In this issue:
- Supreme Court decision: ‘another black day for justice’ in Bhopal
- In Bhopal, environmental contamination clean-up committee marred by Dow insiders’ presence
- Survivor’s U.S. tour in early spring a success
- Divine Strings: Boston’s soulful benefit concert for Bhopal
- Annual conference of Association for India’s Development: celebration and reflection on 20 years of AID
- A new chapter for ICJB-North America
1. Supreme Court Decision: ‘Another Black Day for Justice’ in Bhopal
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of India dismissed the Indian Government’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) appeal for heightened punishment of eight Union Carbide employees charged with causing death due to negligence as part of the 1984 disaster. The eight men were convicted last year by a Bhopal court, which handed down a sentence with a maximum of 2 years in jail. The Supreme Court gave their original decision in 1996, diluting charges that were left in limbo until they were addressed by last year’s Bhopal court conviction. The CBI petition sought to elevate the charges to culpable homicide (not amounting to murder), which carries a jail term of up to 10 years. Pointing to the well-documented use of untested technologies at the factory and implementation of cost-cutting measures that compromised safety as solid evidence of the accused putting profits over people, the survivors’ organizations called this judgment ‘another black day for justice’ and said they will be weighing their options for further legal examination of this decision. For more information on the judgment, read the survivors’ press statement or activist Shalini Sharma’s blog on the courtroom developments.
2. Survivor's U.S. Tour in Early Spring a Success
Sanjay Verma, survivor, activist, and documentary star, toured the United States from March 17-April 9, battling for public safety in a community vulnerable to a Bhopal-like disaster, and educating a U.S. audience on his personal experience in Bhopal. Originally scheduled to testify against Bayer producing MIC at Bhopal's sister plant in Institute, WV, Sanjay began his journey in West Virginia. In a surprise victory for public safety Friday, March 18, Bayer caved to community demands to halt manufacturing of the deadly chemical, before the hearing was scheduled to begin. Following the West Virgina victory, Sanjay went on a five-city screening tour of Bhopali, Max Carlson's award-winning documentary on the disaster, in which he stars. Highlights of the tour included meeting Martin Sheen and his wife, Janet Sheen, supporters of Carlson’s outstanding work and of the Bhopal campaign. On May 8th, Bhopali won “Best Documentary” at the New York Indian Film Festival.
3. In Bhopal, Environmental Contamination Clean-up Committee Marred by Dow Insiders’ Presence
On May 25, leaders of five Bhopal survivor organizations condemned the recommendations of the government-appointed, seven-member Peer Review Committee (PRC) on remediation of the toxic contamination in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory. In a letter submitted to the Chairman of the Oversight Committee on Bhopal Environmental Rehabilitation, Jairam Ramesh, the organizations charged that the recommendations of the PRC were unscientific, unilaterally decided and were designed to help Dow avoid its Bhopal liabilities by paying a pittance for environmental remediation. Notably, two members of the PRC, Doctor Rama Rao and Professor G.D. Yadav, have significant ties with Dow. Additionally, the majority of PRC members have longstanding ties with the Indian Government’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), which produced an internationally-criticized report on Bhopal’s environmental contamination. The PRC disregarded independent experts' criticism of the report. The survivor groups’ press release emphasized that survivors would not tolerate the implementation of the PRC’s faulty proposal.
4. Divine Strings: Boston’s Soulful Benefit Concert for Bhopal
Divine Strings, a benefit concert featuring Carnatic and Jazz music, was held on May 7 at Northeastern University’s Fenway Auditorium in Boston. Aishwarya Venkataraman, an ever-smiling 18-year-old violinist took center-stage to enthrall a crowd of well over 200 with brilliant artistry. Aishu was accompanied on the Mridangam by her father, Professor Vinod R. Venkataraman; Marc Rossi on the piano; Bob Tamagni on the drums; and Bill Urmson on the electric bass. The concert was divided into two parts: Carnatic – a form of traditional music that originated in the temples of Southern India – as well as a blend of Jazz and Carnatic arrangements, thus combining soulful and complex tones from the East with melodic and groovy musical arrangements from the West. The Boston chapter of ICJB organized this moving event, which helped raise money for the Bhopal survivors.
5. Annual Conference of Association for India’s Development (AID): Celebration and Reflection on 20 Years of AID
A close partner of ICJB, the Association for India’s Development (AID) will be hosting its annual conference at the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass., during the 2011 Memorial Day Weekend (May 28 -May 30). AID is a volunteer movement promoting sustainable, equitable and just development through supporting grassroots organizations in India, with over 1000 volunteers spanning 36 chapters in the U.S. Keynote speakers at the conference are senior staff members from two of AID’s grassroots partners in India: Praful Chandel, Senior Village Coordinator of Jan Swasthya Sahyog (JSS) in Chhattisgarh, a premier rural healthcare organization operating in 50+ villages in central India, and Himanshu Kumar, a Gandhian human rights activist and founder of Vanavasi Chetana Ashram in Chhattisgarh. With special significance to the Bhopal campaign, Rachna Dhingra, a longtime activist, a Jeevansaathi (full-time AID volunteer), and a leader of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, will be coming from Bhopal to join the conference. For additional conference information and online registration, please visit http://conference.aidindia.org/.
6. A New Chapter for ICJB-North America
Beginning May 1, ICJB in North America will transition to a fully volunteer-led organization. The reason for this transition boils down to resources. To be clear, staffing and structure of ICJB-India will not change. Previous U.S. staff Shana Ortman and Claire Rosenfeld, along with six other dedicated Advisory Board members, will continue their involvement as volunteer leadership. Each Advisory Board member will now take on specific roles to ensure that the North American-arm of the campaign continues to work effectively. There are two ways you can support this transition in North America:
- Donate: support from our donors and activists will allow us to remain a vibrant organization that will continue to advocate for the Bhopal survivors in their struggle for justice, as well as the international movement for “No More Bhopals.”
- Volunteer: we have lots of exciting projects which require a range of skills. Use our new email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, to let us know how you’d like to get involved.
While this transition won’t always be easy, we look forward to continuing an open dialogue with our supporters to keep our organization strong. Bhopalis and their supporters have created a global community of activists, which has remained persistent and effective over the past 26 years.