Diane Wilson, author of Holy Roller and An Unreasonable Woman, is on a hunger strike protesting the continued negligence of Union Carbide following the Bhopal disaster—in which a Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant released 40 ton of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, killing approximately 3,800 people immediately and more than 15,000 others within the first month following the incident. Current estimates are that over 100,000 people suffer from permanent injury. The ground water in the area is still contaminated.
Diane is in day 5 or 6 (she can’t remember) of her hunger strike and is in meetings with the Consul General of India in Houston. She is blogging about the hunger strike that she and several others have undertaken and their struggle for recognition.
Here is Diane’s first post. We’ll be bringing you her updates as she is able to write them.
Thought I was in Delhi. Nope. It was hot Houston. Downtown Houston with a lot of tall, black marble towers. There were five of us out in the park. This park wasn’t for regular folks. The parking signs said ONE HOUR PARKING ONLY. There were signs posted near the jubilant water fountain: PRIVATE PROPERTY. NO SOLICITING.
I guess that meant us. We were soliciting justice.
One guy had a camera. Two students from India (they had been in the United States for two years) were carrying posterboard that they had drawn messages. Another guy was a savvy activist. Organizer. He had worked with Caesar Chavez in Mexico with the farm workers. Now he was working on ol’ bad ol’ environmental justice around the Houston Ship Channel, which was the armpit of the industrial world. Then there was me. Day 6 of a hunger strike. I think. Day 5 and Day 6 were messing with each other.
We had a target. Indian Consulate’s office. Sixth Floor. Now if this was any USA federal agency we were visiting we would first be going through a metal detector. Then our bags might be checked. Today it was just a regular semi-harmless building. We went straight to an elevator, hit the 6th floor button and sailed away to the consulate’s office. Our camera man was now filming and taking down every little word we said.
The consulate’s office was down the hall and there on the white wall was a dark brassy sign: Consul General of India. Lovely sign. We took half a dozen pictures in front of it. Then our next impromptu move was to go inside and disrupt as much as possible while we tried to get a meeting with the consulate. Well, that was the wrong room for that, but we did carry the posters around to everybody sitting there (there were about 10 Indian citizens/passport carriers/immigrants). I handed out some wonderful fliers about the Bhopal tragedy. They were simple and very clear on the message: The Atrocity still continues! Everybody that was sitting there took a flier. A few asked questions. Almost all had heard about the incident and that lowlife, Union Carbide.
Juan, the organizer extraordinaire, out we needed to have a number before we could talk withthe lady at the window. (There were people lined up to talk with the lady at the window and we DEFINITELY did not want to shove them over to talk with her ourselves!). Anyhow, Juan went and drew #8 and he said too bad it wasn’t #7. Lucky number 7. Anyhow, the lady at the window decided to jump a few people because we were decidedly annoying her andshe told us to go to the RECEPTION ROOM down the hall where we could talk with another woman at a window. So we bid everybody an ‘adios’ and hauled off to the next lady at the window.
The lady at the next window was lots more serious. What were our names? What was our business? She looked over her glasses at us pinned into the tiny little room where people talk with her. (The little room was the size of a jail cell i was in once). Anyhow, after letting her know that we were gonna stay around until we heard from the consulate ndher saying, ‘yes yes, I know. yes yes, I know,” we were finally given a piece of paper with the consulate’s secretary’s, Mr. Heyn (or something like that), phone number. We should call MR. Heyn and MR. Heynwould tell us if we could talk with the consulate or not. It was beginning to look like OR NOT. There is nothing like giving somebody a half dozen instructions to wear them down. But we weren’t wore down. Heck no, we were just starting to pursue our MR. Consulate General.
The only one of us with a cell phone that had a loud speaker (yes yes, there are phones like that!) was Juan, the organizer, so he called MR. H and told him that we were all sitting outside their office wanting and waiting to talk with the Consulate. Well, Mr. H had to consulate the consul. MR. H would get back to us. Well, when? Today? Surely, today! Well, soon, he said. So to get our message across that we weren’t that easy to get rid of, we went out into the hallway leading up to the lst room andsprawled out. I sat on the floor with one banner. The two Indian guys held two more signs andwe talked with everybody that came down that hall. Many folks visiting the consulate for India. Some students approached us andwanted information. They said they had studied the Bhopal tragedy in school so seeing us there brought the tragedy to real life. And ain’t nothing like real life as apposed to something like a blurb in a textbook. Anyhow we were doubting that Mr.H. He was just fooling around with us. That was our thinking. So we sent the camera man (Juan’s son) into the little tiny room with the lady at the window. We figured that the lady in the window wouldn’t recognize him since he had had the camera up to his face the whole time. We wanted our camera man to pretend he needed to see the consulate and see how fast HE got a meeting. Well, the lady at the window recognized him and sent him back out. Soon, she said. Soon.
Well, surprise surprise. MR. H called and said indeedy we could talk with the consulate general, Mr. Gavai. We had five minutes! So we were hustled in and told NO! we could not film the meeting because we did NOT ask for a meeting prior to coming and maybe if we had, then we might have been allowed the filming. That’s what we got for being so RUDE.
Anyhow, we all traipsed into the consulate’s office and MR. H. offered us little couches to sit on. Mr. Gavai sit down and shook hands all around. Nice nice man. Very polite. VERY TALL. Yes, what did we want. Ashish, our Indian student, explained the Bhopal situation. Yes yes, Mr. G said. Terrible tragedy. Everybody agreed it was a terrible tragedy. The Indian Goverment agreed it was a terrible tragedy. Then why, we asked, weren’t things that were promised being done? Constraints, he said. Well, I pounced on that one. Constraints! Constraints! What constraints? Well, then Mr. G got very vague and said he was no expert. he could only pass down the information that we gave him to the Prime Minister. That was his job. To just pass the information down.
Well, i could’ve gone into a little tirade on what those constraints were. Everybody knew the constraints. The whole world knew. its like a big fat elephant in a small room and nobody wants to talk about the elephant. Goes something like this (this is my thinking, here) the corporate world and the US government does not care to have corporate killings and environmental mayhem took to task in another country. They’re thinking, Hey we brought our company down here. Now give us a free license to do what we will. That way all involved will make a profit. Oh well, not the poor and not the disfranchised. No! The important people! Besides if Union Carbide and Dow are brought to task for this horrendous crime, doesn’t that mean that other foreign corporations that create a mess will be brought to task?? Well, that wouldn’t do! That would set a precedent!
Anyhow, that was my thinking on what those ‘constraints’ were. But the nice MR. G. said to write down. Write down. BE explicit. What are the demands? Well, i said i believe those demands are already out there! Well, didn’t matter. Mr. G said Write the demands what you want down on paper.
So that was the end of that and we left with handshakes all around. Very good. very good. We got our five minutes.
Then we went down the elevator and out under the great covering of the number 3 tower and plotted for tomorrow.