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“The Crying Post Project: Post #5, Silent White Death.” Bhopal, India.
Post Notes
Bhopal has been on my short list from the beginning as it was not only the site of one of the worst man-made environmental disasters ever, it is an example of ongoing corporate crime. 

Many of you will remember that just after midnight on December 3, 1984, at least 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas, leaked from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. This substance is poisonous, with horrible effects on human beings. When inhaled it permanently corrodes your lungs and esophagus, and causes death by "drowning" in the fluids produced by your body in response. There are likely other long term effects on health. Many thousands died that night in their sleep; at least 10,000 people have died since; and many will continue to suffer and die prematurely. Of course the disaster was completely avoidable, had UC employed even a small portion of the safeguards common in the US. Clearly in the absence of regulations, UC believed that Indian lives were not worth the added expense. To make matters even worse, Dow Chemical which is now "responsible" for the tragedy (having bought out UC), is now suing poor Indian women - who had peacefully protested for only 2 hours - for damages to their employees in India claiming "loss of work." Dow continues to fail in cleaning up the many other toxic chemicals present at the site which have leached into ground water used by local people, presenting ongoing serious and unambiguous (mercury for example) health risks. 

I spoke with one of the survivors and her story is a fairly common one. She and her husband and 3 children had come to Bhopal from a village elsewhere as day laborers. She and her children were asleep outside under a bridge, when one of her children woke her around midnight for milk. She smelled something like burning chillies, but went back to sleep. She woke up an hour or so later because there were crowds of people quietly walking away through the streets. Her children were missing. She shortly found them laying sick on the ground nearby. They all died within one and a half months. Her husband has lost his mind from the event, and she has since filled 2 medical history books (which the victims were given) with ongoing medical problems. She supports herself by begging and on the 150 rupees (about $3.00 US) she receives from the government every month. 

The gas which escaped the UC plant had mixed with the humid night air and settled toward the ground where it was gently pushed along a valley by the night air. People could see the white "fog," but could not avoid breathing it in. The creepiest image I have from the descriptions of victims is of these crowds of people quietly walking through the dark night in an effort to escape the poison. Ironically, the gas decomposes on contact with water, and simply breathing through a wet rag could have saved many lives. Although it is likely that many local people wouldn’t have been aware of this in any event, UC never made this information public. 

I was fortunate to be aided in my efforts to add a Crying Post here in Bhopal by Ishwar and Meera Dass. Meera herself was in the path of the poison, but fortunately was able to avoid serious damage, and her husband Ishwar was a government official who initially worked on helping the victims but was stymied by the government's inability to appreciate the importance of rehabilitation. Meera took me around to the local officials and, acting as a combination PR person and translator, argued the case for putting up a post in Bhopal. We never actually received explicit "official" permission from anyone, as politicians there (as elsewhere) are all afraid of doing anything that may upset someone higher up. We were only told not to do anything on the UC property. Astonishingly, in the 20 years since the disaster there are no proper memorials. 

We considered several sites but finally settled on private property right next to the plant for which we were given permission. This, however, completely changed on the day we went to put up the post. We had given a few local newspapers a press release the night before, but I was caught completely off guard on my arrival that day. 

As we were driving close to the site, we were waived down by a group of maybe 20 people including the papers, tv, and local politicians and activists. So in conversation (most of which I couldn’t follow, not speaking a word of Hindi), the decision was then made to put the post in a convenient gap in the sidewalk just in front of the plant. There was a flurry of mad activity: a local man gives me a poem he has written on the tragedy, somehow the hole gets dug to the correct depth, my picture is taken dozens of times (in every photo, somehow, the local politico manages to be standing next to me), the "crying" device is endlessly videotaped by others, scores of boys show up, scores of others show up, the police arrive in increasingly higher levels of authority, the post is put together, put in the hole, someone mixes concrete, and the post is up and working in say 15 minutes (much more quickly than normal). 

Meera to her credit and my everlasting appreciation, explains the project hundreds of times over and over again to all the media and authorities. Even more importantly she explains it to the local residents, especially the children, who not only appreciate its value but go on to explain it to all the newcomers. She manages to blow enough smoke at the cops that they let the post go in. And, she also keeps me from being dragged off to jail because I had foolishly left my passport at her house. 

Of course, the high point for me came when a serious man comes and tells me through Meera, that my artwork perfectly captures and expresses the feelings and suffering of the victims. Tears came to my eyes; that alone made it all worth while. 

