Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dirty Dow

“ Bhopal isn’t only about charred lungs, poisoned kidneys and deformed foetuses. It’s also about Corporate crime, multinational skullduggery, injustice, dirty deals, medical malpractice, corruption, callousness and contempt for the poor. Nothing else explains why the victims’ average compensation was just $500- for a life time of misery…… yet the victims haven’t given up. Their struggle for justice and dignity is one of the most valiant anywhere. They have unbelievable energy and hope ---- the fight has not ended. It won’t, so long as our collective conscience stirs.” Outlook India 7 Oct 2002

On the eve of the silver jubilee anniversary of the horrific tragedy, the mind less, sense less, soul less Government of India has quietly allowed the Dow Chemicals to set up a research center in Maharashtra, through an MoU with the department of industrial policy and promotion. The department is also preparing a note requesting the Union Cabinet to delink Dow from legal liabilities for the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster. Till now the government held back from permitting Dow fearing strong opposition from civil rights groups and the IIT alumni which has successfully called for a boycott of Dow by IITians. In spite of several cases pending against Dow in Bhopal and several PILs in Supreme Court, the government is paving the way for Dow to enter from backdoor. This is an insult to the 20,000 dead and hundreds of thousands still suffering due to Dow Chemicals continuous refusal to share data on toxic affects of the deadly MIC gas and its refusal to own up even cleaning the huge dump of chemicals still lying at the Bhopal factory, the residue of which sinks into the ground monsoon after monsoon. The picture here taken from http://www.bhopal.net/ is an indication of how a new generation is being poisoned. It is a shame that Indian business tycoons are actively lobbying for Dow’s entry.

The Dirty Dow:
Several colleges and universities in the US have passed resolutions condemning Dow and urging their Institutions to sever all ties with the company unless it resolves its responsibilities in Bhopal. Indian IIT alumni association has called for a boycot of Dow by IITians.

Amnesty Indicts

In December 2004, Dow earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first corporation ever indicted by Amnesty International for violations of human rights. In fact, in its report, Amnesty International cites Bhopal as the prime example of the need for binding human rights standards that can be universally applied to multinational corporations .

During the Vietnam War, Dow became the sole supplier of napalm to the United States military. Napalm, an incendiary liquid used as a weapon in Vietnam, led to human casualties that were widely displayed in the news media, which shook the conscience of the world. There were wide spread protests against Dow but Dow's board of directors voted to continue production of napalm.
Another infamous chemical of Vietnam war , Agent Orange, sprayed liberally on the forests of Vietnam by the U.S. to wipe out the forest cover so that helicopter gun ships can fire at Vietcong. The chemical made its way into the food chain and was linked to a major increase in birth defects among Vietnamese people. In 2005, a lawsuit was filed by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange against Dow and Monsanto, which also supplied Agent Orange to the military.

Dow has settled multiple law suits in the US and elsewhere giving away billions in compensation but steadfastly refuses even to clean up the factory at Bhopal not to mention the compensation liability it has inherited from Union Carbide.


We have to stop Dow from escaping the legal liabilities through a Government Order. Citizen action and pressure campaigns through e mail may help. Given below is a link which allows you to send e-mail to H.R. Bhardwaj, Minister of Law & Justice, Oscar Fernandes, Minister of Labour & Employment and Kamal Nath, Minister of Commerce & Industry.

The fight has not ended. It won't, so long as our collective conscience stirs.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Road- A book review

Cormac McCarthy !! Never heard of him, was my first reaction when the book The Road was presented to me by my teen daughter, Monica. I flipped through the pages and was further disappointed as there were one-liner long conversations and more than necessary gaps between paragraphs. I was sure it was a ploy by the publisher to make the book look bulky enough to attract potential buyers while on travel. Monica was anxious that the precious euros she had spent on the book at a Paris airport did not rouse my immediate interest. I could not have been more wrong in my assumptions. What a book it is. And what a writer McCarthy is. I have never come across any writer better than McCarthy who can write prose that sounds like poetry.

The Road is a tale of a boy and his father stumbling across the cold, wretched, wet, corpse-strewn, ashen landscape of a post-apocalyptic world, six or seven years after a horrific disaster, probably a nuclear war, which incinerates most of the humans and the landscape that might once have been America. We follow father and son as they walk , pushing a shopping cart, scavenging through empty houses and gutted cities, hiding and running away from gangs reduced to cannibalism and sub-human madness. Their destination is South. The father has just two bullets in the gun for their protection or for killing themselves.

