Tuesday, October 12, 2010
TALKING WITH HIGH-TECH STUDENTS IN THE CITY OF TRAGEDY
The man in the photo above was living 7 kilometers away from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India on June 3, 1984 when at midnight a leak released deadly toxic gases into the air that drifted with the winds. The immediate human death toll was around 3,000 as 36 of the 56 municipal wards of Bhopal were impacted (approximately 600,000 of the nearly 900,000 people in the city have suffered various internal injuries). Today this man's face is scared and he, like many others, suffer injuries for which that have never been adequately compensated. To date he has only received $1,000 from Union Carbide.
Retired Army Colonel N. P. Dixit who hosted us throughout this very busy day in Bhopal took us inside the now abandoned Union Carbide plant. Dixit was in charge of the Army unit that loaded thousands of dead bodies into trucks right after the accident. Col. Dixit had to get a permit in order for us to get inside the still guarded but decaying plant.
A court case against Union Carbide on behalf of the victims is still pending. After 25 years of suffering and waiting, the victims, who have organized themselves to fight for proper compensation and treatment, are frustrated and angry at Union Carbide and the U.S. government.
To date the corporation has never apologized to the people of Bhopal despite the strong evidence that the tragic accident was caused by poor maintenance of the facility by the company.
The day began when Rao and I got off the train just after 6:00 am when it arrived in Bhopal. I slept for maybe two hours during the long bumpy all-night train ride from Nagpur. We were met at the station by several students from the National Institute of Technology (NIT) and were taken to the college guesthouse where we had breakfast and a chance for a shower. Soon after we finished eating Col. Dixit appeared with a small entourage and took us on a frenzied half-hour car ride through crowded and chaotic streets to a college on the outskirts of the city. When we arrived at the Bansal College of Technology we were immediately taken to a large meeting room filled with 200 students. After the usual formalities and introductions I spoke to the students about the space work of the Global Network and answered their good questions.
After the talk a group of about ten professors and administrators from the college gathered along with our party for a half-hour discussion about the possibility of the college hosting a future Global Network space organizing conference. They were extremely interested in doing so and Rao promised to follow-up with them in the near future.
When we left we raced back to the NIT where I again spoke to over 200 students being trained in high technology. Local newspapers covered the talk and I was later told that the TV station that filmed part of my speech was from a national network. Following a very lively question session several students approached Rao and told him they wanted to help the Global Network raise consciousness about space warfare issues in their country.
This was my appeal to the students at both colleges. We need your help if we are to prevent the arms race from moving into space. How can the people in a "democratic" society like the U.S. or India participate in a debate about whether their taxes should be used to build space weapons technology if they don't have a clue about the issue? We need students, especially those at technical colleges, to help us teach the public about the space issue.
In discussions following the talk at the NIT the professors and administrators expressed interest in also hosing a future Global Network space conference at their institution (which I was told is the 2nd leading technology institute in the country.) Col. Dixit, who showed great interest and support for the idea of the Global Network conference, pushed both colleges to commit to offering their facilities. His suggestion was that over the course of a weekend, conference events could be scheduled one day at one of the colleges and then on the second day at the other. That way more students and faculty could be involved.
This busy day also included a sit-down interview with a reported at The Hindustan newspaper and then a half-hour meeting with the state cabinet minister who represents Bhopal. This meeting with the conservative (BJP) party member did not bear much fruit as he kept saying he agreed with us about the need to keep space for peace but then on the other hand maintained that if the Indian military said they needed space weapons to deal with China or Pakistan then they should have them, as well as any other military hardware the U.S. could sell them. India is not an aggressive nation he maintained, these weapons would be used to maintain the peace.
Of course that is always the sentiment of those who seek greater funding for miliarization. Since I have been in India I've heard much talk about their hopes to become a "Superpower" and some view the development of anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons as one key ingredient in the stew that would make it possible for India to join the club of mega-warrior states.
I am writing this on the train again as we continue our journey north. We boarded the train at 8:00 pm and will arrive in Agra at 4:45 am. If I am lucky I will get an hour or so of sleep. But listening to the hyperactive five year old in the bunk below me gives me little confidence I will be lucky tonight.
Yes I am just a bit grumpy…..but I will get over it soon enough.