Survivors and families of the Union Carbide Corpora-tion (UCC)/Dow Chemical plant disaster at Bhopal in India, and their international supporters, have been celebrating victory after their most recent campaign of hunger strikes.
On Monday, the Indian Prime Minister agreed to provide clean drinking water, and a clean-up of toxic waste in Bhopal.
Messages of support and congratulations have poured onto the Bhopal campaigners website.
Thirty-nine victims of Union Carbide’s poisons, and eight survivors, marched 800 km in 33 days to arrive in New Delhi on 25th March, 2006.
Since 29th March, 2006, Bhopal survivors and supporters had been on indefinite strike near the Parliament House in New Delhi.
On 11th April, six people, including three victims and three supporters, began an indefinite fast, in which they were joined by Diane Wilson from the US starting 13th April.
American supporters of the Bhopal hunger strike on Tuesday claimed victory along with Bhopal hunger strikers as the Indian government conceded to survivor demands for clean drinking water, clean-up of toxic waste, establishing national commission for medical and economic rehabilitation, and declaring December 3rd a National Day of mourning for the victims of the 1984 chemical disaster.
In support of Bhopal survivors, concerned Americans and non-resident Indians from 17 cities across the US (Washington DC, New York, Boston, Austin, Houston, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta, Tempe, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Princeton, Ann Arbor and Chicago) called off demonstrations and vigils.
They have been contacting the Indian Embassy and Consulates in the US, calling and e-mailing, since February 20th, urging the Indian government to address the issues raised by the Bhopalis.
Over 400 international supporters pledged to fast for at least a day in solidarity with the Bhopal hunger strikers and bombarded the Prime Ministers office in Delhi with over 2,600 faxes.
The hunger strike followed a month-long 500-mile march from Bhopal to New Delhi.
Champa Devi Shukla, a Bhopal survivor who lost her husband in the disaster and a winner of the 2004 prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and a hunger striker said: ‘Dow should beware now because all our energies will be focused on putting the brakes on Dow’s business in India.’
After their meeting with the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, the Bhopal survivors called off further scheduled plans for hunger strikes, when the Prime Minister conceded to four of the six long standing demands of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) on April 17th, 2006.
Three Bhopal activists left immediately for Bhopal to accompany a high-level team led by Secretary, Ministry of Chemicals, to finalise details regarding provision of safe water and the participation of survivors in the construction of a memorial in Bhopal.
‘It’s a momentous victory for the indefatigable spirit of the Bhopalis.
‘This campaign showed that the world is watching and the governments cannot flee from taking responsibility of its own citizens.
‘It is a pity that it required a long march, hunger strike and the intervention of the Prime Minister to achieve what the government should have legitimately provided long ago.
‘It shows that we have further challenges ahead,’ said Kirankumar Vissa, Director of the Association for India’s Development (AID, an organisation of Indians living in the US with 40 chapters, a member of ICJB).
‘This triumph was a result of the determined struggle of the Bhopalis, which was bolstered by an internationally coordinated campaign to bring justice in Bhopal,’ added Ryan Bodanyi, Coordinator of Students for Bhopal, an ICJB member.
The Prime Minister refused to grant the demand to prosecute Union Carbide Corporation (UCC)/Dow Chemical and former Carbide CEO Warren Anderson.
Additionally he did not agree to a ban on further business with UCC/Dow Chemical.
Bhopal survivors quoted the Prime Minister as telling them he was powerless to hold UCC or its owner Dow Chemical accountable.
The Prime Minister told them that he would not promise to prosecute because India has to do business despite these tragedies.
He told them he would explore whatever options existed within the law to hold the UCC/Dow Chemical accountable.
‘Encouraging as is the break through of the Bhopali survivors with key demands involving environmental clean up, economic rehabilitation, and adequate medical care, there remains the dilemma of what to do about a rogue corporation, named Dow Chemical, which has refused to recognise its continuing liability for this 21 year old catastrophe,’ said Ward Morehouse author of the Bhopal Reader and Bhopal Tragedy.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh conceded to four out of six demands of the Bhopal survivors on Monday.
He assured a ten-member delegation consisting of Union Carbide’s victims and supporters who met him for 30 minutes that the demands relating to clean water, clean-up of toxic wastes, and the setting up of a national commission for medical and economic rehabilitation will be met.
Separately, the Madhya Pradesh government announced the allotment of Rs. 100 crores for the construction of a memorial in Bhopal, and Bhopalis have been told that the story of the Bhopal disaster will be included in educational curricula developed by the National Council of Educational Research and Training.
The Prime Minister, however, said he was powerless to take any extra-legal measures to hold Union Carbide or its owner Dow Chemical accountable.
‘I don’t promise to prosecute. We have to do business. India has to survive despite these tragedies,’ Manmohan Singh said in response to a demand by survivors that Union Carbide and Dow Chemical should be held liable for the continuing disaster in Bhopal.
Singh, however, said he would explore whatever options existed within the law to hold the company accountable.
‘We are ashamed and outraged that the Prime Minister of the world’s largest democracy has openly admitted to his inability to pressure an American multinational.
‘At a time when India is set to more than double its industrial capacity, the Prime Minister’s reluctance to take extra-legal measures to pressure multinational corporations is deplorable and should set the alarm bells ringing,’ said Satinath Sarangi, one of the six hunger strikers and 39 people who walked from Bhopal to New Delhi.
‘It doesn’t make any sense to direct our protests on the matter of corporate accountability towards a man who has expressed his powerlessness on this matter.’
The Bhopal campaigners have, therefore, resolved to take direct and legal action against Dow and Union Carbide’s businesses nationally and internationally over the coming months.