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January 09, 2003 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-01-09

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OP/ED

The Michigan Daily - Thursday, January 9, 2003 - 5A

Bhopal's

chemical

winter

n the night of Dec. 2, 1984 the residents of the vibrant city of
Bhopal in central India awoke to the terror that was the worst
industrial disaster to date. On that night alone, over 8,000 people
perished due to a leak in a Union Carbide Corp. chemical plant. The
aftermath of the disaster has left an estimated 120,000 victims to battle
horrendous deformities, cancers and birth defects. Two years ago, Dow
Chemical Co., based in Midland, acquired Union Carbide. Dow owns
100 percent of Union Carbide, however it will not take the responsibili-
ty to clean up contaminants. Since Dow refuses to release information
about which chemicals were released in the leak, physicians are still
unable to best treat the victims 18 years after the tragedy.
Union Carbide settled with the Indian government in
1989; however, the funds were insufficient for the
victims' medical treatment. The populace of the
city still suffers as it is Mt
forced to drink contain-
inated water and graze
its livestock on tainted r C
land resulting in moret
people falling victim to
ghastly diseases. Dow
refuses to act despite
Bhopalis' protests as
well as thousands of.
others around the
world. Incredulously,
Dow has filed numer
ous suits against sur-
vivors of Bhopal who
were peacefully$#
protesting on the disas-F
ter's anniversary. y f Bhp al,
W Madhya Pradesh
LAXMI KAMBHAMPATI/Da y
VIEWPOINT'
Thne stais of Bliopal

A firsthand account of the site

BY
RAHUL SAKSENA
AND VARUN SHETTY
Here in Ann Arbor, few people are aware of the
worst industrial disaster in history. In fact, most of
the world has chosen to forget about the 1984 tragedy
in Bhopal, India. But in Bhopal, 18 years after a

lethal gas spill from a pes-
ticide factory killed over
20,000 people, not only
does the memory of the
tragedy continue to cause
pain, but so does the
tragedy itself. Because the
area was never properly
cleaned, the inhabitants of,

"The people
Bhopal need
carry their
message."

the region around the factory are still affected by the
poisoned air and water. Just last year, for example,
mercury, lead and organochlorines were found in the
breast milk of local women.
The people of Bhopal have come together to
give a voice to their suffering and pain. They have
come together to find hope, to seek from Dow
Chemical Company, the company now responsible
for the disaster, justice for the distress they have
experienced these past 18 years. For nearly two
decades they have protested for fairness, compensa-
tion and righteousness.
But does the world hear their cries? Is the public
aware of the injury these people have suffered? No.
The voices of Bhopal, while eloquent and com-
pelling, are not strong enough to move Dow Chemi-
cal Co.
Here at the University, we have an incredible
opportunity to help strengthen those voices. While
the people of Bhopal are protesting against a foreign,

unseen and unheard corporation that is continents
away, we, the students of the University, are a mere
drive away from the headquarters of Dow Chemical
Co. Halfway around the world, the people of Bhopal
seek justice from the world's largest chemical manu-
facturing company, which happens to be located in
Midland. The continents and oceans that separate
Dow from Bhopal have served to dwarf the voices of
those whose lives have been ruined.
As students of the country's most
01 politically active university, we have
S to a unique opportunity to help those
US t who are in need, though it may seem
as though they are worlds away from
us. For the Indian and Indian Ameri-
can student population here at the
University, the victims and survivors
of the tragedy are our relatives, our
people. For us, Bhopal is something that we have
always heard about, but never paid much attention
to. It is.time to start paying attention. The people
of Bhopal need us to carry their message, to be the
voices of the voiceless.
Last semester a group of University students
began a campaign to pressure Dow into assuming
responsibility for the environmental and health disas-
ters of Bhopal. The efforts of these students will con-
tinue and will strengthen over the course of this
semester through student groups such as Justice for
Bhopal and Association for India's Development. We
strongly encourage all students to partake in peace-
ful, yet powerful forms of protest and to get involved
with this campaign; it is one that is tangible, close to
home, and, without a doubt, worth fighting for.
Saksena and Shettv are LSAjuniorsand serve as cn-
chairso tPe Indian American StudentAssociation.
Political Awareness Committee.

