Hungry for Justice

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Feature story - 8 May, 2003
Eight days into an indefinite hunger strike, two survivors of the world's worst chemical disaster in Bhopal, India brought the disaster home to top executives of Dow Chemical. The survivors addressed shareholders and leadership at Dow's Annual General Meeting at its headquarters in the US , demanding that the company take responsibility for the health consequences and environmental impacts of its operations in Bhopal and other communities around the world that have been poisoned by Dow.

Bhopal survivors and activists start their hunger strike on Wall Street.

In the lead up to the Dow corporate jamboree at its Annual General Meeting [AGM] on May 8th, Rasheeda Bee, Champa Devi and Satinath Sarangi brought some hard-hitting realities to Dow on its home turf. They began a satyagraha (fast for justice or hunger strike) to highlight the unresolved responsibilities of Dow Chemical in the ongoing Bhopal disaster.

Lax safety standards and cost cutting at the Union Carbide (now owned by Dow) Bhopal plant caused the gas disaster in 1984. Union Carbide promptly fled India leaving tonnes of toxic waste at the factory site and escaped paying a relative pittance (US$300-500) in damages to survivors. The factory site continues to bleed poisons into the groundwater of Bhopal and residents use this polluted water every day. One person every day dies from the effects of the ongoing disaster. Dow took over Union Carbide in 2001 but recently a Dow spokesperson claimed, "We view the situation as resolved".

"A hunger strike is our way of emphasising the truth that the tragedy in Bhopal continues, and that Dow as Carbide's new owner is now responsible for ensuring that justice is done in Bhopal," said Rasheeda Bee. The hunger strikers are part of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.

This is the latest in a series of actions taken by the survivors to obtain justice from Dow chemical. Forty-six-year-old Rasheeda has lost five gas-exposed family members to cancers since the disaster. Partially blinded, she suffers psychiatric and respiratory problems due to exposure to Carbide's gases. This hunger strike is not the first time she has undertaken an ordeal. Last year she fasted along with Satinath for 19 days in the fierce Indian summer heat and in Bhopal she is legendary for having once led several hundred women and children on a month-long march to Delhi to demand justice for the survivors.

Satinath was a brilliant metallurgical engineer, but he gave up everything to help the gas-affected of Bhopal. He came to the city the day after the disaster and has stayed ever since. He now runs a clinic to treat survivors in Bhopal.

Rasheeda, Satinath, and Champa will continue their hunger strike indefinately and at the Dow AGM on May 8th they hope to meet with Dow Chairman William Stavropoulos to press their demands. They want Dow to arrange for long-term economic and medical rehabilitation and medical monitoring, to clean up toxic wastes and contaminated groundwater, and to face trial in the Indian courts.

Slideshow on the Bhopal disaster:

Immediate aftermath and the tragic effects of an avoidable disaster.

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