India: Victory for Bhopal survivors


After a massive campaign launched in February by survivors of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, the Indian government announced on August 8 that it would concede their demands to establish an "empowered commission" for rehabilitation of victims and the environment, and pursue legal action against Dow Chemicals.

Thousands of people were killed when a chemical explosion at the Union Carbide pesticide plant filled the city with deadly gases. A further 150,000 people were left with serious disabilities and health problems. Drinking water continues to be contaminated around the site, which was abandoned by the company, poisoning new victims including those born long after the initial disaster.

Union Carbide was taken over by Dow Chemicals in 2007, but Dow has denied any responsibility for the ongoing effects of the horrific incident. The company has refused to clean the site, compensate victims or even provide all the information it has regarding the leaked chemicals and their effects.

The latest chapter in the survivors' ongoing battle for justice began in February with a long march from Bhopal to New Delhi — more than 700 kilometres. The protesters set up camp on the footpath near parliament and refused to leave until the government agreed to their demands.

On June 9, they held a "die-in" in front of the prime minister's office and 36 people were arrested. On June 10, an international hunger strike was launched and the campaign ended in victory on August 8.

Dow Chemicals has also faced substantial resistance in recent years to its attempts to relocate much of its manufacturing and research to India to reduce its labour costs. Protesters have blocked construction of Dow projects, prevented the company from recruiting engineers at Indian universities and forced Indian companies to abandon collaboration with Dow.

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