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University of Texas, Austin

Student Governments Vote Against Dow
(click here for the undergraduate and graduate resolutions, and here for the press release!)

AUSTIN, TX – On February 14, 2006, the Student Government (SG) and on February 21, 2006, The Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) - representing the students of The University of Texas at Austin - voted to support the Bhopal resolution sponsored by Association for India’s Development (AID), Austin chapter. The resolution supports the students meeting the President of The University to urge him to write “to Dow Chemical Company to address its responsibility in Bhopal and ask Dow Chemical to spend matching funds for the environmental clean-up in Bhopal”. Dow Chemical has made a cumulative donation of 4.4 million to the University as of 2003. In addition to supporting the resolution unanimously, the GSA also felt that The University should not accept funds from Dow Chemical Company and that The University should develop a review mechanism to evaluate the ethical standing of its donors.

The resolution was supported by twenty student groups and signed by more than 1000 University of Texas students and 50 faculty members. It cites the company's refusal to accept any outstanding responsibilities of its subsidiary, Union Carbide, in Bhopal, India. The SG and GSA will work with AID to raise the matter with the President of The University, and request him to write to Dow asking the company to submit Union Carbide to criminal trial in India and urging the chemical giant to spend at least as much money as it gives to the University on addressing Bhopal liabilities.

A similar resolution introduced in SG on January 31st lost narrowly after a five hour debate. The support for Bhopal gained a lot of momentum and strength thereafter. "Many now realize the enormity of Bhopal tragedy and how the companies responsible are able to go scot-free even after 22 years of human suffering. The University of Texas's students have now made a powerful statement that such irresponsibility will not go unchecked," the authors of the resolution said of the victory.

On December 3rd, 1984, a poisonous gas leak from Union Carbide’s pesticide plant in Bhopal, India killed more than 8000 in the immediate aftermath and more than 12,000 in the years that followed. More than 120,000 people still suffer from such ailments as blindness, lung fibrosis, long term breathlessness, chronic gastrointestinal symptoms and gynecological disorders. It is estimated that 30 people die every month because of exposure related illnesses. Toxic wastes abandoned by the company have poisoned the groundwater that is being consumed by more than 20,000 people. Despite repeated court summons, Union Carbide has refused to appear to face criminal trial in Bhopal. After its February 2001 acquisition of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical has actively shielded the company from criminal and civil liabilities even while seeking to profit from an increased business presence in India.

Bhopal might be the world's worst chemical disaster, but Dow harbors many other "Bhopals" in its closet through its legacy of human rights and environmental violations: dioxin contamination in Michigan; mass sterility because of Nemagon; Agent Orange; carcinogenic exposures in Mission, Texas; to name a few. Denial of liability for Bhopal also brings forth a case of double standards as Dow set aside $2.2 billion for Union Carbide's asbestos liabilities, yet refuses to accept Union Carbide's liabilities in Bhopal, India.

AID is a 501(C)(3), voluntary, nonprofit organization with over 52 chapters in six countries and undertakes developmental projects related to health, education, women's empowerment, childcare and other issues in India. AID strives to enable a self-sustained and improved lifestyle of millions of people in India and has supported over 365 projects in the last 14 years. More details about AID can be found at www.aidaustin.org.

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20th Anniversary Week of Bhopal Events
(click here for photos!)

In December 2004, the Austin chapters of the Association for India's Development (AID) and Amnesty International (AI) organized three days of actions to mark the 20th anniversary of the ongoing Bhopal tragedy. All the events were on the on the University of Texas campus. The primary objectives were to show solidarity with the victims and survivors, continue the divestment drive on the campus, engage more student groups to endorse the campaign and of course to inspire more people to get involved.

Dec 2nd, Candlelight Vigil: About 30 turned out for a somber, introspective and poignant event. Quite fittingly, it was held beneath the MLK statue situated on one end of the campus. The quote below the statue - "...freedom is not given but taken..." sort of summed up our feelings on Bhopal. The statue was illuminated with candles and each of us holding a candle symbolized our intent.

We started with a minute of silence. Then a moving narrative on the night-after from a Bhopal native, Guruprasad, set the tone for rest of the vigil. Some of us then took turns to search for the meaning of Bhopal in the society and within each of us. Some talked about the ongoing tragedy in Bhopal, some on human rights, others on environment racism, corporate responsibility and universal brotherhood. But everyone agreed on the need to keep the flame of the struggle alive.

Dec 3rd, Petition Drive and Awareness Day: Our local Mahatma, Diane Wilson, joined us on this day. She promptly started doing what she does all the time - climbing structures and hanging banners. We converted a very busy area on campus into a Bhopal memorial with pictures of the victims as the backdrop. And with gas masks and songs, we attracted a lot of attention. Diane's aura inspired dozens volunteers from AID and Amnesty to bring forth their activist selves and made sure everyone around heard about Bhopal and why it is still important.

We had a goal of collecting 450 signatures on the divestment campaign to reach our target of 1000. We reached 950. As a result two editorials appeared in the campus paper with the president of the Student Government saying that he will welcome this resolution next semester.