the se Nov. 25, 2002 Whoa, what
an intense day. I have experienced so
many emotions in the last 12 hours that I
haven't been able to digest, even after the
adrenaline rush faded. The day began
around 8:30 a.m., as we stepped off the
bus taking us to the site. We unloaded all
of our gear and trekked across the field to
the buildings of the factory. It was then
that I got my first good view of the ben-
zene hexachloride shed, the building con-
taining a good amount of waste. I walked
around, taking a good look, especially at
the roof and the structural makeup.
A few of us went around to the side of
the shed. From there, we hoisted up a lad-
der, and up I went onto the roof. I was up
there alone for a few minutes and I had a
great vantage point to see everything that
was happening up front. It was breathtaking,
several people were hammering stakes into
the ground, on which they were putting up
HazMat warning tape and cordoning off the
area;the first containment crew was suiting
up; everyone was busy preparing the site
and I saw the first police officers beginning
to arrive.
I told one of my fellow climbers to
hurry and climb up the ladder. As he made
his way up, I climbed my way to the apex of
the roof. The third climber just made it up to
the roof, as a few police officers came over
to the side of the shed. I tried hard not to
lookat the officers as they were frantically
and indecipherably yelling at us. While the
fourth climber was on her way up, the
police started shaking the ladder. I was over-
come with fear, praying that she wouldn't
fall. She tossed up the banner, and made her
way down. "Whew, she's safe," I thought,
with a sigh of reliefs
I took an end of the banner and climbed
over to the middle of the roof to unfurl it.
We had no idea what the roof was gonna be
like, so adjustments had to be made while I
was up there. The banner read "Dow: Liv-
ing. Poisoned Daily"After the banner was
fully deployed, I stayed out there on the
middle of the roof to watch the events play
out on the ground.
Along the side of the shed, the climbers
that hadn't made it onto the roof were sitting
on the ladder and another banner, keeping
the police from seizing it. Up front, I
noticed that the tents and shower and con-
tainment prep material was not set up. The
containment team did not make it into the
shed, a sense of disappointment overcame
me. It was frustrating how we were treated
as criminals for trying to clean up all of this
toxic waste while the real criminals respon-
sible for this pollution are off scot-free.
j As I phased back to reality, all I heard
and saw was a lot of yelling and scuffling,
and then the chief officer shouted, "You
are all under arrest." Next thing I knew,
several of the Indians were getting pushed
around by the officers and I even saw
them get slapped and punched straight-
out by the officers. There was so much
violence from the cops on such a non-
confrontational action.
Some more officers yelled at me to
come down, drawing my attention. I looked

to the front again and our team was sitting
down peacefully on a tarp, arms locked.
The rest of our climb team was still on the
side of the shed, not having moved from sit-
ting on the ladder and the banner. All of a
sudden, the cops threw them off and pulled
them over with the rest of the team. Three
of the climbers were sitting safely up on top
of the roof The police then hoisted the lad-
der up to us and continued yelling at us to
come down. I decided that we should
immediately return to the ground, so that
hopefully, the banner would be left in place.
But by the time we had packed up all of our
other gear, an officer had already made his
way up. Fortunately, he left us alone and
didn't push us around or anything. But he
was stomping around on the roof, I was
afraid he was going to fall through. He
crumpled up the banner and threw it down,
we made our way down.
We walked over and joined the rest of
the crew seated with their arms locked.
Eleven people were being thrown into a
paddy wagon that drove off We just sat
there for about 15 minutes, surrounded by
police with shields and huge bamboo sticks.
We were waiting for something to happen..
Later, a big bus arrived to take us away. I
was one of the first ones they took to put in
the bus. The chief officer repeated that we
were all under arrest and that we could
cooperate or be
taken forcefully.
The next thing I
know, a couplek
of officers are
picking meaup
and dragging
me, not even
giving me a
chance to coop-
erate. Of course,
that's the picture sm
that appears on
the front page of d
the daily paper.
videographersas n
had their cam-
eras focussed on
me. I try speak-
ing to one as I
dragged aways
telling Dow to
clean up Bhopal ss f
Halfway throughg a
my sentence, an
officer kicked Bhopalis suffer from the of
me a few times Union Carbide explosion.
in the ribs. My
side is still sore and bruised. I was thrown
onto the busand I watched all of the others
dragged in. It was clear how the Indians
(who I had obviously been mistaken for as
one) were treated much rougher than the
foreigners. All of this happened in less than
a span of 1 1/2 hours.
We were under the impression that we
would be taken to the police station that was
no more than 250 meters of the site. So the
bus ride seemed to last forever (actually, it
was only about 25 minutes) when we were
taken to the central jail. The bus was jam-
packed, with people in each others laps.
However, this was an amazing time for me.
On the bus with us were Rashida Bi and

