Monday, December 17, 2007

Unrecognised heroines

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, December 16, 2007



Is it best to forget, forgive and move on or should
we hold on to our belief that there has to be
justice for past wrongs? This question is being
asked repeatedly in the context of the forthcoming
Gujarat election. Some people argue that the
horrific events of 2002 can and should never be forgotten.

Others believe that Gujarat and Gujaratis must move
on and that economic development will ultimately
benefit all and automatically heal the wounds.
Yet, we know that unless there is justice, the
wounds don’t heal. In Mumbai, for the victims
of the March 1993 serial blasts, perhaps there is
some closure with the conclusion of the long drawn
out case that has convicted 100 people. But the
riots that preceded the bomb blasts have left behind
a legacy of gaping wounds — the perpetrators
of the crimes committed then, specifically named in
the Srikrishna Commission report, continue to roam
around freely while the victims survive in an
increasingly divided society. India’s post
Independence history is replete with such instances
of unresolved communal crimes.

Getting away unscathed

And then there are corporate crimes that also remain
unresolved. Remember Bhopal 1984? In one night,
3,000 people died because a leaking plant using
poisonous chemicals continued to operate with
impunity in the vicinity of a crowded locality of
urban poor. Until one cold December night when there
was an “accident”. Thousands died, many
more lived impaired lives for years and then died
and still more continue to carry the burden of poor
health for the crime of being near the Union Carbide
plant on that fateful night. Yet, the corporation
responsible for this “accident” has
escaped virtually unscathed.

For the victims of the Bhopal Gas Disaster, the
23-year-old struggle for justice has been relentless
and quite often thankless. For every bit of
additional compensation, for basic health
facilities, for a clean up of the rotting plant that
closed down after raining death on its
neighbourhood, they have had to petition,
demonstrate and fight.

Leading the struggle have been women. Two of them,
Rasheeda Bee and Champa Devi were recognised for
their efforts when they received the Goldman
Environmental Prize (considered an alternate Nobel)
in 2004. Now these women have used the prize money
of $1,25,000 to set up the Chingari Trust that will
seek out others like them around the country and
recognise their efforts.

This year, the first ever Chingari Award for Women
Against Corporate Crime was given to a 45-year-old
tribal woman from Rayagada district in Orissa, Mukta

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