Dec 4th, Documentary and Diane Wilson's Talk: Around 45 people showed up the next day for the documentary Bhopal: The Search for Justice and to hear the indefatigable Diane speak. It was a decent turnout considering it was the finals week. I started with a small introduction to the issue and to the documentary. This was probably the one of the more comprehensive documentaries on the subject. It not only touched on the living conditions and demands of the survivors but also goes into details of larger socio-political forces in India and in the US that resulted in the tragedy.

Madhulika, a self-confessed Diane fan among several others, then gave a reverent introduction to Diane. You don't listen to Diane, you watch her. You watch her as she recreates her experiences with her gestures and motions all over the stage. She appeals directly to where it matters the most - the heart. Her impulsive passion to see and do what is right and just is amazing. Her idealism and her still childlike innocence to see everything as black and white, is something to admire by people like us who are still mired in gray. After her talk, there was a stunned silence in the auditorium for at least 2 minutes before anyone could access their faculties to ask a question. If she can have an impact on me when I have already heard her dozens of time, I can imagine the kind of impression she might have on the first-timers.

We decided to take a 'little' advantage of a now emotionally vulnerable audience. We auctioned off an AID calendar signed by Diane to raise money for the income-generation projects in Bhopal. The winning bid - $225. I will end with a quote from who else but Diane. "You are on the path, because you can smell the fear."

The events were announced in Austin Chronicle and local radio station KOOP. A couple of editorials appeared in the Daily Texan on the issue (it has some errors that were acknowledged later) and the divestment campaign.

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Bhopal in Our Backyard

On March 18, 2006, several members of AID-Austin visited one of the slow and silent Bhopals in their own backyard: Mission, Texas. This is the story of their visit, as told by AID volunteer Sandhya Govindaraju:

Imagine a community ravaged by chemical pollution; a community where the soil is laid waste by decades-old concentrations of toxins; a community where kidney failures, tumors, cancer and skin problems devastate not just individuals but generations. Imagine a struggle for justice spanning decades; a struggle of minorities marginalized within capitalist discourse; a struggle led by women in a patriarchal society. Imagine irresponsible corporations, an unresponsive administration, and a legal settlement that barely scratches the surface of suffering. Shades of Bhopal?

Welcome to Mission, Texas, a small city of about 48,000 people approximately 4 miles from the Mexico border near Rio Grande. AID–Austin volunteers visited Mission, a predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American community, to widen the horizons of support for the Bhopal campaign.

In the 1940s, 34 chemical companies including Union Carbide and Shell, set up chemical factories to manufacture pesticides, fertilizers and other chemical synthetics in Mission. Mission residents at the time welcomed the prospective of better jobs. Till the late 1970s, the factories continued as significant employers. They also continued their harvest of venom. By the time the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) arrived in 1980, the soil of Mission, Texas was contaminated enough to merit a Superfund cleanup. While the soil and real estates values get cleaned up by the EPA, the residents await relief.

The earliest workers in Mission’s chemical factories barely realized the impact of the factories three generations later. We met Alberto, a war veteran, who is suffering from symptoms of Agent Orange, even though he never went to Vietnam. We met Salina and Ronaldo, who suffer from kidney failure and have to undergo dialysis three times a week. Ronaldo has also had two kidney transplants, which were rejected by his body, and was operated on for brain tumors.

Many residents have been pushed into poverty by monthly medical expenses even after part of these expenses are paid by Medicaid and non-profit groups. In every neighborhood, we saw former plant sites alternating with houses. We saw a mixing plant which spewed its exhaust through a vent instead of a stack directly into neighboring houses.

The residents’ lawsuit languishes in the courts. Some 68 per cent of an early settlement of $1.5 million went to attorneys. Compensated residents got checks ranging from $3 to $3000. The correlation between the documented levels of contamination and the medical malaise in the community continues to be legally in dispute.

For AIDers in Austin, Mission, Texas is like a Bhopal in their backyard. The similarities are sobering. Many of the activists are women in a strongly patriarchal society. And there is an additional hurdle in Mission, Texas: to convince the community that it is no coincidence that each family has a member afflicted with chronic illness.

Equally sobering lessons come from the demonstrated limitations of site cleanup as a solution. Since site cleanup has been a major demand in the Bhopal struggle, a re-evaluation seems in order. Are relocation and rehabilitation the only viable options?

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Vigil, Protest and Documentary Screening

In December 2003 in Austin, the Association of India's Development (AID) organized a weeklong action to send a resounding message to DOW-Carbide that Bhopal will continue to haunt them until it assumes all its liabilities, and to all the other irresponsible corporations that there will be 'No more Bhopals'.