Champa Devi (two survivors), Gas Devi
(born on the night of the disaster) and a lot
of the other local women. These elderly
petite women had such intensity and vigor
that I was in awe. They had such determina-
tion, they were leading chants the entire bus
trip. It was so amazing, so emotional, so
inspirational. I was so proud to be getting
arrested for this cause.
We arrived at the Bhopal Central Jail
(which wasn't very central at all), but we
never went in. We stayed on the bus for
about 1/2 hour, but we were all packed in
and it was getting hot, so they let the women
out into the shade in the parking lot. We
were all treated quite well. They made us fill
out lots of paperwork. I can't tell you how
many times I wrote my name, but there was-
n't any form to fillyout, they just made lists
on the backs of scratch sheets of paper. They
gave us biscuits, lunch, water and cha. We
sat around for a long time, on the bus and off
the bus, as things got more lax. We even
heard word that we wouldn't be charged -
unfortunately that only proved to be a rumor.
I had some nice discussions with several
of the local activists that also had been
arrested. And I had a great talk with a police
officer who informed me that it was the first
time that they've ever had to deal with for-
eigners (and they had no idea what to do).
He also said that it was first time that he had
heard of a demand to
clean-up the site. Usu-
ally it t rallies
demanding economic
compensation, howev-
yrer, he was very interest-
- . ed and very much in
fs t1 solidarity. He was also
very apologetic and
saying that he was just
doing his job.
He kept asking over
e eand over again why we
just didn't ask for per-
mission to use the site.
fe.This was the beginning
of a very good and
bg slong discussion. He
even ended up telling
prme about his time in
Kosovo when he was
sent over last year by
the United Nations.
We got an update
from someone on a
gcellular phone, while
Courtesy of Greenpeace org we were waiting in the
rects of the 1984 parking lot. Hundreds
of Bhopalis around the
site had mobilized,
they were trying to prevent the cops from
seizing our equipment (from the site). They
had completely blocked the adjacent streets
and they were demanding that we be let
free. This was an amazing stand of solidari-
ty and I was absolutely elated. This was a
big step as I felt that we really had the sup-
port of the community.
After about three or so hours after we
were arrested, we were finally released. We
got on the same police bus and headed back
to the apartments, this was the end of a very
long day.
Modi is a Greenpeace activist who has
worked on environmental advocacy in Bhopal.

f

CONNECTING THE DOTS - THE UNIVERSITY AND DOW CO.

1959 - The University is granted $4 million,
equivalent to $24.8 million in the year 2003, to estab- 1
lish the Margaret Townsley Foundation, in honor of
Herbert H. Dow's, the founder of Dow Chemical Com-
pany, daughter.
1983 - The University receives a grant for the
Herbert H. Dow building, which now hosts both the
Department of Chemical Engineering and the Depart-
ment of Material Science Engineering.
1996 - The School of Public Health receives

$1.2 million in order to create a Dow professorship
focusing on "the health effects, risks and benefits of
chemicals in the environment."
2000 - Dow donates yet another $2.5 million,
making it one of the top 26 donors in the history of
the University.
2001 - $5 million is awarded to the College of
Engineering laboratory facility under the Gerstacker
Foundation, named after the former chairman of Dow.
Dow has given over $8 million to the college.

mmmq

I

the University Musical Society presents

u'xrns
u~ m sV

the 2003 Winter Season Half

-Price Student Ticket Sale!

At the annual Half-Price Student Ticket Sale, students with valid ID can purchase HALF-PRICE TICKETS
to any show in our winter season. This extremely popular event draws hundreds of students every year
- last year, students saved nearly $100,000 by purchasing tickets at the Half-Price Student Ticket
Sale! Get there early - some performances have limited numbers of tickets available.

Saturday, Jan 11
loam - 1 pm
Power Center

I

..... .................

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t

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