HT Image
HT Image

Fumes over London

Last week was surreal. On Monday, at 7.30 am, the phone rang. It was Farah and Tim, friends from Brighton who help run our tiny Bhopal Medical Appeal.
None | By Indra Sinha, Guardian
UPDATED ON MAR 04, 2012 11:34 PM IST

Last week was surreal. On Monday, at 7.30 am, the phone rang. It was Farah and Tim, friends from Brighton who help run our tiny Bhopal Medical Appeal. They said Mike Bonanno of activist network, The Yes Men, had just phoned to say we must drop everything and go straight to the Frontline Club in London. WikiLeaks was about to release a number of secret intelligence reports in which we were all named ( A private intelligence agency has been spying on us for handlers at Dow Chemical.

How bizarre. I'd forgotten I was an activist. What of the others? What could Dow be hoping to find? Much named in the reports is Colin Toogood, a qualified architect turned DJ who has been doing wonderful work with damaged children in Bhopal (

Then there are 'the Edwards', as Dow's anti-activist squad calls them. Tim, back in 1999, cycled from Brighton to Bhopal to raise money for our free clinic. In the city's gas-affected slums, he met a pretty Bhopal girl translating for a foreign film crew. She liked him, and instantly and inevitably they fell in love.

The corporation has it all — wealth, power, political influence, top American and Indian lawyers, PR companies, the ear of presidents, prime ministers and legislators, the power to twist arms, bend policy to its will, and manipulate the courts and laws of two countries to evade justice in either.

The 'nothing people', literally, have nothing. Their efforts to obtain medical help and justice have been opposed and obstructed in every possible way. It's David against an army of Goliaths. The Bhopal survivors, thrown back on their own resources, made the pleasant discovery that the slums were full of talent. Out of this poorest of communities came a flowering of science, art and political intelligence. They taught themselves medicine, environmental science, law and politics. They learned the art of forensic investigation, and some of their detective work has the dramatic edge of a Le Carré thriller.

What have we 'activists' been doing? Trying to tell this story to the world, and to ask good-hearted people, who believe in justice and fair play, to help. Last year saw the arrival among the ranks of Dow's rich and powerful allies of the International Olympic Committee, and the London 2012 organisers, Locog, headed by a British milord, the erstwhile Seb Coe. What on earth possessed Coe and Locog to drag a foreign corporation with a controversial history into Britain's 'greenest ever' games?

In vain it seems, India's government, the Indian Olympics Association, Indian athletes, as well as Bhopal survivors, have protested at the inclusion of Dow, deeply mired in the Bhopal disaster. When Locog uncritically repeats Dow's PR statements, varying them by hardly a word, when those same statements are being challenged in court by the Indian government, they are in effect finding for Dow before the court has even sat. The media could do a lot more to investigate the things that Dow says. Who controls Union Carbide? Why does Carbide not answer the criminal charges? Whose chemicals are causing the current poisoning? No one knows how this story will end, but it won't be over until we enter and become part of it.

Indra Sinha is the author of the 2007 Booker-shortlisted Animal's People, a novel based on the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy. The views expressed by the author are personal. The Guardian.

Story Saved