay here long.' An hour wandering through the buildings leaves
you swooning like a seven-year-old smoking a cigarette.
THREE YEARS ago, all the visible toxic material
scattered around the premises was
gathered together in one vast warehouse.
The guard teases we won't find what
we're looking for – it's all been locked up. But he
leads us to the building and to a peep-hole in the
wall. Hidden under tarpaulin sheets, sackfuls of
chemicals are heaped like haystacks, one heap
after another, as far as the eye can see in the dim
In any case, the guard is wrong. There is a
barren field in the north-east corner, from
where you can throw a stone in three directions
and hit someone's jhuggi. This is where, in the
mid-90s, Carbide made a landfill for the industrial
residue excavated from their solar evaporation
ponds. It was buried and soil was
bulldozed on top.
Today a depression has
formed in the earth, where toxic tar is creeping
back to the surface. It looks gratifyingly evil, like
a small prehistoric tar pit, reliquified and shimmering
in the March sun. It is not shallow –
place a large rock in the puddle and it is slowly
swallowed, until the tar closes over it like a
mouth. How is it possible that Ground Zero of
the worst industrial disaster in history was left
so vividly and potently contaminated?
After 1984, the Carbide management had
only one thing on its mind: to get out of India
before its liability was fully calculated. This
required them, on the one hand, to restrict
proof of the extent of damage and, on the
other, to unload assets as fast as possible. They
did both ruthlessly.
For example, Carbide refused to disclose
proprietary research that would help doctors
understand the physiological effects of gas exposure
and treat victims. It disrupted independent
research on drugs like sodium thiosulphate,
which would have helped detoxify
victims but would also have proved that the
gas entered the bloodstream and caused multiple-
The Indian Council of
Medical Research began a study on the impact
of the gas on the next generation – this was
mysteriously cancelled when results began to
point to extreme damage.
Satinath Sarangi, 54, is one of the principal
leaders of the Bhopal survivors' movement. He
abandoned a doctorate in metallurgy at Benares
Hindu University to arrive in Bhopal the day
after the gas leak. He co-founded the clinic that
ran the improvised sodium thiosulphate trials –
until it was raided by the police and every single
datasheet confiscated. Today, by compulsion, he
is a self-trained physician, lawyer and detective.
'Carbide had the best emergency response
you could imagine for bringing down the appearance
of damage,' Sarangi says. 'It was like
there was a Department of Dirty Deeds dedicated
to this, a system in readiness – and it involved
scientists and researchers, which makes it
seem even more evil.' Sarangi can spend hourslisting the ways the company co-opted the government
to suppress evidence of damage. 'First
it happened with the gas deaths, then with the
gas injuries, now with the contamination.'
Carbide was relieved of all civil liabilities after
paying a $470 million settlement – leaving each
bereaved family with Rs 63,000, and each injured
person with Rs 25,000. Warren Anderson, Carbide's
CEO, could not be extradited, so their criminal
liabilities were immaterial.
WHAT THAT left was the actual factory
site. A month after the gas
leak, the gates were padlocked, the
factory abandoned in suspended animation. The
dial for tank E-610, which had released the lethal
methyl isocyanate (MIC), stayed stuck on Overload.
All the chemical ingredients of Sevin, the
pesticide end-product, stayed exactly where they
had been that night – in warehouses full of iron
drums and sacks, inside the pipes and the tanks
of the actual plant. Residual waste sat in solar
evaporation ponds. For a decade, only time
touched the factory: the sacks ruptured and the
pipes corroded, loosing the chemicals onto the
Pesticide is a form of poison, so it should
come as no surprise that its ingredients, like MIC,
were highly toxic: mercury, dichlorobenzene,
hexachlorocyclohexanes, lead. On nights of
heavy rain, the factory became a toxic marsh.
The land had been given to Carbide on lease
by the state government; in order to relinquish it,Carbide needed the Madhya Pradesh Pollution
Control Board (MPPCB) to certify the land was
not contaminated. In 1989, and then again in
1994, the National Environmental Engineering
Research Institute (NEERI) of Nagpur was asked
to measure soil and water contamination.
had been privately testing their own samples,
and found high levels of naphthol and
Sevin. But NEERI's reports summarily acquitted
Carbide. It said the soil in the area was clayey
and impermeable, and would keep contaminants
from reaching the groundwater table for
at least 23 years. It declared that 'the water
meets the drinking water quality criteria.'