Neither the man nor the boy is given a name. They are referred as “the man” and “ the boy”. The tenderness between them and constant haunting fear gives an animal urgency to their long march. McCarthy maintains the pace by keeping each scene barely more than a paragraph long. And the gaps between paragraphs can be a gap of a few minutes to few days. This has given the book a raw power and rhythm, as if the book was not composed of sections but stanzas in a poem. Every time father or son moves more than a few feet away from the other, a panic intrudes as we read. It is the tense chord of the lost child suspended in our heart, the worst thing about to happen, and McCarthy does it again and again. Few will be able to read The Road without running to hold their own children close. The mother of the boy is only in the memories of the man. The scene is not described but it is implied that she committed suicide losing her will to go through the horrors of the new world.

As we read, we are constantly reminded of the lost human world. All the lost possessions of the human race litter the pages of this novel as garbage and junk. It is haunted by the constant memory of the world before the apocalypse. The shell of that world is still partially there, empty houses and stores and other structures. Highways, bridges, railroad tracks are all still there and may still be there, as the man explains to the boy, for hundreds of years to come. But the human world, the world that created those objects, is wholly gone.
There are other humans too on the land. They appear as wrecks stumbling along the road, or bands of refugees marching military style with yoked slaves in tow, or a small family group that locks up refugees in the basement and cannibalizes them one by one. These are the “bad men.” The boy often asks his father who the good and the bad men are. He is worried by some of the acts his father has committed. The father kills a man who holds a knife to the boy’s throat, and he refuses to give food to various people they pass. He refuses because he wants to ensure his son’s own survival, and they have nothing to share.
The man has no idea what he and the boy will do when they reach the South. He doesn’t expect to be rescued, to find “good” people who will take him and the boy in. Every human being they run across is a danger, to be avoided. Moreover, the man is ill. He coughs up blood, and over the course of the novel he weakens. He knows he is going to die and the boy knows that too. The man knows the boy will outlive him and at first he thinks about killing the child to save him from the horrors of the new world, but ultimately he knows he cannot kill the boy, even out of love. He loves the boy too much.
Finally they reach the coast and then South. The man dies and the boy is taken in by a family. Despite all the despair and pessimism, The Road ends on a note of muted optimism.
The novel is a warning to the World that our own recklessness may destroy everything, not just in the materialistic sense but also in the Spiritual sense.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Banker To The Poor - A book review

The book Banker To The Poor by Muhammad Yunus, a Professor of Economics in Bangladesh shatters several myths surrounding the principles of banking. Yunus has dedicated his life to make his vision a reality. With unstinted commitment to his vision, he has made the poorest of the poor in Bangladesh improve their economic status through micro-credit. Started in 1983, Grameen Bank established on the principle of credit as a basic human right and the concept of collateral to a loan favours only a few privileged, the bank now disburses 2.5 billion dollars of micro-loans to more than two million families in rural Bangladesh. Ninety-four percent of the clients are women and repayment rates are near 100 percent. Around the world, micro-lending programs inspired by Grameen are blossoming, with more than three hundred programs established in the United States alone.

Muhammad Yunus also exposes the International Donor Institutions way of functioning and how they only feed the International consultants, suppliers and donor agency officials. The book is also Muhammad Yunus's memoir of his life from childhood to adulthood and how he decided to change his life in order to help the poor and the challenges he has faced in establishing Grameen Bank. He practically dispelled the myths associated with giving credit to the poor. The commercial banks always insist on collateral and suspicious that poor will not repay and so do not extend loans. Truth is the reverse. It is the rich who cheat the banks by not repaying loans claiming their industrial units have become sick. This also very well applies to India where 40 billion USD was written off by National banks as bad debts by industrial units. For Muhammad Yunus, it is a crusade in "putting homelessness and destitution in a museum so that one day our children will visit it and ask how we could have allowed such a terrible thing to go on for so long." The definitive history of micro-credit direct from the man that conceived of it, Banker to the Poor is necessary and inspirational reading for anyone interested in economics, public policy, philanthropy, social history, and business. And above all to understand poverty and how the Poor desperately want to come out of it to have Roti, Kapada, Makan ( Food, Clothing and House) all 365 days.