Although throughout the day Meera continues to field calls from authorities, my bigger fear was that someone local, not the authorities, would take down the post. Several people who lived nearby told us that they would keep an eye on it. I figured that if it survived the first night, it would likely survive for longer. The next morning we drove past. Not only was it still there, but a small group of men were standing around it talking. Of course, I don’t know what will happen to it in the long term, but I think that this was certainly one of the more successful locations in the ongoing project.
Why did it happen?

The factory in Bhopal, one of the 14 facilities operated by Union Carbide, was set up in 1969. The first batch of MIC was imported from the USA in 1973 and in 1979 the Bhopal plant started to manufacture its own MIC. Though the design of the MIC unit was based on Union Carbide's West Virginia plant, grossly lower standards were employed in the selection of construction material, monitoring devices and safety systems. 

Union Carbide wanted to save money. Accidental leaks from all the units were frequent, and operators and workers were regularly exposed to different substances. The UCIL factory was running at a loss. In November 1984 the most important safety systems were either closed down or not functioning. Workers had to pay the cost of these economy measures with their health, jobs and, as many as 16,000, with their lives. 

Between 1980 and 1984 the work crew of the MIC unit was halved from 12 to six workers, the maintenance crew from six to two workers. On December 26, 1981 a plant operator was killed by a phosgene gas leak. Another phosgene leak in January 1982 severely injured 28 workers and in October the same year MIC escaped from a broken valve and four workers were exposed to the chemical. The senior officials of the corporation, privy to a "business confidential" safety audit in May 1982, were well aware of 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 in the dangerous phosgene/MIC units. Remedial measures were then taken at Union Carbide's identical MIC plant in West Virginia but not in Bhopal. 

On the night of the disaster, water (that was being used for washing the lines) entered the tank containing MIC through leaking valves. The refrigeration unit, which should have kept the MIC close to zero degrees centigrade, had been shut off by the company officials to save on electricity bills. The entrance of water in the tank, full of MIC at ambient temperature triggered off an exothermic runaway reaction an consequently the release of the lethal gas mixture. The safety systems, which in any case were not designed for such a runaway situation, were non-functioning and under repair. Lest the neighborhood community be "unduly alarmed", the siren in the factory had been switched off. Poison clouds from the Union Carbide factory enveloped an arc of over 20 square kilometers before the residents could run away from its deadly hold.
Bhopal is the capitol of the state of Madhya Pradesh. Several central provinces were combined to form this landlocked state upon the independence of India. 

Forested hills with steep slopes, extensive plateaus, and river valleys characterize the physiography of Madhya Pradesh. The state forms part of the Deccan Plateau and includes the Vindhya and Kaimur ranges in the west and north; and the Satpura-Mahaeo-Maikala ranges in the south. Madhya Pradesh is the source region for some of the most important peninsular rivers. Fertile black soils are found in the Malwa Plateau, in the Narmada Valley, and in many parts of the Satpuras. Eastern Madhya Pradesh has mainly red and yellow soils, which are sandy and less fertile. 

The climate is monsoonal (characterized by rain-bearing winds), with much of the rain falling from June to October. The season preceding the rains (March to May) is hot and dry, with temperatures everywhere higher than 29° C (85° F). The temperature falls during the rainy season. Winters are usually pleasant and largely dry. 

According to official statistics, about one-third of the state's total area is forested. Satellite imagery, however, has revealed that the proportion is closer to one-fifth, suggesting a rapid loss of forest cover. A much smaller percentage of Madhya Pradesh consists of permanent pasture or other grazing land.

Encyclopedia Britannica
Post Place

N 23°16.658' 
E 077°24.582' 
Elevation 570 m (1871') 

Surrounding the former Union Carbide plant in Bhopal are a number of low-income colonies (and "Basties"). Over the last 5 - 6 years, the people in these "Basties" have been complaining about the poor quality of drinking water lifted by handpumps and tubewells. Independent studies from time to time have endorsed the fact that the quality of groundwater in the said area is poor. The sampling sites located nearer to the Union Carbide factory show elevated levels of the contaminant (Mercury) in the groundwater. The concentration of Mercury in groundwater decreases progressively in sites in the northern/ north-eastern direction of the factory. 

The unfortunate population residing near the Union Carbide factory at Bhopal is consuming poisonous groundwater contaminated with heavy metals like Mercury, volatile organic compounds and pesticide residues. The present situation in Bhopal results from a classical combination of corporate irresponsibility and governmental indifference. The problem of groundwater contamination at Bhopal compounds the miseries of the population already affected permanently due to the exposure to toxic MIC gas. It is clear from the propagation pattern of toxic Mercury in the groundwater that the legacy of the Union Carbide factory still continues to affect people, who were not exposed to the toxic gas on 3rd December, 1984.