This was such cavalier logic that even Carbide's
consultant, Arthur D. Little (ADL), found it
insupportable. In a private response to NEERI,
they urged: 'The sentence 'The groundwater appears
to be suitable for drinking
purposes' is too strong,' and, 'The
conclusions regarding travel time to
the water may significantly underestimate
the potential for contamination…
clay is only present to a depth
of 6.1 meters… The worst case scenario
travel time would be 2 years.'
But NEERI's final report included none of ADL's
The MPPCB, a body so corrupt it was
fired en masse three years later and its chairman
arrested, looked at the flimsy report and discharged
Carbide's lease: the land became the
problem of the Madhya Pradesh government.
Since then, the NEERI report has been the
touchstone for both Carbide and government
officials. Both use it as proof that there is no
groundwater contamination, or if there is, it is
not on account of the factory waste. They steadfastly
ignored the multiple studies that found
contamination present and growing – that was
to be expected from pesky activist groups like
the Boston-based Citizens' Environmental Laboratory
and Greenpeace. In 2002, the Delhibased
Srishti environmental research group
found heavy metals, the pesticide HCH-BHC and
volatile organic compounds (such as dichlorobenzene) in samples of soil, groundwater, vegetables
and breastmilk collected in the areas. But
the NEERI report overrode all contrary indications.
The issue of cleaning up was mothballed.
The official response became: of course, people
in these areas are sick. The poor always are.
THERE WAS little urgency for the first 20
years about planning the 'site remediation'.
According to Digvijay Singh, the
CM of Madhya Pradesh from 1993 to 2003, the
main issue during that span was funding.'There were very few experts, and the foreign
firms we contacted wanted to charge 30 million
dollars.' Singh also believes that the contamination
issue 'is being played up by activist
groups for publicity and funds.'
Scepticism persists among the state officerswhose support matters most.
Ajay Vishnoi, the
BJP Minister of Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation,
denies the contamination firmly. 'A total
survey has just been conducted, but it has not
been announced yet. What has been reported to
us is that there is no contamination of the
groundwater in any of the tubewells in those
areas,' he said, adding, 'beyond tolerable limits.'
Arif Aqeel, the former Minister of Gas
Tragedy Relief, has an even slicker response to
claims of water contamination. 'While I was the
Minister, the locals were complaining. They
asked me to come drink the water myself,' he
says, chuckling, 'I asked, this water is bad? And
I drank two glasses right in front of the entire
media, in front of the public. If there had been
something wrong with it, I'd also have had the
problem – but nothing happened at all.'
Sarangi was there to watch Aqeel drink the
water. He swears in all seriousness that the Gas
Minister excused himself straight away, went
around back and vomited it.
OUT OF THE factory gates, and a few minutes
later we are in Atal Ayub Nagar, across the wall
from the tarpit. It is one of 18 communities
ranged around the factory's northern perimeter,
collectively home to 25,000 people. Ninety percent
of residents, including Nathibai's family,
draw water from its wells. It tasted like phenyl
was mixed into it, and often it had an oily sheen.'But what other water was there?' Nathibai explains,'Eventually we stopped tasting it.'
It is eerie to be a visitor in a community of
illness. The adults suffer diseases that are mostly
internal and invisible. Some, from foot to knee
and hand to elbow, have skin that burns and is
cracked so deep it bleeds. But the horror is what
has happened to the young: every
alley has households with children
with developmental problems –
like five-year-old Amit, who cannot
walk or talk and whose parents
are still praying; older ones,
like 32-year-old Munni Bai, who
was a normal teenager before 'her
mind was lost.' She can no longer
ONLY IN the last few years
have state officials been
compelled to acknowledge
that this is happening. At
first, all that happened was that
workers came through, painted
the hand-pumps red, painted –
'Paani peene yogya nahi hai' –
and left. In 2004, the recalcitrant
MPPCB admitted it had found pesticide
in water-samples from
around the plant. IIT Kanpur found
high concentrations of endosulphan
in the breast milk of mothers.
