Lessons from history

Speaking with students in Bhopal

Feature story - 22 November, 2002
India is the second most populous nation on earth and much of the population is under the age of 18. Greenpeace is relatively new to India and a large part of our work here is raising awareness with the younger generation of environmental problems and how we are working to achieve solutions for a better world.

Bhopali students during a talk on the ongoing Bhopal disaster

Tom DowdallAs part of this work I joined a member our Indian campaign team, Ramapathi, on a visit to a school here in Bhopal. Ramapathi is spending three weeks touring local schools to explain the principles of Greenpeace and how we work. He is visiting schools in areas which are unaffected by the ongoing tragedy of the deadly gas leak from the Union Carbide plant in 1984 and educating them about the toxic legacy caused by the pollution that remains at the abandoned site.

speaking with studentsToday's visit was to St Joseph's school where the children are from more prosperous families. All of the children here were born after the 1984 disaster and, due to the segregation of Indian society, they may never come into close contact with the poorer communities directly affected by the disaster. Around the factory one person dies every day from the long term effects of the lethal gas.

The students become animated when Ramapathi starts to discuss the disaster and how survivors have fought for almost 18 years to achieve justice for the people affected by the negligence of Union Carbide and now the neglect of Carbide's new owners, Dow Chemicals. Interest is evident in the faces of the children as they question why there has been 18 years of inaction from two huge US chemical multinationals doing as little as possible to help the survivors and are asking how they can help change the situation.

Numerous groups across the globe are working tirelessly to force Dow to clean up Bhopal and to spend a fraction of their profits to end the suffering of thousands of local people. But it is equally important that the children here remember the tragic consequences of corporate irresponsibility as they will be the decision makers of tomorrow. Hopefully some may soon be in positions to ensure the Bhopal disaster is never repeated.

- Tom Dowdall is a Greenpeace International Web Editor on assignment in Bhopal, India