VOICE OF THE VOICELESS
Satinath Sarangi and Rahul Bose inspire students with stories about how disasters changed their lives
MORE THAN 1,000 students gathered at the Park Group of Institutions, Coimbatore, to hear Satinath Sarangi and Rahul Bose at the Aircel The Power of Inspiration lecture. After a brief introduction to Aircel and the launch of their College Brand Ambassador programme, Tehelka Foundation Founder-Trustee Puneeta Roy played a short video, which was a call to action.
Sarangi, who formed the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, recalled how the night of 2 December 1984 changed his life forever. Forty tonnes of methyl isocyanide leaked from the Union Carbide (since bought over by Dow Chemical) factory in Bhopal, killing 8,000 in the first three days alone, and leaving more than half a million maimed.
“It came without warning in the dead of the night. Most people drowned in their own body fluids,” said Sarangi. “It was a total failure of all systems. The 5,74,000 people (as per government records) who survived, wish they were dead too. A whole generation born after the disaster is marked, damaged.”
Almost three decades later, Sarangi continues the fight for justice for the victims who have suffered debilitating diseases and contamination in the aftermath of the world’s worst chemical disaster. The latest victory was getting the Dow Chemical logo removed from the London Olympics despite it being one of the biggest sponsors.
Soon, it was actor-activist Bose’s turn to take the stage. For the next hour, he shared the many events that had spurred him into action and made him what he is today. “How does one conquer one’s fear? What prevents you from taking action when you are feeling afraid?” he asked. “To be a fearless warrior, you need to be prepared to lose everything. Unfortunately, very few are prepared to do that.”
“What are the three things you hope your best friend would say at your funeral? Those are the three things that make your moral compass. Live according to that.”
Bose spoke about how the barbaric cruelty meted out to women and children during the 2002 Gujarat riots was the first jolt. Then, when the tsunami hit in 2004, he realised that the Andaman & Nicobar islands weren’t being helped in the same way as Tamil Nadu. It disturbed him so much that “90 phone calls later”, he was on his way there the very next day to check for himself the ground realities as a rep- resentative of a group of 20 NGOs. Twentythree trips over the next 30 months made him realise he wanted to start his own NGO, which would not discriminate on the basis of caste, colour or class. His first step was adopting five children from the Andamans to study at the Rishi Valley School.
“You have to engage with the world around you. Read multiple perspectives on every issue, hold your observations against your moral compass and you will reach a stand on unshakeable ground. It’s the only way to push oneself out of the ‘It’s not my problem’ zone,” he said.
After the interactions, the speakers, Park Group of Institutions CEO Anusha and Puneeta released Aircel The Power of Inspiration book, which was distributed to every student. The vote of thanks by Puneeta drew the event to a close.