The same year, acting on a
contamination report from its monitoring committee,
the Supreme Court directed the state
government to provide clean drinking water to
the contaminated areas.
Fourteen crores were allocated to pipe water
in from the Kolar reservoir; in none of these
areas has that arrived, but some are serviced by
tankers or water piped from the Rasla Kheri bypass.
The day we visited Annu Nagar, the Rasla
Kheri water was cloudy pink. Where the tankers
go, each family receives less than four litres per
day. On days when the pipes are empty or the
tankers missing, residents return to their handpumps,
and mothers urge their children not to
drink. As we crossed from Atal Ayub Nagar to
Annu Nagar, we passed a child pissing on the
railway track, his urine almost orange.
EARLIER THIS YEAR,
VS Sampath, secretary, Department of Chemicals & Petrochemicals as
well as Chair of the Central Task Force on Bhopal, addressed a CII conference.
In his speech, he said that India needs to attract Rs 80,000 crore of
investment in the petrochemical sector. Sampath refused to be interviewed
for this story. But one could guess that he does not consider this a good
time to antagonise the world's second-largest chemical manufacturer. On
the contrary, the government has been most patient with Dow's errors.
For example, last year Dow disclosed that its Indian subsidiary, DE-Nocil,
had slipped more than Rs 80 lakh under the table to Indian officials to
get approval for three pesticide products – including one called
Dursban. Local people were charged with bribery and criminal conspiracy,
but no action was ever taken to revoke the product approval.
Dursban was banned
in the United States in 2000, after it was found that exposure to it caused
headaches, vomiting, and diarrhoea, and risked permanent neurological
damage to children. It is still manufactured and sold here. Dow has already
begun investing in major new projects, including an R&D facility in
Shinde-Vasuli in Maharashtra, where it is already embroiled in controversy.
Civil society groups claim it concealed information about 20 hazardous
chemicals it would manufacture at the plant. Last month, the residents
of Shinde- Vasuli dug up their own roads to keep out Dow's construction
IT WAS A SMALL, upstart motion that finally gave
the issue of site remediation a shot in the arm. In
2004, a PIL filed in the Jabalpur High Court requested
that the Court direct the government to
get on with the clean-up. The Court's proactive
instructions in this case had two effects: they
threw a new momentum behind the survivors'
efforts to haul Dow back into the picture. They
also revealed the Central government's determination
to keep Dow out of it.
Among the Court's first actions, it directed
the formation of a Central government Task
Force to implement the clean-up. To advise it,
the Court constituted a Technical Sub-Committee,
which included the eminent biologist
When the Sub-Committee drew
up a list of recommendations, the topmost was
that Dow be made responsible for taking the
surface waste and contaminated soil out of
country for disposal; and that it should pay for
the long-term decontamination of the water,
which might take upto 20 years. This was endorsed unanimously.'My strong view is that there is simply no alternative
to Dow doing this,' Bhargava says. 'No
one in this country has the expertise to evaluate
the waste, and we have no capacity to incinerate
waste of this kind and quantity. Besides, the
principle is simple – the polluter pays.'
Mysteriously, when the minutes of the meeting
were presented to the Task Force, the suggestion
involving Dow had fallen from first to
last in the order. The Task Force ignored it, preferring
instead a proposal to incinerate some of
the waste at an industrial incinerator in Ankleshwar,
Gujarat, and to bury the remainder in
a sealed tank in Pitampur, MP.
Preparations for this went ahead full-steam
until the end of last year, when the
Gujarat Pollution Control Board
took stock of its facility and suddenly
refused to participate. 'It's
very clear that the government
isn't interested in Dow's responsibility,'
Bhargava says, 'but the incineration
in Gujarat could have been another
The Gujarat PCB's rejection has not
yet sunk in – in Bhopal and in Delhi, officers
insist the plan is moving ahead. There has been
no talk of an alternative.