A Report on Mercury Contamination of Groundwater Near the Union Carbide Factory at Bhopal/ Peoples' Science Institute, Dehra Doon
Dow Shows its True Colors: $22 billion corporations sues penniless victims

When survivors' organizations protested at Dow's Mumbai HQ on 2 December about the contamination from the abandoned Union Carbide factory that has led to mercury, lead and organochlorines being found in the breast milk of women living near the factory, the company's Finance Director Anand Vohra promised that he would personally recommend to his superiors "that action should be taken to alleviate the plight of gas-affected people in Bhopal." (See 2 Dec news item below). 

Instead the corporation has filed a suit against the survivors demanding about US$10,000 compensation for "loss of work". That is $10,000 compensation for a two hour peaceful protest where only one Dow employee briefly ventured out of the Mumbai corporate business park to meet the women protestors. Survivors of the 1984 gas disaster by comparison have received compensation of $500 each for eighteen years of crippling ill health, and their health continues to be endangered by cancer- and birth-defect-causing chemicals abandoned by Dow subsidiary Union Carbide at the death factory in Bhopal. 

What becomes of this latest stroke of PR genius remains to be seen. If the company has any sense it will immediately withdraw the suit and apologize for this latest display of brutal insensitivity. We do not believe it has any sense and we believe this suit was filed on orders of Dow's US management. 

The facts are these: lethal chemicals are present in the drinking water and mother's milk of our people. These chemicals came from the abandoned Union Carbide plant and leaked into the water as a result of the company's failure to clean up its site according to the terms of its lease. Union Carbide is a 100% owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical, but Dow refuses to accept responsibility or to pay for the clean up. The survivors have the democratic right to protest about the chemicals that are threatening their lives, and they will never stop until they have had justice. If a court finds against them, they will go to jail rather than pay Dow a penny. 

Our message to Dow is: Your position is richly hypocritical. Please send representatives of your subsidiary Union Carbide to the Court in Bhopal from which it has been absconding for 11 years to answer charges of culpable homicide. The failure of your subsidiary to clean up its poisons in Bhopal is endangering the lives of the very same people whose families it killed, whose health it ruined, whose livelihoods it took away. You have no shame, you have no heart, you have no soul. 

To stop our protests you will have in the end to kill us all and you are already doing your best to do that. 

In a stunning example of corporate insensibility, Dow Chemical, the world’s largest chemical company, and new owner of Union Carbide, is to sue survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India. While the site of the disaster lies covered in toxic waste and survivors struggle with continuing ill health and deadly pollution from the site, Dow has decided to add to their woes with an Indian lawsuit. 

Yes that's right - the very people Dow should be helping are now facing a lawsuit from one of the world most powerful corporations. Why are they acting in such an amazingly perverse manner? On December 2nd a peaceful march of 200 women survivors from Bhopal delivered toxic waste from the abandoned Carbide factory back to Dow's Indian headquarters in Bombay with the demand that Dow take responsibility for the disaster and clean up the site. Dow obviously has other ideas because they are suing survivors for about US$10,000 for "loss of work". That's US$10,000 compensation demanded for a two hour peaceful protest where only one Dow employee briefly ventured out of the Mumbai corporate business park to meet the women protestors. 

Satyu, a Bhopal activist and one of the protestors charged by Dow highlighted how ridiculous this "loss of work" claim is: "Thousands of us lost their lives, many more have not been able to do our jobs for the last 18 years and 150,000 people in Bhopal are still suffering ill health because of the Union Carbide gas tragedy in 1984. Even today people die and children are born with gas related diseases. It is outrageous that Dow is charging us US$10,000 and tries to shut us down from seeking justice from them". 

The damages demanded by Dow will amount to about 10 years income for the survivors charged but is less than one days sales revenue for Dow. Also Dow is seeking to silence protest by demanding that survivors be banned from holding protests within 100m of Dow offices in India. 

Dow has just appointed a new CEO, William Stravopoulos, who engineered the Dow merger with Union Carbide in 2001. If this lawsuit is how he intends to deal with the ongoing Bhopal disaster then it will be a huge public relations own goal. Dow proudly proclaims it slogan as "living improved daily". How does that fit with the suing of poor protestors who have a real grievance with the company?



Whose Map Is It?

The map, then is comprehended in two ways. As a medium of language (in the broadest sense) it serves as a visual analogue of phenomena, attributes, and spatial relations: a model on which we may act, in lieu or anticipation of experience, to compare or contrast, measure or appraise, analyze or predict. It seems to inform with unimpeachable dispassion, of the objects and events of the world. As myth, however, it refers to itself and to its makers, and to a world seen quite subjectively through their eyes. It trades in values and ambition; it is politicized.

