Bhopal survivors tour U.S., target Dow

SOUTHFIELD, Mich.— “Dow [Chemical] must face criminal trial,” Satinath Sarangi, an activist on behalf of Bhopal’s disaster victims, told a gathering of union activists here on May 7. It was hosted by HERE Local 24 and sponsored by local chapters of the U.S. Peace Council and Jobs with Justice.

Sarangi is on a solidarity-building and fund-raising tour with members of Bhopal Gas Affected Women’s Stationary Workers Association and the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

Late on Dec. 2 and early on Dec. 3, 1984, tons of poisonous gases leaked from a Union Carbide pesticides plant in Bhopal, India. Within three days 8,000 people were killed. Over 20,000 people have died as a direct result of the disaster, and as many as 500,000 have been adversely affected because of contamination which caused lingering health disorders, and the ecological disaster.

Union Carbide officials were brought up on criminal charges of manslaughter and were ordered to pay for medical and economic rehabilitation for the victims.

Just before the disaster, a series of cost-cutting measures, all approved by Union Carbide’s U.S. corporate headquarters, saw the elimination of safety and maintenance personnel and crucial safety equipment. Sarangi said the safety systems were “severely compromised” in order to save a few dollars a day in costs.

In the 1990s, Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide but refused to accept its liabilities. Dow Chemical has simply failed to accept financial or criminal responsibility for one of the deadliest corporate crimes in human history, Sarangi pointed out.

To make matters worse, Sarangi continued, they have attempted to blame the victims of the disaster for the gas leak. Dow’s position is a “disgruntled worker” caused the leak. However Union Carbide documents show they knew the plant was dangerous.

Dow Chemical should also be held responsible for the tons of toxic waste that have leaked into the soil and ground water in the area surrounding Bhopal, Sarangi said. Court documents show that Union Carbide corporate officials knew that what they were doing was killing the local wildlife.

Sarangi told the gathering that this corporate crime was a severe attack on workers’ rights and health. He said, “making unions stronger is the way to get ahead and we should be together.” He urged union members to learn more about Bhopal and write letters to the editors demanding that Dow face criminal charges in India and that it face its responsibilities. He also suggested writing to the Indian Embassy at Consular Wing, 2536 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20008 or by e-mail to consular@indiangov.org.

Readers can find more information and sign the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal’s petition at: www.bhopal.net.

Be warned: Dow Chemical has a website at www.bhopal.com.

The author can be reached at jwendland@politicalaffairs.net