Students host Bhopal anniversary vigil

Mike Jeffers, the Daily Texan, December 4, 2007
Members of a student organization hosted a candlelight vigil on the South Mall Monday in remembrance of the industrial disaster in Bhopal, India.
Members of the UT chapter of the Association for India’s Development, a student organization that according to its Web site “fights the problems of poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and other problems facing India’s development,” hosted the vigil 23 years after the industrial disaster in Bhopal that immediately killed and sickened thousands of people.
It was one of the worst industrial accidents in history, and the organization said a similar incident could occur today.
Four thousand people died immediately, and another 3,000 died in the following days, according to estimates by the Indian government. According to the association, more than 22,000 have died to date.
The accident was caused by a leak of methyl isocyanate gas from the Union Carbide plant on the night of Dec. 2, 1984.
The Union Carbide factory has since been purchased by The Dow Chemical Company. Union Carbide claims an employee
sabotaged the line that caused the leak and then the Indian government blocked the investigation. But members of the association say that Dow has not fulfilled its responsibility to the victims of the Bhopal accident.
“We are asking Dow Chemical first and foremost to take responsibility, and we also do not want them to invest in India,” said Pragya Bhagat, a UT alumna and member of the association. “We also want to make people aware that this type of accident can happen anywhere, even in Texas.”
After graduating from UT, Bhagat spent six months in India interning at the Sambhavna Trust Clinic, which provides free treatment to the gas survivors in Bhopal.
“I got to participate in the grassroots activism at the ground level of the movement, and I saw the stark reality of how children are still being born with physical and mental deformities,” Bhagat said. “Now, 23 years later, [that] children are still being born with problems is actually horrid.”
Union Carbide said in a statement on its Web site, “The 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India, was a terrible tragedy which understandably continues to evoke strong emotions even 23 years later.”
A monetary settlement was made with the Indian government and Union Carbide, but victims have not been compensated.
“The perpetrators of this incident, Union Carbide, the people responsible, have never been brought to justice,” said professor Itty Abraham, director of the South Asia Institute in the College of Liberal Arts.
Student Government passed a resolution in 2006 that called upon the University to require Dow to match its contributions to the University with contributions to Bhopal, according to a Daily Texan article.
Bhagat said, despite the backing of the student body, the administration has not altered its policy toward accepting money from Dow.
Besides remembering the victims of Bhopal, attendees of the vigil want to ensure that a similar incident does not happen again.
“It’s not a question of if this could happen, it’s when,” Abraham said. “We know there is a level of risk. Part of that risk comes from the fact that large, complex systems can fail.”

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