India: Bhopal gas victims protest to seek Obama’s help

Indo-Asian News Service

Bhopal, November 07, 2010

US President Barack Obama’s visit to India seems to have infused a new zeal in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy survivors who organised a protest in Bhopal on Sunday demanding action against American companies allegedly responsible for the disaster.

Their campaign started gaining momentum a few days before Obama’s arrival.

They demonstrated near the now-shut Union Carbide India factory on Nov 6, the day Obama arrived in Mumbai.

The survivors staged a demonstration on Sunday at Neelam Park in Bhopal, posing as dead bodies.

The survivors have always been unhappy with the Indian government’s stand on not taking action against American companies and are now accusing the US president of adopting “double standards” on industrial disasters.

They are demanding that Obama and the US administration act against the erstwhile Union Carbide, owner of the pesticide plant in the city from which poisonous gas leaked in 1984, and Dow Chemical, which took over Union Carbide in 2001.

“It is understandable that America will not like to take action against a multinational company that plays a vital role in their economy. But that does not mean that our leaders will not raise concern or shy away from initiating talks with them,” said a survivor-turned-activist Abdul Jabbar of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan.

Bhopal tragedy survivors want action against Dow Chemical and erstwhile Union Carbide on the same lines as was proposed by Obama administration against British Petroleum whose oil spill contaminated the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.

Safreen, a resident of Bhopal’s Gupta Nagar is a victim of the tragedy who now runs an organization called Children Against Dow-Carbide, said: “It’s high time we got justice.”

“We are expecting Obama to make both the accused companies – Dow Chemical and Union Carbide – accountable for the Bhopal tragedy,” she said.

Safreen’s mother was partially blinded by the gas leak. The toxic fumes left her father and brother, who was two years of age then, with a chronic heart disease.

Tonnes of poisonous methyl-iso-cyanate gas spewed out of the now-shut pesticide plant of Union Carbide India located in a congested part of Bhopal Dec 2-3 night in 1984, killing over 3,000 people overnight.

In the years that followed, people exposed to the gas kept dying or suffered from life-long ailments and complications. The deaths in the world’s worst industrial disaster are believed to have mounted to about 25,000 over the years.

On June 7, a Bhopal court held seven officials of the Union Carbide India plant and the company itself guilty of criminal negligence and causing the industrial disaster.

But as the guilty were bailed out within minutes of the verdict, survivors and activists called it a mockery of justice.

“If the Indian government is at all sympathetic to Bhopal gas tragedy survivors, then officials will talk to Obama on the issue,” said Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal gas tragedy information cell.

“Obama is only talking about the Mumbai terror attack but the corporations of his country have been terrorizing people of Bhopal for more than 26 years,” said Rashida Bee, a survivor and leader of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, during the Sunday protest.

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