Cambridge, MA - Outraged at the June 7 decision by an Indian local court to convict 7 former officials of Union Carbide of India Limited of criminal negligence in the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy rather than prosecute them on more serious charges for their roles in the deaths of thousands of residents of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, India, over 30 local advocates held a protest in Harvard Square on Thursday. The advocates also expressed anger that former Union Carbide Corp. CEO Warren Anderson remains free despite having a standing warrant out for his arrest in India to this day.
The demonstration was one of many that have been held around the world since the verdict.
The Bhopal disaster occurred on December 2-3, 1984 after a leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other toxins at the Union Carbide pesticide plant spread throughout crowded urban neighborhoods in that city. Counts of the dead and wounded during and since the gas release vary widely, but local organizers stated that as many as 23,000 people have died and 500,000 have been injured. Despite many years of lobbying and protest by the survivors and their allies, Union Carbide emerged from the crisis largely unscathed, and Dow Chemical Company - which bought Union Carbide in 2001 - has insisted that it bears no responsibility for the disaster, since it didn't own the Bhopal plant in 1984.
After encouraging attendees to form a circle, Somnath Mukherji of the Association for India's Development Boston Chapter was the first in a series of speakers at Harvard Square protest, "The verdict against the accused has been a mockery of justice. And this has been possible because the people who died or were severely affected were the poor. Dow would have certainly not bought Union Carbide in 2001, if it had committed the same crime in the United States. It is unimaginable how the survivors of Bhopal have been fighting this battle against the collusion of governments and corporate interests. I salute to the resilience of the survivors' groups. We join them in demanding proper compensation and rehabilitation, setting up of an Empowered Commission to overlook the process and that Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, pay for the clean up of the factory site."
Tathagata Sengupta of AID Boston said, "The Bhopal gas disaster is the biggest industrial disaster in the history of mankind. It is in fact no less than a mass murder, since Union Carbide had been repeatedly warned by its employees, scientists and journalists on its cost-cutting measures, and that such a disaster was always on the cards. The fact that the Indian government has, in full knowledge of every detail, let Union Carbide and Dow Chemical off the hook in terms of bringing the guilty to justice, and also cleaning up the site of the plant, which, even 26 years after the tragedy, witnesses death, disability and poisoning in a mass scale, goes to show that the single-point agenda of the State is to appease the corporations, even if it requires sacrificing hundreds of thousands of people at the altar of "development". We demand that both the corporates and the government be made answerable to the people, the site of the factory be cleaned by Dow Chemical and the guilty be brought to justice and the survivors and families of the dead be provided with adequate compensation and medical facilities."
Leonid Chindelevitch of the Boston Coalition for Justice in Bhopal said, "The latest chapter of the Bhopal tragedy is unfolding before us right now. Those responsible for it are either completely being let off the hook or given minimal penalties, while the ongoing issues of corporate accountability, as well as the provision of clean water, adequate healthcare and economic rehabilitation for the survivors remain completely unaddressed."
Saif Pathan with AID Boston connected the local action to the many other protests taking place around since the contested ruling, "We protest in solidarity with hundreds of thousands of people in Bhopal and around the world to demonstrate to Dow Chemical and the Union Government of India that we are not going to stand by and watch the mockery of Justice and Basic human decency that the current ruling in the Bhopal case has done to the Bhopal tragedy. We are not going to stop until the people of Bhopal are completely and judiciously compensated for the disaster and the aftermath of toxic wastes, clean up of the factory site is done by Dow Chemical, and rules and regulation are brought in place to prevent such a catastrophe to happen anywhere in India."
PremNandhini Satgunam of the Alliance for Secular and Democratic South Asia said, "We are gathered here to show our support to the victims and surviovrs of the Bhopal Gas disaster after the recent outrageous verdict from the Indian government. We are also here to demand justice for the survivors and are here to urge Dow Chemical to do what is justful, which is clean up the toxic site in Bhopal - with its own money and not from the tax payers money in India."
The MIT Chapter of Amnesty International and several other organizations were also represented at the event.
Following the speeches, the advocates chanted a series of slogans in English and Hindi calling for justice for Bhopal, listed to a couple of protest songs about the disaster, and concluded with a candlelight vigil and a moment of silence for the Bhopal victims.
Organizers plan to remain active in efforts to appeal the court decision, to pressure Dow Chemical for significant reparations to the survivors of the Bhopal disaster and for the complete cleanup of the plant site, and to seek the extradition and trial of former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson.
Dow Chemical did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE (6/28/10, 6:15 p.m.): A few hours after this article was published, Open Media Boston received a communication from Tomm F. Sprick, director of the Union Carbide Information Center. In it he reiterated Dow Chemical's position on the Bhopal tragedy.
"Dow Chemical has no liabilities regarding the tragedy through Union Carbide. Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide in 2001, more than a decade after Union Carbide settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470 million and seven years after Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) became Eveready Industries India Limited. Dow never owned or operated the UCIL plant site."
Sprick then issued the following statement from Union Carbide on the recent court ruling, "By requirement of the Government of India, the Bhopal plant was detail designed, owned, operated and managed on a day-to-day basis by UCIL and its employees. All the appropriate people from UCIL -- officers and those who actually ran the plant on a daily basis -- have appeared to face charges.
"Union Carbide and its officials were not part of this case since the charges were divided long ago into a separate case. Furthermore, Union Carbide and its officials are not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court since they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant, which was owned and operated by UCIL.
"***Also please note: In 1994, Union Carbide sold its entire stake in UCIL to MacLeod Russell (India) Limited, which renamed the company, Eveready Industries India, Limited (Eveready Industries). In 1998, the state government of Madhya Pradesh took over the Bhopal site from Eveready Industries."