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U.S., Global Activists Support Bhopal Survivors

India West, News Report, Ashfaque Swapan Posted: Dec 11, 2009

Its been 25 years, and its been a classic David-and-Goliath fight.

On one side is Dow Chemical, the Midland, Mich.-based chemical behemoth. On the other side are strident supporters of mostly underprivileged survivors of the worlds greatest industrial disaster that took place Dec. 3, 1984 in the Madhya Pradesh capital of Bhopal.

Dow refuses to accept any legal liability for what happened to the Union Carbide plant 25 years ago or its aftermath, despite the fact that it bought the parent company.

But Bhopal survivors and their supporters have refused to go away. Over the years, their cause has struck a chord with many around the world who have built a formidable global coalition of activists.

On the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, activists in San Francisco and Berkeley Dec. 3 joined thousands of supporters around the world in an International Day of Action to pressure Dow Chemical (the current owner of Union Carbide) to clean up the water in Bhopal and face criminal charges in India.

In India, angry survivors joined the protests, demanding those responsible be finally brought to book, as Parliament saluted the memory of the victims of "one of the most harrowing man-made tragedies." (See separate story.)

The 25th Anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster isn't just about remembering the horrific disaster that happened in 1984 or the 25 years of ongoing contamination, death, and hardship for the people of Bhopal, Shana Ortman, U.S. coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, told India-West. This anniversary is also about remembering and celebrating the 25 years of a powerful and courageous survivor-led international movement for justice.

Twenty-seven tons of lethal gases leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide factory, immediately killing 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others. The area was never cleaned up, and nearly 150,000 people, including children of survivors, continue to suffer, supporters of Bhopal survivors say.

Twenty-five years have passed since that cursed night and there are two toxic disasters that continue to ravage us and our unborn in Bhopal, Satinath Sarangi, a key activist and supporter of Bhopal disaster survivors, told India-West when reached in Bhopal. The American corporations that are the authors of our endless suffering and continuing death, have shown only apathy towards the Bhopalis and contempt towards Indian courts.

As hundreds of protesters marched in Bhopal, one of the most sustained, longest running movements for environmental justice under the broad rubric of the International Campaign for Justice has drawn some serious attention. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh commemorated the victims in a statement and pledged to continue support, while in the U.S., Sen. Frank Lautenberg and Rep. Frank Pallone, both New Jersey Democrats, have voiced strong support. (See separate stories.)

Bhopal supporters are citing two reports by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment and the U.K.-based Bhopal Medical Appeal, which they say confirm a second chemical disaster in Bhopal, caused by contamination of soil and groundwater by Carbide's toxic wastes. The BMA report, incorporating results of three water samples tested in a Swiss laboratory, found that levels of carbon tetrachloride and chloroform in the groundwater has increased over the years. This, according to BMA, indicates that the Union Carbide site has been leaking poisons for more than two decades.

Over 150 events were planned around the globe, from Bhopal to London, and San Francisco to Tel Aviv.

In San Francisco, 25 people, each representing 1,000 people who have died in Bhopal, participated in a mass Die-In in Union Square at 11:55 a.m. Dec. 3, the exact 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, covering themselves in white sheets to symbolize those who have died due to Dows negligence.

In Berkeley, Calif., 40 people participated in a candlelit vigil later at the University of California campus.

Boston 4 Bhopal hosted a Fast for Bhopal rally in Copley Square at 12:00 p.m. Dec. 3. Participants fasted, signed petitions, exhibited photos and staged a Die-In.

Yes Men led an action in New York City with hundreds of students. The students spelled out DOW while others held signs saying, Clean up Bhopal.

Amnesty International and Students for Bhopal in Toronto held a rally and vigil with speakers outside the Indian Consulate.

Events were also held in Berlin at the Brandenburg Gate and in London at Trafalgar Square

Ortman told India-West the whole point of the exercise was to generate awareness. It's important to do everything we can to bring and keep Bhopal in the hearts and minds of Americans, she said. It is easy to villainize the terrorists responsible for attacks like Madrid and London, but when the evil-doer is an American corporation, we aren't so quick to call for their judgment. The deplorable influence that industry has on the U.S. government and media becomes very obvious.

Related Articles:

20 Years After Bhopal, Women Survivors Globalize Fight for Justice

Recreating the Bhopal Gas Leak in the Nevada Desert

Bhopal Survivors Begin Hunger Strike on Wall Street

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