Dow gets what it deserves

Feature story - 2 December, 2002
Eighteen years is a long time to wait for anything. If you are waiting for the day your drinking water is free of poisons, a time when you have more than a few dollars compensation to help relieve the pain of chronic illnesses and an environment not littered with toxic wastes, then it is an eternity. When the company responsible for 18 years of suffering is the world's richest chemical company there is a clear message - Dow clean up Bhopal now!

Victims of the Bhopal disaster protest outside Dow's headquarters in Bombay.

The survivors of the Bhopal disaster are definitely not ones to suffer in silence while Dow ignores its responsibility. Hundreds of women survivors marched today to the Indian headquarters of Dow and delivered polluted soil and water from around the abandoned factory with the traditional message of "Jhadoo Maro Dow Ko" or "Dow, clean up your mess".

The women also carried 'Jhadoo' or tradional brooms (a feared symbol of Indian women's power) collected from across the country to symbolize the demand that Dow should clean up Bhopal.

Champa Devi, who survived the Bhopal disaster and led the women in the procession, said: "We're delivering this toxic soil and water to Dow to urge the company to save thousands of lives in Bhopal by cleaning up the dangerous chemicals that have been dumped in Bhopal. Ever since the horrific night of the gas leak we, the people who survived, and our children, have been slowly poisoned by them. They've seeped into our water and have now been found in mother's milk. It's time Dow stopped killing us and put an end to our tragedy by cleaning up the site. Until it does, we cannot move on with our lives."

"In India, the broom is a woman's symbol of power. Being struck by a jhadoo is the ultimate insult, and we feel that Dow deserves this treatment. By delivering jhadoos to Dow, we're telling the company to clean up its mess in Bhopal or be prepared to be swept off the planet," added Champa Devi.

The soil and ground water in and around the deserted Union Carbide pesticide factory is contaminated by hundreds of tonnes of hazardous waste. The company left the waste strewn around the site when it fled the city in 1984 after a gas leak at its Bhopal pesticide plant caused the world's worst industrial disaster, killing 20,000 people to date.

At least one person a day still dies from gas exposure related diseases and 150,000 are in urgent need of medical attention. Hundreds of families living near the site still routinely use the poisoned water.

Since taking over Union Carbide in 2001 Dow has only offered sympathetic words to the people suffering in Bhopal. Why is it so reluctant to spend a fraction of their huge profits to finally clean up Bhopal and close this dark chapter in the history of the chemical industry?

Slideshow on the Bhopal disaster:

Immediate aftermath and the tragic effects of an avoidable disaster.