Bhopal Survivors Start Indefinite Fast in City Against Dow Chemical's injustices
NEW YORK, 1 May, 2003
Two women survivors -- Rasheeda Bee and Champa Devi -- and long-time Bhopal activist, Satinath Sarangi, of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) launched an indefinite fast from New York's financial district to highlight the truth behind Dow Chemical and Union Carbide's liabilities in Bhopal. In 1984, a poisonous gas leak from Union Carbide's pesticide factory killed 8000 in a matter of days. Survivors continue to suffer long-term health effects, and Carbide's toxic wastes strewn around the factory are a source of ongoing contamination and injury.
"Dow has acquired Carbide's pending criminal and environmental liabilities in Bhopal that could be substantial in dollar terms. By refusing to acknowledge and address these liabilities, the company is prolonging the suffering of survivors and their children, and keeping its shareholders in the dark regarding issues that could significantly erode share value," ICJB said.
"A hunger strike is our way of emphasising the truth that the tragedy in Bhopal continues, and that Dow as Carbide's new owner is now sponsible for ensuring that justice is done in Bhopal," said Rasheeda Bee of the Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association. Forty six-year old Bee has lost five gas-exposed family members to cancers since the disaster. Partially blinded, she suffers psychiatric and respiratory problems due to exposure to Carbide's gases. Eight days into the hunger strike, the Bhopal activists will visit Midland, Michigan, to demonstrate outside the Dow shareholders meeting on 8 May.
At least 30 other people, including 24 students from Massachusetts-based Wheaton College, and long-time Bhopal supporters from India and the United States fasted in solidarity today. The worldwide relay fast is expected to attract hundreds of people from around the world to join in protest against Dow Chemical. A similar fast begun last July lasted more than a month and involved 1500 people from 10 countries. ICJB has declared May 8 as the day of mass action including hunger strikes organised by allies around the world.
In February 2001, Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide. Carbide currently faces criminal charges for manslaughter in a Bhopal court for the deaths of more than 8,000 people in Bhopal, India, due to a poisonous gas leak from its pesticide factory in December 1984. The company has never appeared in court.
Dow Chemical has denied having inherited any of Carbide's pending Bhopal liabilities. Meanwhile, the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation will report to the Bhopal court on progress made in including Dow as an accused in the criminal case against Carbide by 30 May. If found guilty, Indian criminal law allows for the imposition of fines against the accused.
"Under Indian law, the fines for manslaughter have no upper limit, and is determined by the size and ability of the accused party to pay, the magnitude of the crime, and the current state of the victims," said Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. Dow is the world's largest chemical corporation with annual sales exceeding $30 billion. Billed as the world's worst industrial disaster, the Bhopal tragedy injured 500,000 people, and survivors and their children are impoverished and continue to suffer drastic long-term effects in the absence of economic rehabilitation measures and appropriate medical care. According to latest official estimates, 380 gas-affected people succumb to health effects each year, and more than 20,000 are exposed to the toxic wastes lying in and around the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal.
On April 25, 2003, survivors and survivors' organisations appealed a recent decision by the New York District Court to dismiss their claims for clean-up and compensation for contamination-related damages from Carbide. The State Government of Madhya Pradesh too has stated that it plans to approach the Indian Supreme Court in a bid to get Dow to clean up the toxic wastes left behind by its subsidiary Union Carbide.
Separately, various communities impacted by Dow's pollution, including an African American community in Plaquemine, Louisiana, the Vietnam veterans, and the residents of Saginaw county near Dow's Midland headquarters, are seeking redressal for environmental and health damages due to Dow products or facilities. In fact, a stockholder has proposed a resolution at Dow's 2003 AGM asking the company to report to shareholders on identifying potential liabilities related to the company's operations, given the company's historical and ongoing engagement in processes known to produce or release persistent toxic substances such as dioxins. The proposal stems from findings of high levels of dioxin contamination in Midland and surrounding areas.
"Dow has a lot of Bhopals in its closet. Dow's failure to address its responsibilities to communities is clearly an issue of environmental justice, because its pollution has disproportionately impacted poor communities worldwide, and communities of color in the United States," said Gary Cohen, director of Boston-based Environmental Health Fund and a member of the ICJB.
The visiting survivors and members of the ICJB have sought a meeting with Dow Chairman William Stavropoulos on 8 May to press their demands that: Dow should arrange for long-term economic and medical rehabilitation and medical monitoring; for clean-up of toxic wastes and contaminated groundwater; and face trial in the Indian courts.
For more information, visit: www.bhopal.net