Daily News Archive

Hunger Strike Calls Attention to Horror and Death in Bhopal

(May 8, 2003) A hunger strike began on Wall Street in New York City at noon on May 1, 2003 by two women who suffered greatly 18 years ago at the hands of Union Carbide, a company now owned by Dow Chemical, according to AlterNet. The women, Rasheeda Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, are survivors of the fateful night of December 3, 1984, when a fatal gas leak took place from a Union Carbide factory located in Bhopal, India. The leak resulted in a massive number of deaths, with an estimated body count of 8,000 in the first week. Since that week, the death and suffering have continued. Cancer, menstrual disorders and what one doctor described as "monstrous births" have plagued the city in the aftermath of Union Carbide's deadly gas leak.

The night of the tragedy remains clear in the minds of its survivors. Champa Devi Shukla, a hunger striker, remembers, "It felt like somebody had filled our bodies up with red chillies, our eyes tears coming out, noses were watering, we had froth in our mouths. The coughing was so bad that people were writhing in pain. Some people just got up and ran in whatever they were wearing or even if they were wearing nothing at all. Somebody was running this way and somebody was running that way, some people were just running in their underclothes. People were only concerned as to how they would save their lives so they just ran. Those who fell were not picked up by anybody, they just kept falling, and were trampled on by other people. People climbed and scrambled over each other to save their lives - even cows were running and trying to save their lives and crushing people as they ran." The terror of the night continued as thousands of people died in horrid ways: some fell dead after uncontrollable vomiting and convulsions; others choked to death, drowning in their own body fluids; still others were trampled in the stampedes through narrow streets filled with the deadly gas.

The Bhopal Medical Appeal reported in 1994, "The force of the human torrent wrenched children's hands from their parents' grasp. Families were whirled apart. The poison cloud was so dense and searing that people were reduced to near blindness. As they gasped for breath its effects grew ever more suffocating. The gases burned the tissues of their eyes and lungs and attacked their nervous systems. People lost control of their bodies. Urine and feces ran down their legs. Women lost their unborn children as they ran, their wombs spontaneously opening in bloody abortion."

The land, water and people that surround the now defunct factory are still being poisoned. Organochlorines and heavy metals were reported to be present in the water and soil in 1999. A February 2002 study found these same chemicals in breast milk of women who lived near the out of use factory.

Although the suffering continues, and at least one person per day perishes from injuries of that night, Union Carbide and Dow Chemical refuse to share information that would help Bhopal residents treat their injuries. The company is withholding information regarding the toxic effects of methyl isocyanate (MIC), the chemical that leaked, claiming the data is a "trade secret." In addition, for the past 12 years Carbide and Dow have ignored a summons by Bhopal Court to address charges of "culpable homicide" for the ever-rising death toll that resulted from the leak. Indian government now figures the toll to be over 20,000 deaths.

Hunger striker Rashida Bee, who lost five family members to the Carbide disaster, stated, "A hunger strike is our way of emphasizing 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."

Demands on The Dow Chemical Company, USA from Bhopal Victims

Dow must:

Face Trial: Ensure that prime accused Warren Anderson, former chairman of Union Carbide ceases absconding from criminal justice in India and the authorized representatives of the company [Dow-Union Carbide] face trial in the Bhopal criminal court.

Provide long-term health care: Assume responsibility for the continuing and long term health consequences among the exposed persons and potentially their future generations. This includes medical care, health monitoring and necessary research studies. The company must provide all information on the leaked gases and their medical consequences.

Clean up the poison: Remove the contamination of the ground water and soil in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. Provide for supply of safe drinking water to the community.

Provide Economic and social support: The corporation must provide income opportunities to victims who can not pursue their usual trade as a result of exposure induced illnesses and income support to families rendered destitute due to death or incapacitation of the breadwinner of the family.

Krishnaveni Gundu
U.S. Coordinator
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
(Coalition of environmental & social justice organisations led by women's survivor groups of 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster)
Cellphone: 1- 832-444-1731
Email: [email protected]