Shapiro Accepts Some
for the press release!)
Here's our story. The original plan of handing over the water during
question answer session had to be modified. Therefore
I went up to Shapiro immediately afterwards when there were a lot
of people crowding around, including our gang of five. I began 'I
would like a address a larger question of ethics...' He was very
polite and enthusiastic, nodding his head, 'Don't you think that
Dow Chemical Company, on whose board you serve should clean up the
pollution it left in Bhopal? I want to give you this water, collected
by Greenpeace, from Bhopal, it has organichlorines and heavy metals
in it, and people die every day because they are forced to drink
it.' I held out the water, he took it. He had no choice. There were
too many people nearby.
'Don't you think Dow chemical company should ethically clean up
the site?' I asked. His talk had been about ethics and he had said
that every issue must be debated before people could see eye to
eye and there is always room for compromise.
'Thank you' he said (I think it was for the water I gave him.)
'I am not here to talk about Dow Chemical Company'.
Sujit handed over a sheet of paper saying 'This has the testimonial
of a survivor of Bhopal.' That distressed him. His smile became
plastic and disappeared. He folded it up unhappily. Someone in our
gang said, 'We have begun a campaign for Bhopal at Princeton and
would like to talk to you about it.'
'I am not the person to do it' he said -- by now he looked uncomfortable.
'But you said every issue should be debated' Sujit said. 'Maybe
some other time?'
'Okay, okay ' said Shapiro, though not very convincingly.
That's how it happened!
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Goldman Winners and
Bhopal Survivors Speak
Rashida Bi and Champa Devi visited us on April 27-28, 2004. Appa
and Didi, as everyone close called them. When I entered the apartment
that evening, soon after their arrival, they were both sitting quietly
on the carpet. I congratulated them on receiving the Goldman Prize,
a singular acknowledgement of our campaign. ‘It was all for
you children’ said Rashida.
They were all tired that evening, having been driving till 2 AM
the previous night and waking early that morning to meet with the
New York Times people. They had already visited the John Hopkins
campus and were going on to MIT later that week. Everywhere they
traveled, they informed students and others of the Bhopal disaster,
its consequences and Dow’s responsibility.
Once dinner was over, which all of us had cooked in an unorganized
fashion, resulting in three kinds of lentils, I took Appa, Didi
and Maude--the photographer of the tour and much else--home. After
an uneventful night’s rest, the delegation left the next morning
for their NJ Work Environment Council meeting. Here too they spoke
of Bhopal and the road the victims had traveled in the twenty ensuing
The talk at Princeton began at 7 PM that day, with Dr. Zia Mian
of the Woodrow Wilson School introducing our speakers. ‘I
was asked by the Association for India’s Development Chapter
to introduce a talk by two survivors of the Bhopal disaster’,
he began. ‘Yet I myself am from Pakistan. But given how connected
we are today and given that the former president of this University
is a board member of Dow, there was no question of my refusing.
Today Rashida Bi and Champa Devi will tell their story. Their extraordinary
achievements have demonstrated where people can reach through sheer
The audience, some seventy people, applauded him enthusiastically.
They also surveyed the handouts we had distributed, consisting of
the letter to Dow board members written by eighteen members of Congress
and the biographies of Rashida, Champa and Sathyu. A brief video
was screened, highlighting the life and work of our guests, culminating
in their receipt of the Goldman Prize, the “Nobel for the
Champa Devi then relived the night the gas leaked from Carbide.
For all its fluorescent lights, the room grew dark around us. Her
voice, breaking occasionally, painted for us the picture of Bhopal,
roused brutally, trying to escape, it knew not where. For those
of us who knew the details, we still felt we were learning afresh
that horror. She spoke of the children she had lost, the place she
and her husband had fled to, of the authorities asking people to
return home in the early morning hours, of how her husband could
no longer move, of how they had been transported by a military vehicle
to a hospital. The story she told of this last equaled any wartime
Rashida came next to the podium, speaking of how the disaster is
claiming lives today, of how subsequent generations are born deformed,
of the soil and water that still carries the factory’s waste
and of the multinational that brushed aside its responsibilities.
‘Dow board members talk of ethics, yet they ignore the crisis
in Bhopal. Little children ask us in Bhopal how long they have to
live – and we do not know how to answer them.’
The audience responded by asking how they could help and how they
could not believe that so many deaths were allowed to occur. One
member, an IAS officer and the former deputy collector of Bhopal
recalled how she had been forced to turn Sathyu away when he had
tried to meet the President on his Bhopal visit. She also asked
Rashida to describe what the state government had done for the victims
and of the hospital facilities.
Rashida reacted by saying that the President had not visited the
gas affected communities himself, that some victims had been brought
over to talk to him. She also mentioned that the government hospital
facilities were poor. Sathyu described how yoga and other traditional
medicines had been used successfully in his clinic but could not
be administered in government hospitals because of resource constraints.
When the talk ended, Rashida, Champa and Sathyu received a standing
ovation. Later we asked them how they felt talking of that night,
for they had both been in tears. ‘We feel it is happening
all over again’ answered Champa.
