Survivors of the Union Carbide industrial disaster staged a jhoot bole kauwa kaate (lie and the crow will bite) and ‘benign buffet’ protest in front of the factory here on Saturday.
Sitting with a huge dummy crow and plates of “delicacies” made of hazardous chemical wastes, they waited in vain for Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Minister for Gas Relief and Civic Administration Babulal Gaur, Chief Secretary Rakesh Sahni and other bureaucrats to join them at the “benign buffet.”
The menu included a “semi-processed pesticide on watercress” and “lime-sludge mousse.”
Facing questions from the local, national and international media, the survivors went on with rehearsed tales of their misery, repeating each sentence several times as television journalists asked them for a “bite.”
Rehearsed tales? Of course. They have been doing this for years. They have been “camera ready” since 1984, with the media feeding off on them every year since the tragedy occurred. And yet, as the establishment ushers them into the 25th year of their misery, nothing seems to have changed.
“Look at this,” says Laksmi Bai of Prem Nagar, holding out a bottle of acid-like golden yellow liquid. “The government wants us to believe this is water fit for human consumption. It has corroded all my utensils, leaves a yellow haldi-like residue and causes skin irritation.”
Yet, they drink it everyday. The tragedy ruined an entire generation and did not just stop at that.
Says Baano Bi of New Arif Nagar: “I lost five members of my family in the tragedy. Today, we continue to live in slum-like conditions. We will live out whatever is left of our lives, but what about the next generation? Our children have learning deficiencies. They have stopped studying since they can’t memorise anything. We are doomed forever.”
The collective hatred of the survivors seemed concentrated on one man: Mr. Gaur.
“In 2005, we tied rakhis to Babulal Gaur and he promised us clean water,” says Haazra Bi. “But when we went to him again to remind him of his promise, he blamed us of robbery and got us arrested. Cases are still on against 11 of us.”