A group of social activists working with survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy is upset with claims that Kailash Satyarthi helped child survivors from the industrial accident, saying the Nobel Peace prize winner was never involved in any campaign for justice for the victims.
Among his many achievements the media highlighted after Satyarthi, 60, won the coveted honour last week were references to his organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s (BBA) work with children who survived one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.
More than 3,500 people were killed in the immediate aftermath of the accident in which a pesticide factory of Union Carbide in Bhopal leaked a poisonous gas on a cold December night in 1984.
Over time, activists say, some 25,000 people have died and more than 100,000 people exposed to gas have continued to suffer from sicknesses ranging from cancer and blindness to neurological disorders and female reproductive disorders and birth defects.
Prominent among those who have worked closely with the survivors of the accident is Abdul Jabbar, the convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan, who said the news of Satyarthi’s involvement in Bhopal has come as a surprise to him.
"I don't remember Kailash Satyarthi being ever involved in the movement of gas victims or working among them. I don't know who is feeding the media on this", he told Hindustan Times.
Satyarthi has not yet clarified his stand on the issue and a BBA spokesman did not refute claims over his association with the Bhopal gas disaster.
"Abdul Jabbar keeps participating in BBA conventions and the two (Satyarthi and Jabbar) are close friends. In 1997, Kailash Satyarthi also held a chaupal in Bhopal in which Jabbar had participated,” BBA’s Rakesh Sengar told Hindustan Times on telephone from Delhi.
But reacting to Sengar’s comments Jabbar said, "What do we do? If Satyarthi or his supporters say that he has worked among gas victims, we would obviously ask what work and where?"
Rachna Dhingra of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal too said she had no information of Satyarthi or his organisation being involved with the cause of the gas victims.
Union Carbide had settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470 million for the victims but several groups, including Dhingra’s organisation has been fighting court cases in the United States on behalf of the victims.
Sadhna Karnik, co-convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sahyog, too agreed that Satyarthi had little involvement with Bhopal and its gas victims.
"If he had been involved, you would also have known about it," she said.
According to Alok Pratap Singh, founder of the Jahrili Gas Kand Sangharsh Morcha, at one point 144 organisations from all across the country had come together to work for the survivors of the disaster and Satyarthi was not among them.