Bhopal Protest Reflects
Continued Calls for Justice


by Meena Menon


MUMBAI, India - Rashida Bi, a survivor of the world's worst industrial
disaster and, more than 18 years after the Bhopal gas leak, still a
victim, is among those who will demonstrate for justice Thursday outside
the offices of the U.S-based Dow Chemical, where a shareholders' meeting
will be held.

Back in India, meanwhile, the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery
Karamchari Sangh (Bhopal Gas Affected Women's Stationery Workers'
Union), of which Rashida Bi is president, is among the gas victims'
organizations named in a civil suit filed by the multinational's sales
office in Mumbai.

The two confrontations at opposite ends of the globe illustrate the
ratcheting up of the campaign to bring the giant multinational Dow
Chemicals to admit to its liability for the deadly gas leak in the
central Indian city in 1984.

Dow Chemicals, which merged with Union Carbide two years ago, says it
has no liability in the disaster linked to Union Carbide, whose Indian
subsidiary ran the pesticides plant. But activists believe otherwise.
In India, Dow Chemicals is claiming damages of 500,000 rupees (about
10,500 U.S. dollars) from gas victims, activists, members of
environmental activist group Greenpeace, the International Campaign for
Justice in Bhopal (ICJB)--a coalition of groups fighting for justice to
gas victims.

In its suit before the Mumbai High Court, Dow stated that on Dec. 2,
2002, the 18th anniversary of the gas leak, activists gathered outside
its office carrying placards, distributing pamphlets and ”generally
aiming to create a disturbance and disrupt the work of the company.”
Dow says the amount it seeks as compensation is for ”loss of work” that
it says it suffered on the day of protest.

The activists at the protest included Champa Devi Shukla, also a victim
and member of the Sangh, and Satinath Sarangi, of the Bhopal Group for
Information and Action.Both Shukla and Sarangi are also among the group
that began an indefinite fast in New York's financial district on May 1
to focus attention on Bhopal victims.

At the December 2002 protest in Mumbai, the activists handed a Dow
representative a broom, a sack of soil and a jerrycan of water to
symbolize the 'Jhadoo maro Dow ko” ('Beat Dow with a broom' in Hindi)
campaign, launched by in Bhopal two months earlier.

Yet in the suit, the company said: ”Various illegal demands were made to
the company which included compensation for victims of the tragedy,
impleadment of the company in the criminal case and clean up of the site
(factory in Bhopal).”

Not only is Dow also demanding from the activists and gas victims the
compensation amount with interest--at 24 percent per year from the date
the suit was filed till the date payment is made--it is also asking for
a permanent injunction restraining activists and gas victims from
holding protests before company premises.

But activists plan to show up at Dow's doorstep this week anyway.
Dow has been the focus of protest and activist action since February
2001, when the merger of Union Carbide Corp was completed.
A lethal gas--methyl-isocyanate--leaked from the plant run by Union
Carbide India Ltd on the night of Dec. 2, 1984, and over 8,000 people
were killed in its immediate aftermath. About 20,000 deaths to date have
been attributed to its effects.

Dow has consistently said that when its acquisition of Union Carbide
stock was complete, it had ”no remaining liability” for the Bhopal
disaster.

It is this position that ICJB members targeted when launching their
indefinite fast in New York. ”Dow has acquired Carbide's pending
criminal and environmental liabilities in Bhopal that could be
substantial in dollar terms,” said ICJB members. ”By refusing to
acknowledge and address these liabilities, the company is prolonging the
suffering of survivors and their children.”

Rashida Bi, 46, is just such a survivor. Partially blinded and suffering
psychiatric and respiratory problems from exposure to the gases which
leaked from the Carbide plant, she has lost five family members to
cancer since the disaster--all were exposed to the gas.

In 2002, she and other victims traveled to Europe to hand over to
reluctant Dow officials samples of toxic waste and polluted water from
the Bhopal factory site.

”Dow took over the liability of asbestos factory workers in the United
States, but they have double standards - they are refusing to
acknowledge their responsibility only in India,” said Bi.

Over 14 years, nine studies point to the contamination of groundwater in
and near the factory premises in Bhopal by mercury and other toxic
substances. The most recent studies reveal that even breast milk from
residents living near the factory zone contains lead, apart from nickel,
mercury and other toxins found in the water.

Now a support group in New Delhi for Bhopal gas victims, the Bhopal Gas
Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (Bhopal Gas-Affected People's Struggle
Support Committee) plans to file a petition on the matter in India's
Supreme Court.

The group is demanding that Dow be held responsible for pollution and
the contamination of groundwater sources in and around the plant
premises, which affects over 20,000 people.

Environmental contamination arose as an issue in a class action
complaint filed in a U.S. district court on Nov. 15, 1999. The complaint
was filed by victims and supporters' organizations against Union Carbide
Corp and Warren Anderson, its former chief executive officer.

The complaint stated that Union Carbide is responsible for damage caused
by toxic effluents at the plant site, that the company had demonstrated
”conscious indifference to the health and safety of the residents of
Bhopal”, and that it is liable for the damage and the ”cost of the
required clean-up.”

The suit was dismissed by the court in March this year, but Rashida Bi
and other plaintiffs have decided to appeal the verdict.


Copyright © 2003 IPS-Inter Press Service