The Telegraph
Sunday , May 6 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999

Dow Chemical and the ‘blood of Bhopal’

A cousin who cannot wait to get out of crowded Calcutta has bought not one but two holiday apartments in Bhopal which he considers little short of paradise on earth.

And yet in London last week, Bhopal was portrayed as hell on earth by a survivor of the cyanide gas disaster from 27 years ago in which 25,000 people died.

Sanjay Verma, 27, has been brought to the UK to campaign against Dow Chemical’s lead sponsorship of the London Olympics. He argues that the Dow Chemical Company of America is morally and legally responsible for the previous actions of Union Carbide — “because it bought Union Carbide in 2001”.

“Dow Chemical has the blood of Bhopal (on its hands) and that blood is going into the London Olympics,” declares Sanjay, pointing out there are still 30,000-40,000 poor people living outside the walls of the abandoned Union Carbide factory.

Cancer and lung and eye diseases are rife and babies continue to be born deformed.

Sanjay lost “my mother, father, three sisters and two brothers in a single night” when deadly gases leaked from the Union Carbide plant on December 3, 1984.

Sanjay, only a few weeks old, survived because his nine-year-old sister, Mamta, wrapped him in a blanket and had the good fortune to run away from the wind-driven methyl isocyanate. Another brother, Sunil, 13, also lived but later developed paranoid schizophrenia and hanged himself.

“I believe that as long as Dow Chemical has any connection with London Olympics, the Indian government should boycott the Olympics,” says Sanjay.

Sanjay was accompanied by Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, who agrees that Dow has inherited Union Carbide’s problems: “When you buy a company you buy both its assets and its liabilities.”

Also with Sanjay was Meredith Alexander who resigned from the Commission for a Sustainable London, 2012, as a protest against Dow’s multi-million pound sponsorship of the Olympics.

She wants the Indian government to boycott the opening and closing ceremonies.

“The people of London are not happy that their Games are being tarnished by this legacy of death and toxicity,” she says.

Air power

Four RAF Typhoon Eurofighters were deployed last week to RAF Northolt airport in North London.

The arrival of the jets is causing much excitement in the numerous Gujarati homes located near the airport.

The jets are undertaking the nine-day Exercise Olympic Guardian, aimed at deterring any terrorist group contemplating a 9/11 type attack.

Included in the exercise are Royal Navy Sea King helicopters temporarily based at RAF Northolt; RAF Puma helicopters located at a territorial army centre in Ilford, east London; and Army and Royal Navy Lynx helicopters on HMS Ocean in the Thames.

Missile batteries have also been mounted on the roofs of residential properties.

It is a bit like securing Eden Gardens by stationing guns boats at Babughat, fighter jets on the Maidan, helicopters on top of Shoppers’ Stop, missile batteries on Writers’ and crack army units on Park Street.

Mind you, this may well be necessary one day to discourage dissidents from circulating disrespectful cartoons about their dear leaders.

Prez Sonia?

Indians in the UK do have a view on the choice of a president in India. For a start, they witnessed Pratibha Patil’s state visit in October, 2009, when she stayed at Windsor Castle and when her British hosts went out of their way to make her feel welcome — and thereby honour India.

Indians are also able to compare and contrast with the constitutional monarchy in Britain where the Queen, now 86, has been a model head of state for 60 years.

Pratibha Patil benefited from being India’s first woman president. Indians in Britain set aside the question of whether she was the right person to be the president of India and felt proud that she represented a Mother India that was making commendable progress in many fields.

There is now a certain amount of dismay that in seeking a replacement Indian politicians appear to be looking for the least worst option.

The president of India symbolises all the values of an ancient civilisation on trips abroad, so perhaps the diaspora should be consulted when making a choice. Having had greatness thrust on her by Sonia Gandhi, most Indians I have consulted feel Pratibha Patil didn’t do too bad a job when she came to Britain.

Since Sonia is the virtual queen of India, she wouldn’t be a bad choice for president should her health permit the travel — and the president of India should undertake more foreign trips. Though he is only 39, Sachin Tendulkar wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.

And Amartya Sen would make a fine president, too — and I would let him take his daughter Nandana with him everywhere.

One last plea from London: since the president of India has to address people abroad, Indians here would like someone who can speak fluently in public and not read out boring speeches written by civil servants.

Drought drama

Following the wettest April since records began, many rivers are flooded and Britain does seem a place where “the rain it raineth every day”. At Worcestershire County Cricket Club, fielders are likely to need boats rather than boots since the outfield resembles a lake.

We are told that after two consecutive dry winters, the reservoirs are low and Britain is still officially in the middle of a “drought”. Despite all the heavy rain, though, most people in Britain are banned from using hosepipes to water the garden or wash the car.

Caroline Spelman, the environment secretary, has warned: “Whereas it’s most unlikely we’d have standpipes this year, if we have another dry winter that becomes more likely.”

What Britain apparently needs is a torrential monsoon if parts of the country are not to be turned into Dharavi next summer.

Busting Britain

A bust of Cornelia Sorabji (1866-1954), India’s first female barrister and the first woman to study law at Oxford, will be unveiled in the Great Hall in Lincoln’s Inn on May 21.

Her biographer, historian Kusoom Vadgama, who deserves credit for reminding today’s generation of Sorabji’s remarkable achievements, is worthy of a bust herself, I think. Kusoom’s books were the first to shed light on the lives of Queen Victoria’s Munshi, Abdul Karim (1863-1909), and the British spy, Noor Inayat Khan (“Madelaine”, 1914-1944), who was executed by the Germans.

Also being honoured is Shyam Benegal, who will receive an “excellence in cinema” award at a British Film Institute function in London on June 9. He is being hailed as “the father of the New Wave in Indian cinema” by the South Asian Cinema Foundation.

Tittle tattle

Can making rotis be bad for you?

It is well known that frequent use of a computer keyboard can cause RSI — repetitive strain injury — among journalists, for example.

Now I learn from Tony Kochhar, a Harley Street consultant orthopaedic surgeon who is also attached to the South London Healthcare NHS Trust and London Bridge Hospital, that women who roll out too many rotis may suffer wrist pain without realising this is a form of RSI.

I do hope making luchis doesn’t cause RSI.