The Power of Maps/ Denis Wood

Rakshasas are malevolent spirits. They roam at night, preferably in the dark half of the month or on the night of the new moon, assuming many forms at will. They are especially dangerous to infants and women. While eating, men must be wary, lest a rakshasa enter their mouth and cause insanity. 
Most powerful among them is their king, the ten-headed Ravana. Putana, a female demon, or rakshasi, is well known for her attempt to kill the infant Krishna by offering him milk from her poisoned breast; she was, however, sucked to death by the god.

Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend
Hymn to Purusha

Thousand-headed is Perusha, thousand-eyed, thousand-footed. Having covered the earth on all sides, he stood above it the width of ten fingers. 

Only Perusha is all this, that which has been and that which is to be. He is the lord of the immortals, who grow by means of [ritual] food. 

Such is his greatness, yet more than this is Perusha. One-quarter of him is all beings; three- quarters of him is the immortal in heaven. 

Three-quarters of Perusha went upward, one-quarter of him remained here. From this [one-quarter] he spread in all directions into what eats and what does not eat. 

From him the shining one was born, from the shining one was born Perusha. When born he extended beyond the earth, behind as well as in front. 

When the gods performed a sacrifice with the offering Perusha, spring was its clarified butter, summer the kindling, autumn the oblation. 

It was Perusha, born in the beginning, which they sprinkled on the sacred grass as a sacrifice. With him the gods sacrificed, the demi-gods, and the seers. 

From that sacrifice completely offered, the clotted butter was brought together. It made the beasts of the air, the forest and the village. 

From that sacrifice completely offered, the mantras [Rig Veda] and the songs [Samaveda] were born. The meters were born from it. The sacrificial formulae [Yajurveda] were born from it. 

From it the horses were born and all that have cutting teeth in both jaws. The cows were born from it, also. From it were born goats and sheep. 

When they divided Perusha, how many ways did they apportion him? What was his mouth? What were his arms? What were his thighs, his feet declared to be? 

His mouth was the Brahman [caste], his arms were the Rajanaya [Ksatriya caste], his thighs the Vaisya [caste]; from his feet the Sudra [caste] was born. 

The moon was born from his mind; from his eye the sun was born; from his mouth both Indra and Agni [fire]; from his breath Vayu [wind] was born. 

From his navel arose the air; from his head the heaven evolved; from his feet the earth; the [four] directions from his ear. Thus, they fashioned the worlds. 

Seven were his altar sticks, three times seven were the kindling bundles, when the gods, performing the sacrifice, bound the beast Perusha. 

The gods sacrificed with the sacrifice to the sacrifice. These were the first rites. These powers reached the firmament, where the ancient demi-gods and the gods are.

Rig Veda/ Translated by Michael Myers in Reading About the World, Volume 1
The Khirni Tree

I must mention a natural curiosity, attributed to the miracle of the saint of this place [Broach], namely, Saiyid Ismaíl Sáhib, commonly called “Pír Chattar.” I proceeded there in person to visit the shrine of this holy man, which is situated about two thousand paces out of the western gate of the city, upon a rising ground. The tomb is said to be upwards of three hundred years old. It is built of the ordinary form, in a small enclosure of about thirty-four feet by ten and a half. It is shaded by a khirní tree (Mumusops kauki) of evergreen foliage, which grows by the side of the eastern wall out of the enclosure. In the middle of the tomb is a reservoir about five feet four inches by one foot eight, and in depth about one foot two inches. In the midst of the water there rises, about one inch above it, a small island, or the inner tomb, of four feet by one. This miraculous reservoir is always full to the brim of very cold water, somewhat nitrous to the taste. Hundreds of visitors go to the shrine every Thursday, and each of them takes a tumbler full of water to drink; but the water never diminishes, nor does it ever overflow when no water is taken from it. There were no less than fifty persons present when I paid my visit to the shrine, and all of drank without making the slightest difference in the original quantity. The warden of the place, a good old man, very nearly one hundred years of age, on begin examined, informed me that he recollected, when he was a boy, a Marátha chief coming there and putting the miracle of the saint to the test by ordering his three elephants to drink from the reservoir; but, seeing the quantity of the water undiminished, he prostrated himself at the threshold, which he solemnly kissed, and ordered the enclosure and the tomb to be thoroughly repaired at his own expense.

Autobiography of Lutfullah, a Mohamedan Gentleman; and His Transactions with his Fellow Creatures: Intersperced with Remarks on the Habits, Customs, and Character of the People with Whom He Had to Deal/ Edited by Edward B. Eastwick.

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