• India Together coverage of Bhopal
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  • Texas fisherwoman joins relay fast over Bhopal
    Ms Diane Wilson has joined demands that liabilities from pending charges on Bhopal should be transferred to Dow Chemicals, the new owner of Union Carbide Corporation.

    20 JULY, 2002: For the last two days, Diane Wilson, a fourth generation shrimper from Sea Drift, Texas, has abandoned the waters of San Antonio Bay – swelled by five to ten million gallons of industrial effluent each day from a local canal – and begun a hunger strike outside Union Carbide’s Sea Drift chemical plant, one of the area’s chief polluters. Her action launches a worldwide hunger strike being conducted in relays around the globe by supporters of survivors of Union Carbide’s 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal, India.

    The first hunger-strike began in New Delhi on 8 June 2002 when two women gas survivors from Bhopal Tara Bai, 35, and Rashida Bi, 46, together with long time Bhopal activist Satinath (Sathyu) Sarangi, 48, sat outside the Indian Parliament and pledged to fast until the Government ensured that justice would be done in Bhopal. Specifically they demanded that Government reverse its decision to dilute outstanding criminal charges against ex-CEO of Union Carbide Warren Anderson and move swiftly to extradite him; that the Indian Government should hold Dow Chemicals, Carbide’s new owners, liable for Carbide’s actions in Bhopal; that money for the relief of gas victims should not be distributed in non gas-affected areas of the city and that Dow Chemical should be made to pay for the clean-up of Carbide’s abandoned factory. On 16 July after eighteen days without food, the two women hunger strikers collapsed during a mass rally and were taken to hospital. Next day, after the Bhopal court accepted the survivors’ petition opposing the Government’s move and adjourned its decision until 27 August, and after the Government gave way on the demand regarding the distribution of money, the third hunger striker, Sathyu, broke his fast with orange juice.

    The worldwide fast in solidarity with the three began immediately with Diane Wilson of Sea Drift, Texas, leading the way. The hunger strikers allege that the government’s decisions are a direct result of behind-the-scenes pressure by Dow Chemical, who made Union Carbide a wholly owned subsidiary in February 2001. Until now, criminal proceedings against Union Carbide were difficult to enforce legally because, though the accused refuse to appear in Court, Union Carbide no longer has any assets in India. However, Dow's $10 billion acquisition of Union Carbide opened the possibility of enforcing criminal liability against the corporation as Dow has four subsidiaries and substantial assets in India. It is believed that an intensified campaign by the Bhopal survivors and their international supporters to hold Dow liable for the crimes of Carbide has caused Dow's insecurity and hence their pressure on the Government of India to effectively close the files.

    Ms Wilson has joined demands that Warren Anderson, former Union Carbide CEO, who is absconding from an Indian court, be extradited to face charges of culpable homicide filed 11 years ago, and also that liabilities from pending charges should be transferred to Dow Chemicals, the new owner of Union Carbide Corporation. “An injustice to one is an injustice to all,” she said as she began her hunger strike, “and as a symbol of injustice, Bhopal is unfinished business”. She took on the fast after two women hunger strikers in Delhi – protesting an Indian Government move to dilute the charge against Anderson to criminal negligence, a non-extraditable offence – collapsed and were hospitalised after 18 days without food.

    Union Carbide also faces Bhopal-related charges in the New York District Court due to a class action suit filed by individual plaintiffs that accuses the company of deliberately leaving gross levels of contamination in and around their abandoned Indian factory. “Carbide are poisoning gas survivors all over again,” Ms Wilson rages. “Greenpeace traced 12 volatile organic chemicals found in local people’s water to the site, and mercury has been found in mothers’ breast milk. The Dow Chemical Company has taken over Union Carbide’s liabilities in at least three US cases but when it comes to the Indian victims of Bhopal, Dow says that it owes nothing. Incredibly, Dow’s CEO Michael Parker insists that compensation money intended for the Bhopal gas survivors - some of the poorest people in the world - should pay for the clean up.”

    To date, 94 percent of the Bhopal survivors - 150,000 of whom are seriously and chronically ill - have received all of $500 for their lifetime loss of health and livelihood. According to Bhopal campaigner Satinath Sarangi, who has just ended nineteen days on hunger strike in New Delhi, “because an exemplary punishment of Carbide/Dow would set limits on the conduct of other multi-national corporations, and so affect their profits, the United States administration has openly and blatantly pressured the Indian government to hinder the course of justice in Bhopal.” Diane Wilson plans to continue her fast for as long as it takes.

    July 2002