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Atlanta Joins The World In Remembering Bhopal

January 2004
Atlanta Joins The World In Remembering Bhopal

December 3rd, 2003 was a cold, windy and rainy evening in Atlanta. Bundled up in hooded coats and gloves, nearly 30 brave souls lit candles in the Unity Plaza and remembered tens of thousands who were killed and are still suffering in Bhopal, the site of one of the worst industrial disasters in the world. The vigil, organized on the 19th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster by Association for India's Development (AID), Atlanta along with the Greens of GSU, started appropriately with a moment of silence, with gentle background music of one of Gandhiji's favorite bhajans played on a mandolin.

This event at Georgia State University was in response to a call for action by the International Coalition for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB). Various groups organized over 65 events in 16 countries to observe this day. The Global Day of Action demanded that Dow Chemicals (a U.S. company which now owns Union Carbide and its assets) take responsibility for the health care of the survivors and for cleaning up contamination abandoned by Union Carbide. The soil and water pollution means that the local residents are still forced to drink water containing lead and mercury. Even breast milk contains these chemicals. It is no wonder many call the place the "Hiroshima of the Chemical Industry."

There is still a pending criminal case and extradition orders against Warren Anderson, retired CEO of Union Carbide in Indian courts. The compensation that many survivors received did not even cover their medical expenses. Though Dow Chemicals has set aside $2 billion to address Carbide's asbestos liabilities in Texas, it refuses to have anything to do with the Bhopal disaster.

The vigil participants recounted the horrible night on December 3, 1984 in Bhopal as they read personal testimonies of survivors. One of the stories was by Jewan Shinde, who lived in Teela Jamalpura, Bhopal and was a 32 year old auto-rickshaw driver when the lethal gas leaked. "Around 2:30a.m. I suddenly awoke ? there was screaming and shouting of "bhago, yaha se bhago". (Run, run away from here)? By this time smoke had started seeping through from under the door. It felt like someone was burning chilies.

Outside everyone was running, screaming, nothing could be seen - the thick fog hung everywhere. I cannot tell you what state people were in. The roads were full of people. The stampede of the dead and living.���By the time I got home my eyes were swollen and were red like tomatoes. I will never forget what I have seen."

The second part of the event attracted additional people and screened the BBC documentary, "Hunting Warren Anderson."���The organizers shared updates about recent actions taken by U.S. Congresspersons, investor groups to Dow, and the growing international campaign for the people in Bhopal. After Q&A, everyone in the room got a chance to add an observation or comment ranging from students who had never heard of Bhopal and were wondering why this was not included in their curriculum to others who pledged to put more pressure on Dow. Everyone seemed to sympathize with the survivors of Bhopal and to appreciate the resolve of the people of Bhopal to keep fighting after almost two decades and to continue to demand that the Indian government and courts cooperate with them in their struggle for justice.

The gathering in Atlanta was also supported by Atlanta Jobs with Justice, Environmental Law Society of GSU, Solidarity, Power of Women, Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) and Raksha, Inc. Please visit www.bhopal.net for more information about the issue and how you can help. For more information on this event or the local A.I.D. chapter, write to Atlanta@aidindia.org or visit www.aidindia.org/atlanta. Association of India's Development supports sustainable development in India.

-Alka Roy

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