Student protesters draw attention to Bhopal gas disaster

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The Association for India’s Development and the Austin chapter of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal raised awareness of the 1984 industrial disaster in Bhopal on the West Mall Monday afternoon. People covered by blankets represented the 20,000 people who died from the gas leaks and the 200,000 who are still suffering.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

Student protesters lay down and covered themselves in shrouds, sheets used to cover dead bodies in India, in the middle of the West Mall on Monday in protest of the minimal amount of compensation given to thousands of people affected by the Bhopal gas disaster in India 28 years ago.

The Austin chapter of the Association for India’s Development has held the protest each year since 2008 to protest the lack of effort to clean up and compensate those affected by a 1984 toxic gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The disaster resulted in 8,000 deaths within 72 hours and 25,000 to date. At least 150,000 people have been further affected by the disaster through diseases, and 347 tons of gas still lie exposed at the site, according to the organization.

The company responsible for the disaster, Union Carbide Corporation, has not appeared at court proceedings in India for trials related to the disaster and has done little to try to compensate the people affected for the destruction, said Parvathy Prem, an aerospace engineering graduate student who helped organize the event.

“They paid an out-of-court settlement of $470 million, which is nothing,” Prem said. “[That amount of money] means seven cents per day.” 

According to a statement released by Union Carbide earlier this year, the legal issues surrounding the disaster were settled years ago.

“The 1984 gas leak in Bhopal was a terrible tragedy that understandably continues to evoke strong emotions even 28 years later,” the release stated. “In the wake of the gas release, Union Carbide Corporation, and then-chairman Warren Anderson, worked diligently to provide aid to the victims and set up a process to resolve their claims. All claims arising out of the release were settled 21 years ago at the explicit direction of and with the approval of the Supreme Court of India.”

From 11 a.m. until 2 p.m., roughly 15 members of the organization lay on the West Mall to simulate corpses. Other members of the group handed out fliers to people passing by and spoke with them about relevant issues. Other organizations around the world also held events to mark the 28th anniversary of the disaster.

Umesh Varma, a member of the Association for India’s Development, participated in the protest as one of the simulated corpses. He said he feels the simulated corpse effort brought attention to the event.

“People wanted to know,” Varma said. “They were curious about what these things were representative of.”

Prem said the organization talked to roughly 60 people Monday.

She said one of the issues the organization raised was the failure of the University to act on initiatives passed in 2006 by Student Government and the Graduate Student Assembly in regard to the disaster. The organizations passed initiatives asking the University to send a public letter to the Dow Chemical Company, which purchased Union Carbide in 2001, and condemn its actions regarding the incident.

According to the initiatives, the Dow Chemical Company was a major contributor to UT, donating at least $4.4 million to the University as of June 30, 2003. Prem said the University never followed through with the letter.

University spokesperson Gary Susswein said UT President William Powers Jr. met with representatives in regard to the initiatives in 2006, but Susswein could not determine what action the University had taken in response to the initiatives by press time.

Printed on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 as: Protestors remember Bhopal