Novelist slams India, Dow over Bhopal holocaust

June 14th, 2008 - 6:24 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

London, June 14 (IANS) Celebrated Indian-born novelist Indra Sinha has blamed the Indian government and the multinational Dow Chemicals in equal measure for the continuing plight of Bhopal gas disaster victims. Sinha, who also kept fast in support of a number of survivors and activists who went on a hunger strike in Delhi June 10 to protest the indifference of authorities, has posted a scathing criticism on his website, in an article titled ‘Why I am joining the Bhopalis in their fight for justice’.

France-based Sinha said the US multinational Dow Chemicals has lower regard for Indian lives than for American ones, and that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is responsible for letting it off the hook.

Thousands of people were killed and wounded when deadly methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a Union Carbide pesticides factory in Bhopal midnight Dec 2-3, 1984.

While officials put the number of deaths at around 3,000 the human rights group Amnesty International says some 8,000 people died and nearly half a million were affected.

Doctors and health experts say 15,000 people have died till date from exposure to the toxic gas, which they say continues to kill and maim.

Sinha’s latest novel “Animal’s People”, which won the Commonwealth award for the best book in the European and Asian region in March, is based around the events in Bhopal - the worst industrial disaster in history.

In his article, Sinha said Dow Chemicals, which later acquired Union Carbide, was responsible not only for its assets but also its liabilities and that under the ‘polluter pays’ principle owed Bhopal’s victims billions of dollars in compensation.

“Dow set aside $2.3 billion to settle Union Carbide’s US asbestos liabilities. How then can it refuse to accept Union Carbide’s Indian liabilities?” he asks.

“The hard answer”, he says, “is that Indians are not quite as human as Americans.”

“Dow paid $10 million to settle out-of-court with an American child damaged by Dursban, a pesticide so dangerous that it has been banned for domestic use in the US. But Dow employees were found to have bribed Indian Ministry of Agriculture officials to license Dursban as safe for home use in India. If an Indian child dies I doubt if there’ll be $10 million or even $10,000.”

Sinha also criticises Manmohan Singh, claiming he wants to “appease” Dow Chemicals and holding him personally responsible for jailing Bhopal activists, who the writer said are still behind bars.

He concludes: “I have spent much of the last five years writing a novel in which victims of a chemical disaster caused by a rogue corporation are sold out by their own politicians, triggering a desperate hunger strike.

“‘Animal’s People’ is set in the fictional city of Khaufpur, but whatever success it has had, it owes to the inspiring courage and spirit of the Bhopalis, and the descriptions of the hunger strike were drawn directly from the experiences of my friends.”

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