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Princeton University

Shapiro Accepts Some Poison
(click here 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 years.

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 determination.’

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 Environment”.

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 description.

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 humanity.’

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 Princeton Packet!

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A Discussion with Harold Shapiro

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 action.

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 Photo Exhibit

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 Action

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 Express

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 Warren Anderson'

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

On 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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The international student campaign to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal, and its other toxic legacies around the world.
For more information about the campaign, or for problems regarding this website, contact
Shana Ortman, the US Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Last updated: April 30, 2008

WE ALL LIVE IN BHOPAL

"The year 2003 was a special year in the history of the campaign for justice in Bhopal. It was the year when student and youth supporters from at least 30 campuses in the US and India took action against Dow Chemical or in support of the demands of the Bhopal survivors. As we enter the 20th year of the unfolding Bhopal disaster, we can, with your support, convey to Dow Chemical that the fight for justice in Bhopal is getting stronger and will continue till justice is done. We look forward to your continued support and good wishes, and hope that our joint struggle will pave the way for a just world free of the abuse of corporate power."

Signed/ Rasheeda Bi, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Employees Union
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal