The Littlest BhopalisBy Lavina Melwani • Dec 5th, 2009 • Category: 24/7 Talk is Cheap - The Blog
The world has a short memory with just too many disasters, too little time and too many important things to remember. That’s why the 25th anniversary of the world’s worst gas disaster unleashed by the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal passed by in a flurry of everyday preoccupations here in New York.
“Before the sun rose, almost 4,000 human beings capable of love and anguish sank to their knees and did not get up. Half a million more fell ill, many with severely damaged lungs and eyes, ” writes Suketu Mehta in ’A Cloud Still Hangs Over Bhopal’ which should be required reading for those with short memories about Bhopal.
The fact remains that the victims of this horrific tragedy have not been compensated adequately and their nightmare continues, while the rest of the world moves on.
So here is a little story of little people trying to do what the grown-ups should be doing – protesting the outrage. Kids for a Better Future is an action group started by Akash Mehta four years ago when he was just 7. The son of writer Suketu Mehta and his former wife, Sunita Viswanath, Akash was inspired by his activist mother who founded the organization Women for Afghan Women. Frustrated that kids couldn’t really change the world, he decided to make whatever small changes he could. He started with asking for donations in lieu of gifts on birthdays and other events, and arranging walkathons.
Akash traveled with his family to Bhopal last year, and made friends with the children of a slum affected by the gas leak. Akash and his brother Gautama raised over $11,000 for Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal which provides free medical care to victims, and funded a playground for children disabled by the toxic fumes unleashed by the leak. They are also working on a children’s book about the disaster, aimed at creating awareness.
On this day of remembrance, Akash along with 45 children headed out to the corporate offices of Dow Chemicals in New York to protest, chanting ‘Clean Up Bhopal’ and ‘Justice for Bhopal’. They carried with them hundreds of paper hearts with messages from children, hearts to compensate for the lack of heart that Dow had shown in its dealings in Bhopal. They found the office shuttered, in anticipation of protests. Not to be outwitted, the young protesters went into the building and slid the hearts under the door of the Dow office. What do the hearts say? “Have a Heart, Dow! Clean up Bhopal!”
Thoughtful beyond his years, Akash recognizes the differences between his life and that of the children crippled by the callousness of a major corporation and its unwillingness to clean up the mess it created. He questions the fairness of some children having bottled water while others are forced to drink contaminated water. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to ask some hard questions too.
(c) Lavina Melwani