‘It is one thing to talk to students,’ said Rashida.
‘It is hardest when we talk to Dow board members. They listen
like statues, with faces of stone. Yet I go on, telling myself that
somewhere beneath this granite exterior, there must be a spark of
As I saw them that night, seated again on the carpet, ready to
resume their hectic sojourn with the one thought of securing justice
for Bhopal, I knew I had witnessed a rare phenomenon. Rashida and
Champa were simple, unassuming, seemed so vulnerable -- and yet
they were two people who had never surrendered or lost hope.
Read more about it in The
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A Discussion with
Summary of Princeton University student meeting with President
Harold T. Shapiro
(Dow Board member and a member of Dow's Environmental, Health, Safety
and Public Policy Committee)
On Friday morning, 12 May 2000, a group of five met with President
Shapiro during his office hours to discuss the 1984 Bhopal tragedy
in light of the merger between Dow Chemical Corporation and Union
Carbide Corporation and President Shapiro's position as a Dow board
member. The group consisted of Sai Gopisetty (GS), Donna Riley ('93,
post-Doc), Zia Mian (RS), Liam Mahony (GS), and Sanjeev Shukla (GS).
President Shapiro seemed defensive in addressing the group. His
first reaction was to point out that he did not speak for the company
and that he could not comment publicly on cases presently in the
courts. He further stated that he could not discuss his interaction
at Dow's board meeting in Michigan (11 November 2000).
He suggested that the group's concerns be taken up with Dow directly
saying he did not want to be a conduit for such dialog. While seeking
to project a neutral public stance by distancing himself from dialog,
he suggested his proclivities with comments questioning the relevance
of the tragedy 15 years in the past, where Dow was not involved,
and which was settled in Indian courts. It was pointed out that
Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) is evading criminal proceedings
in Indian courts. He added that he does not know the legal requirements
in such situations.
Because of his relatively cold reception to a dialogue on the issue,
one member suggested: "We are not suggesting that you represent
Dow. What we are wondering is, hypothetically, if we were to engage
in a dialog and convince you of the moral claim that exists in this
case, then given your position as Board member and decision-maker,
might it not be logical that you could represent these concerns
to the board?"
His somewhat begrudging answer was, "Yes, that might be conceivable."
He also made another statement that his primary responsibility
of overseeing PU will limit the time he has for other issues.
While willing to entertain future meetings, he was unwilling to
do in his capacity as a Dow board member. A dossier containing the
Princeton University petition, the press release of the class action
suit against Dow, a report by International Medical Commission on
Bhopal, and a few newspaper accounts was handed to Shapiro near
the end of the meeting.
President Shapiro said that he will respond to our petition at
a later time. The meeting lasted around 10 minutes.
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Calling on the Indian
Gov't to Agree to a Cleanup
On June 15th, 2004, non-resident Indians, students and other supporters
gathered outside the Indian consulate in Chicago and the four other
Indian Government offices (New York, San Francisco, Houston, and
Washington, DC) in the US to demand that the Indian Government allow
Union Carbide to cleanup its abandoned factory site in Bhopal, if
ordered by a US Court. Many of the protestors also pledged to join
a global relay hunger strike if the government continues to delay
In a landmark ruling on March 17, 2004, the Second Circuit Court
of Appeals in New York, USA, ruled (Sajida Bano et al v. Union Carbide
Corporation and Warren Anderson) that Union Carbide can be ordered
by the District Court to clean up its abandoned factory site, but
only if the Indian government or the State of Madhya Pradesh give
their assent. The New York District Court, which is currently hearing
the case, gave the Government of India until June 30, 2004, to submit
a letter stating that it has no objection to a cleanup by Union
Carbide, if ordered by the court.
A week-long petition drive spearheaded by the International Campaign
for Justice in Bhopal, the Association for India's Development and
Students for Bhopal sent hundreds of emails, faxes and phone calls
to the Indian Consulate in New York and to Mr. Ram Vilas Paswan,
the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, to indicate the global
support and extreme urgency of the matter.
"In New York, a couple of members of the AID Princeton Chapter
went to the Indian consulate and distributed leaflets to many who
entered the building. The leaflet contained information on our request
to the Indian government to support any US court decision to direct
UCC to clean up in Bhopal. We also displayed two posters saying
'No More Bhopals, Dow Clean up Bhopal Now.' Ryan joined us at the
consulate. We met the deputy consul, Mr. Ashok Tomar and gave him
a letter that contained the same request and was signed by about
forty people from Princeton. The letter was addressed to the Prime
Minister, care of Mr. Tomar. Mr. Ashok Tomar said that he was aware
of the details of the NY case and that these details had been communicated
to the Indian government. He accepted the letter and promised to
help out with this issue."