The Jabalpur High Court put in motion another
chain of events, which again revealed that
on questions of Dow's liability, the government
had its hands over its ears. This time its soft spot
for Dow was not just the Central Insecticides
Board or the Task Force on Bhopal. It was the
most powerful men on the Union Cabinet.
When Alok Pratap's PIL was registered, Dow
found, to their horror, that they had been named
as one of the respondents. This was the first time
since their acquisition of Union Carbide that
Dow had been impleaded in a case relating to
To represent them, they secured the
services of Abhishek Manu Singhvi, the Congress
The High Court was restless to see action on
the clean-up front – but who was going to pay?
To general surprise, in an application in May
2005, the Union Ministry of
Chemicals and Fertilisers (MoCF)
coolly suggested that Dow pay the
government an advance amount
of Rs 100 crore. Work could then
begin. They could pay the difference
KNIGHT: Satinath Sarangi, now 54, heard about the gas leak
and reached Bhopal in two days. He has stayed for 23 years as one
of the principal leaders of the
survivors’ movement, and has often been arrested and beaten
by the police for his campaigning
THIS WAS exactly the
kind of payment against which, for years, Dow had barricaded itself with
deadly seriousness. "' We all ask the same question: 'Why isn't this
site cleaned up?' "says Dow's spokesperson Scot Wheeler. 'As owners
of the site, it is the government of Madhya Pradesh that has the ability
and, more importantly, the authority to clean up the site.' Ever since
it bought out Carbide, Dow has emphasised that it never owned or operated
the Bhopal plant. 'Union Carbide Corporation had stopped doing business
in India long before Dow acquired UCC's shares in 2001,' says Wheeler.
'UCC remains a separate company, which manages its own liabilities.'
In the United States, however,
barely a year after completing the acquisition,
Dow settled an asbestos-related lawsuit that had
been filed against Union Carbide in Texas.
The MoCF proposition was a nightmare
sprung to life – not because Dow, which made
Rs 11,600 crore in profits last year, was daunted
by a pay-out of Rs 100 crore, but because of the
precedent such a payment would set. What
might litigants expect them to pay for once their
gates of liability were cracked open? For further
clean-up costs, if the Rs 100 crore were to fall
Last year Yashveer Singh, the officer incharge of the MoCF Bhopal wing, guessed that
final costs might reach Rs 500 crore. What if
Dow were asked to pay compensation and medical
expenses for the victims of the groundwater
contamination? Where might it end?
It was time for lateral thinking. The MoCF was
dragging Dow into the harsh light of liability because
it needed the money. If the money could
somehow be arranged, the MoCF would relent
and Dow would be back in the clear.
Dow made its move around the time of the
high-powered US-India CEO Forum in New
York, in October 2006. The Forum, a bilateral
government initiative to encourage trade and investment,
is co-chaired by Ratan Tata, the
benevolent giant of Indian business. Dow CEO
Andrew Liveris was a member as well.
On July 9, months before the Forum began,
Tata wrote to Finance Minister P. Chidambaram
and Planning Commission Deputy Chairman
Montek Singh Ahluwalia, about resolving the'legacy issues' of Bhopal. In his letter to the FM,
he made a striking offer: 'We should be concerned
about the lack of action on remediation
of the old Union Carbide disaster site… I believe
that responsible corporates in the private sector
and in the public sector might be willing to contribute
to this initiative in the national interest
and Tatas would be willing to spearhead and
contribute to such an exercise.'
At the Forum, Dow
held a meeting to discuss its liability problem. Afterwards, Ratan Tata
resumed the correspondence. In another
Chotey Khan, 67, has lost his
mother and two grandchildren to
the Carbide disaster. Both he and
his wife suffer from acute dizziness.
Yet, he believes the yatra will yield
letter from him to
MS Ahlu walia, copied to the PMO:'It is critical for [Dow] to have the
MoCF withdraw their application for a financial deposit by Dow against
the remediation cost, as that application implies that the GoI views Dow
as liable in the Bhopal Gas Disaster case… My offer for the Tatas
to lead and find funding… still stands. Perhaps it could break
The Cabinet leapt at Tata's overture. Chidambaram gave his support. So did Cabinet Secretary
BK Chaturvedi. MS Ahluwalia said: 'The
Chairman of Dow indicated that they would be
willing to contribute to such an effort voluntarily,
but not under the cloud of legal liability.'