The week had a solemn start on the late evening of the 2nd, with a candlelight vigil on the steps of the Dr. Martin Luther King's statue on the University of Texas campus. About 17 gathered in the memory of the 20,000 dead and 150,000 long suffering survivors, with some observing a hunger fast on that day. Nishant Jain, an AID volunteer, recounted the long struggle, the unflinching spirit of the survivors and how even in US we live under a poison cloud. Pragya Bhagat, another AID volunteer, recited a poignant poem - "I forget, only to remember." Then the indomitable Prof. Bob Jensen commented on the appropriateness of the location by a quote from Dr. King, "The arc of moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." In the end, all shared their personal thoughts in solidarity with the cause and renewed their pledge to continue fighting in the name of Bhopal.

On the 3rd, the solemnness gave way to a vociferous action involving dry ice, gas masks, posters, slogans and clipboards on a busy corner of the campus. The day saw 15 volunteers talk to several hundred students and faculty members about the issue. A formal divestment appeal against the President and the Regents of the University of Texas was also initiated. At the end of the day, 220 students and faculty members has signed the divestment petition. The target is to reach 1000 signatures, including 50 faculty endorsements before the petition is presented to the student government.

Finally on the 5th, the floor was opened to informal discussions and Q&A after a screening of Dateline's piece on the hunt for Warren Anderson. The callousness of the DOW-Carbide on the issue is reflected by a quote by Mrs. Anderson from the film - "stop bothering us... it was a long time ago... we have a party tonight, and it is UNCATERED."

In the end, this was the first large-scale awareness event on Bhopal in Austin. A new Bhopal coalition with a couple of student organizations, several hundred students and a half dozen faculty members is in sight. Next semester will see more focused actions in each department while targeting key faculty and classes. A successful divestment appeal by the student body is our first major goal. And until then and beyond, AID Austin will not and not let anyone else forget - Bhopal.

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Reverberating the Change - One Signature at a Time
(click here for photos!)

During the week of Bhopal's 19th anniversary, as a part of AID Austin's first large-scale event to raise awareness about the Bhopal Gas tragedy, we had collected 225 signatures for a petition to initiate a divestment campaign at the University of Texas at Austin. The petition appealed to the University to refuse donations from Dow Corporation until the company cleaned up the Bhopal site in India and the Tittabawassee river floodplain in Michigan U.S.A. Encouraged by Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla winning the prestigious Goldman Environmental prize we were back building awareness and following up on the campaign, as a part of the Bhopal week of action.

On May 30th, 2004, in a busy area of the University campus, volunteers took turns calling for peoples attention and asking for their signatures. Responses to our "Excuse me Madam/Sir, Would you like to sign a petition protesting one of the world's worst industrial disasters" varied. Many of them had us pleasantly surprised by the intensity of their support. People stopped by and listened, some signed the petition and wished us luck.

"Against Dow!! Just show me where to sign"
"Seems like a good cause to me, I'll sign"
"I am informed enough and want to support"
"If Dow stops funding, won't it hurt the University?"
"I support you, but the University is my employee. So sorry, I cannot sign"
"If the University refuses funds from Dow, where will it get the funds from?
"It will increase the tuition, the brunt of which we will have to bear"

Of course, some just walked away; some were busy running for their classers and tests, but still wished us well . In four hours, we had collected some 300 signatures (bringing the total to 525), been humbled by unexpected generosities and bolstered by their support. At the end of the day we were satisfied in doing our small part to support and strengthen the campaign, touched, perhaps more, by the things we cannot assign a count on. Our goal now is to spread this campaign to different diverse groups on campus and build support to endorse the petition. The plan is to introduce the petition sometime early fall.

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Anniversary Vigil & Letters to Dow

December 3rd, 2005 marked the 21st anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy. AID-Austin commemorated the event by holding a candlelight vigil, which was attended by twenty-five people. One individual read poetry, while others read survivor stories, while another sang a song of inspiration and hope. Being the Global Day of Action, a few AID-Austin volunteers held a day-long fast in solidarity with the Bhopal survivors.

Attendees of the vigil also had an opportunity to write messages in two different diaries, one for the Bhopal survivors, and one for Dow, respectively.

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Stavropoulos: A Wanted Man

In April 2004, the members of the AID-Austin chapter wanted to inform people about the crimes of Dow and its CEO, Stavropoulos, in Bhopal, so they did what any public marshal would have done in the West: they tacked up "Wanted" signs at their local post office!

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Screening of "Bhopal Express" With Survivors

On Sunday, April 27, 2003, members of the AID-Austin chapter organized a screening of Bhopal Express, collecting donations that were given to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal. The screening, a part of the women survivors tour in the US, was followed by an informal discussion with Krishnaveni Gundu, the US Coordinator for ICJB, and Bhopal survivors Rashida Bi and Champa Devi.

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Vigil Marks Indefinite Fast in Delhi

On April 11, 2006, 22 members of the AID Austin chapter and other Bhopal supporters gathered on the UT Austin campus to hold a solemn vigil in support of the indefinite fast begun by six Bhopal survivors and supporters in Delhi. The indefinite fast follows the epic 500-mile March to Delhi undertaken by several dozen gas- and water-affected Bhopal survivors. Similar vigils in support were held in the Bay Area, Boston, Seattle, College Park, Houston, and other cities across the country.

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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