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Hosting the Bhopal
For the first two weeks in April, 2004, the Association for India's
Development chapter at Princeton and the Princeton Institute for
International and Regional Studies hosted the exhibit
"We Are Not Flowers, We Are Flames!" a collection of photographs
from Bhopal taken by Raghu Rai and Maude Dorr. The exhibit was hosted
in a high-traffic hallway of the Frist Campus Center, and several
hundred people are estimated to have seen the exhibit during its
time at Princeton. This includes the Director of the Princeton International
Center, who invited AID to organize a lunch discussion on Bhopal
after he had seen the exhibit. Overall, we feel that the Princeton
exhibition was a success, and played a major role in heightening
awareness about the Bhopal disaster on the Princeton campus.
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Pressing for Congressional
An Oct. 13, 2004 update from the AID chapter at Princeton:
"Our Congressman is Rush Holt, one of the eighteen members
who signed Frank Pallone's original letter to Dow in 2003. So we
thought this was very promising. Our friend Kumar, who has previous
experience in writing to Rush, helped me draft a letter. We collected
about seventy signatures and then Kumar, Nishtha and I drove to
Rush's office with the letter. There we talked to a lady who said
of course she would give Rush the letter and there was no reason
why he would not support Pallone's resolution, especially as his
constituents wanted it and because he had already supported an earlier
initiative. However, the timing of Pallone's resolution was not
right - it would have to be re-introduced once the new session started
and of course, Rush would support it only if he was re-elected.
"Yesterday evening Rush participated in a panel discussion
on campus about 'The abuse of science in policy-making.' Diane Zuckerman,
of the center for policy for Women and Families was also a panel
member and she gave three examples of how the current administration
was in the pockets of corporations. One of them was about silicone
breast implants and she had some horrid visuals of what happened
to women who went through this. She then paused significantly and
screwed up her face -'The implants are done mostly by Dow Corning,
also known as Dow. This corporation has a lot of money and power...'
"After the talks, I went to Rush to give him a copy of
the letter and signatures (just in case he did not get them in his
office!). There were about ten students crowding round him making
various demands - like 'How do I change from science to policy?'
and 'Why didn't you reply to my letter?" and 'Do you have any
republicans on your side?' Eventually he looked at me and I quickly
plunged into my piece. I thanked him for his talk and then for the
letter he had written with Pallone last year. I gave him this letter
and explained I had already left the original in his office and
that it was signed by about 70 students. He asked specifically whether
students from Princeton and I said yes. Then he asked me how this
was different from what they had done before. I explained that the
previous effort was a letter to Dow while this letter was asking
him to support Pallone's resolution in Congress. He was pretty nice
and he said something like Yes, all right, thank you."
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Screening of Bhopal:
The Search for Justice
On November 18, 2004, the Princeton chapter of AID sponsored a
screening of the new documentary Bhopal: The Search for Justice,
followed by a discussion with the filmmaker Harold Crook, counsel
for the Bhopal survivors Rajan Sharma and Princeton Prof. Zia Mian.
About 25 people attended the event.
I wanted to congratulate heartily all those involved in last
night's screening of Justice for Bhopal and the subsequent discussion
by producer Harold Crooks and lawyer Rajan Sharma. This is an excellent
documentary. The discussion after lasted for one hour and even then
people had more questions! Sujit was forced to halt in the interest
of time. No one in the audience left immediately after the film
(as far as I could tell) but stayed to participate in one of the
most vibrant discussions I have seen post any documentary film.
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Screening of Bhopal
The movie Bhopal Express was screened on Saturday, February
28 at 185 Nassau Street, Jimmy Stewart Theatre, Princeton University.
This event was organized by the Princeton chapter of Association
for India's Development. About seventy people attended, mostly students
from the University and residents of the local community. Copies
of an article from the Guardian (Derek Brown, The Dead Zone, Saturday
Sept 21, 2002) were distributed. Many left the theatre visibly moved.
Possibly they realized that the reality was far harsher than what
they had witnessed on the screen. Several approached the organizers
with offers to help and pledges to be in touch.
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Screening of 'Hunting
On April 22nd, 2004, the Princeton chapter of AID screened the
Dateline documentary "Hunting Warren Anderson," together
with Princeton Environmental Network's 'The Next Industrial Revolution'
movie. The film attracted a respectable crowd, and the film was
also an opportunity to promote the upcoming visit of Bhopal survivors
Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla.
Also, writes one member, "We did a reasonably successful
lunch discussion on Bhopal with the help of the International Centre.
A gentleman was very surprised to learn that Shapiro was on the
board. And the lunch discussion was possible because the IC director
saw the photo exhibit."
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Discussion with Raj
Sharma & Documentary Screening
Nov. 20th, 2004, Drishti sponsored a screening of the documentary
"The Betrayal of Bhopal," and a discussion with Rajan
Sharma, the lawyer representing the Bhopal survivors in their US
suit against Union Carbide. This discussion ignited the Bhopal campaign
at Princeton; after the talk, many people from the audience gathered
together to discuss what to do for the upcoming 19th anniversary
and how to carry the campaign forward. More about the event can
be found here: www.princeton.edu/~drishti/bhopal/.
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