Minister of Commerce & Industry Kamal
Nath came right out with it: 'While I would not
like to comment on whether Dow has a legal responsibility
or not, as it is for the courts to decide,
with a view to sending an appropriate
signal to Dow Chemicals, which is exploring investing
substantially in India, and to the American
business community, I would urge that a
group... look at this matter in a holistic manner.'
The idea quickly fizzled out
after the press and activist groups
caught wind of it.
2007, the Tatas were playing defence.
They released a statement
regretting the 'considerable misalignment
of Tata's offer, which was 'no
different from any public-spirited
initiative to clean a polluted river
or a site damaged by some abnormal
phenomenon.' The Tatas'
reputation for philanthropy did
not incline the survivors to believe
in Ratan Tata's public spiritedness.
In their eyes, Tata's
corporate responsibility only arrived
in time to relieve Dow's corporate
A clearer picture never emerged about what motivated
Ratan Tata to offer his shareholders'
money to clean up the
Carbide site – and to enable
Dow to contribute voluntarily to a cost it might
have to pay involuntarily if the court finds it liable.
But it was made quite clear that key Cabinet
Ministers are ready to work to keep Dow
out of trouble in the 'holistic' interest, even to
the extent of helping it evade judicial process.
a national economy could accept a bribe, this
is what it would look like.
Then again, would it be so terrible if somebody
else cleaned up the plant? At this point,
many officials say, the survivors are their own
worst enemies. Their desire to see Dow's atonement
is limiting the scope for quicker alternative
solutions. Ratan Tata's consortium might
have begun the clean up already.
Arif Aqeel has ideas about why
the survivors pursue Dow, even
though it prolongs their poisoning.'What I'm saying is clean it up! Let
Dow do it, let the Indian government
do it, let a foreign country
come and do it,' he says. 'But once
the chemicals are gone, certain leaders will be
unemployed, they won't have anything to do
without their zindabad-murdabad.' The government
wrings its hands and says the same – why
are they making this so difficult?
The answer to that depends on another question:
who are these people? Two views contend.
Either they are the typical poor: exploited and
misled, as always, but this time by activist leaders
who are careerists or ideologues. Or, they arepeople in whom tragedy and poverty, and also
education and leadership, have realised a potential
for participatory citizenship.
Survivors talk about 'moral responsibility'
less often than the media makes it seem. More
often, they talk about deterrence – making sure
Bhopal never happens again.
FORCE: Bhopal Gas
Peedith Mahila Purush Sangarsh
Morcha — one of the three leading
groups fighting for survivors’ rights
—meets every Wednesday in a
warehouse across the road from the
Union Carbide factory. It is no easy
task to keep a fight going for 23
Their insistence on
Dow's liability is not vindictive; it is to ensure that their own personal
justice becomes a precedent for wider justice. Jabbar Khan, who is marching
with his daughters, says: 'If Dow is let off now, it will go somewhere
else in the country and Bhopal will be repeated. We don't just want to
be paid off. We want justice to be done. Even if we have to wait another
20 years.' Many of the survivors, whether or not they articulate it this
way, are insisting on corporate and industrial liability.
That is why they have
allied with other groups – mercury survivors
from Cuddalore, Endosulphan survivors from
Kasargode – people even more obscure and
powerless than them. Some of the marchers –
like 82-year-old Shantha Bai, who marches
with her sari hitched up above her sneakers,
and with a pace so fierce they call her the
Bhopal Express – may not survive to see vindication
even if it comes. Their fight stopped
being about personal recompense a long time
ago. To a great extent it is about the lives of
their children, and their children's children.
There is also a whole country to be saved from
As you read this, the padyatris will have entered
Delhi, carrying 20 questions to put to their
Prime Minister. They can anticipate what his answers
will be. Reaching Delhi may not mean the
end of their road. But neither will it mean the
end of their tether. If your swollen knees have
carried you 800 kilometres, they will not fail you
when it is time to stand your ground.