n March 8, 2005 supporters of the campaign for justice in Bhopal visited the Dow Chemical exhibition booths at the Chicago Industrial Week. Although their intention was merely to remind Dow of the ongoing suffering in Bhopal , and the company's unmet obligations there, the supporters of Bhopal were quickly moved off the exhibition floor, and the private security of the McCormick Centre roughed them up. One peaceful protestor was handcuffed and frisked against his will. Ironically enough, the group's saviors were the Chicago Police, which had to be called in to prevent further mistreatment. Unfortunately this heavy-handed treatment is only the latest example of Dow's callous indifference to the suffering it has caused; in 2002 its Indian subsidiary filed a $10,000 lawsuit against the very people it had gassed and poisoned following a peaceful protest outside its Indian Headquarters. The company claimed damages for 'loss of work' and has refused to withdraw the lawsuit, even as it refuses to remediate the poison that kills and maims to this day.
On December 3rd, 1984, thousands of people in Bhopal , India , were gassed to death after a catastrophic chemical leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant. More than 150,000 people were left severely disabled-of whom 20,000 have since died of their injuries-in a disaster now widely acknowledged as the world's worst-ever industrial disaster. None of the six safety systems at the plant were functional, and Union Carbide's own documents prove the company cut corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money. Today, twenty years after the Bhopal disaster, those who survived the gas remain sick, and the chemicals that Union Carbide left behind in Bhopal have poisoned the water supply and contributed to an epidemic of cancers, birth defects, and other afflictions.
Dow became the world's largest chemicals manufacturer following its purchase of Union Carbide in 2001, with annual revenues exceeding $40 Billion. Although Indian, American and international corporate law specifies that Dow purchased Carbide's outstanding liabilities, along with its assets, Dow continues to claim it is not responsible for Carbide's outstanding liabilities in Bhopal . Dow Chemical has steadfastly refused to clean up the site, which continues to contaminate those near it; fund medical care or livelihood regeneration; or stand trial in Bhopal , where the Union Carbide Corporation faces criminal charges of culpable homicide (manslaughter), and has fled these charges for the past 2 years. In fact, the Indian Government considers the Union Carbide Corporation an "absonder", or fugitive from justice, still today, and Dow's 100% ownership of the absonding Carbide is the legal equivalent of harboring an international fugitive. If convicted of the crimes with which it is charged, Carbide could be forced to pay a fine which has no upper limit.
Meanwhile a separate civil lawsuit is ongoing in the United States before the Southern District court of New York, related to the environmental contamination that Carbide left behind in Bhopal, and which continues to poison people still today. This lawsuit, filed by Bhopal residents in 1999, seeks a comprehensive cleanup of Carbide's soil and groundwater contamination; compensation for property damages, and medical monitoring for those who have been poisoned by these chemicals. The suit has survived four motions for dismissal, and its most recent reinstatement by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals created legal history: never before has a multinational corporation been held liable in one country for the environmental contamination it created in another country. Despite Carbide's best efforts, the case is now likely to go to trial within a matter of months.
It was the sheer arrogance and the 'profit over people' ideology on the part of Dow that prompted it to buy Carbide even after repeated warnings from human rights and citizens' groups about Carbide's liabilities. But the supporters of justice for Bhopal are determined to not let Dow get away with its greed!
So the protestors turned out to the Chicago Industrial Week determined to remind Dow of its legal and moral responsibilities in Bhopal . Appropriate for the occasion, they also had with them three items, rife with symbolic value, to be delivered to the Dow representatives. These were a jhadoo , or Indian broom, as the symbol of the demand that Dow clean up its pollution in Bhopal; a court summons , issued by the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court in Bhopal, asking Dow to appear and explain why it continues to shelter its subsidiary Union Carbide, a proclaimed absconder, from obeying the summons of the court, and a copy of the book 'Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical & The Toxic Century'.
As is clear from this Women's Day experience, the process of making Dow hear what the Bhopalis are going through has sometimes been harrowing for ordinary people who care about justice. However, Bhopal's supporters remain determined to hold Dow accountable, and are right now gearing up for their next action. This time it is the Indian Government which is being asked to listen. On April 15th, 2005 Amnesty International is organizing a massive demonstration (with over 1000 people) outside the Indian consulate in New York , to protest the Indian Government's lack of action for Bhopal gas victims. Smaller protests are also being organized outside all Indian Consulates and the Indian Embassy in Washington DC , all across the USA . Simultaneous protests are also taking place in India . The Amnesty International report "Clouds of Injustice: Bhopal Disaster 20 Years On" was brought out in 2004 showing how Carbide/Dow and the Indian Government have failed the victims of Bhopal .
All the action on Bhopal can be seen in large part as a result of the momentum generated by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB). The ICJB is an umbrella organization of 20 environmental and social justice groups the world over who have joined forces to campaign for the gas survivors of Bhopal . ICJB is spearheaded by the women's survivor group, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karmachari Sangh, headed by Goldman Environmental Prize winners Rasheeda Bi and Champa Devi Shukla. The ICJB has been at the forefront of many direct actions, phone-fax campaigns, and lobbying-education-awareness efforts to make Dow and the Indian Government take responsibility for their actions. Its main demands from Dow Chemicals are to make sure Carbide faces trial, that Dow cleans up the Bhopal site and that it provides long term medical, social and economic support to the victims. From the Indian Government the demands are that it forces Dow to clean the plant site, distributes in full the remaining settlement money it holds, pursues the extradition of the former Carbide CEO Warren Anderson for trial, and publishes the findings of the Indian Council for Medical Research, which conducted several studies in the decade following the Bhopal disaster but which wrapped up these studies prematurely in 1994, and which has refused to release even these incomplete findings ever since.
After struggling for justice for the past 20 years, several recent victories have given the Bhopal survivors renewed hope that all their demands will be won. In early 2004, Rasheeda Bi and Champa Devi Shukla (two survivors of the tragedy and longtime champions of the cause of victims) - were honored in the USA with the prestigious Goldman Award, also known as the "Nobel Prize for Environment". Later in the year they were also honored with the American Public Health Association's Occupational Health & Safety Award.
Legal proceedings, against Dow, in the Southern District Court of New York were also continued in 2004. When the court declared that the Indian Government's permission was required before it could hold Carbide accountable for an environmental cleanup in Bhopal, the Bhopal campaign generated tremendous public pressure, including a massive phone-fax-mail campaign that buried the government in faxes and letters throughout the world, forcing it to agree. More progress was made when the India Supreme Court directed the State Government of Madhya Pradesh to provide safe drinking water to 14 colonies in Bhopal whose drinking water supply has been contaminated by the plant. The Supreme Court also ordered the distribution of the compensation money, a large part of which has been lying undistributed with the Indian Government.
So far, the year 2005 has seen some action and the promise of success is tantalizing, but much remains to be done to counter corporate callousness and state indifference!
YOU can also be part of this struggle.
For more information , please visit www.bhopal.net and www.aidindia.org or contact firstname.lastname@example.org , or email@example.com
Photo 1 Courtesy of www.studentsforbhopal.org
Photo 2 Courtesy of www.bhopal.net