Corporate greed and political neglect could lead to disaster on American soil, warned a panel of experts and witnesses of an industrial disaster in Bhopal, India. Portland State hosted representatives from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal who teamed up to educate people about the Bhopal disaster of 1984.
Corporate greed and political neglect could lead to disaster on American soil, warned a panel of experts and witnesses of an industrial disaster in Bhopal, India.
Portland State hosted representatives from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal who teamed up with local experts, volunteers and advocates to educate people about the Bhopal disaster of 1984.
The group has been touring the United States to educate people about the incident during the 25th anniversary of the industrial disaster that has killed thousands and caused lingering health concerns in Bhopal, India.
The panelists, including disaster survivor Safreen Khan, a Bhopal resident who organized a grassroots group striving for justice, spoke Thursday night before a crowd of about 50 students and community members.
The slogan for the group’s international campaign for justice, “We all live in Bhopal,” was the message they aimed to share on the eve of the industrial disaster’s 25-year anniversary.
“It’s Bhopal in a lot of different places,” said Dr. Joe Miller, a member of local nonprofit group Physicians for Social Responsibility. “It’s not unique, you can think about Katrina in the United States or the Native Americans in the United States.”
The estimated death toll following a lethal gas leak in 1984 at a Bhopal factory owned by Union Carbide has reached 22,000 and about 150,000 more have suffered injuries, the panel explained.
Union Carbide offered affected residents a meager respite of $500, abandoned the chemicals and sold its factory to Dow Chemicals, a company some say should be held accountable.
But the company has largely ignored the locals, and the central, provincial and local governments have not pushed for legal action, speakers said.
Meanwhile, chemicals within Bhopal soil that remain present to this day laced the water supply with harmful toxins.
Khan, a 16-year-old who lived behind Union Carbide’s factory with her family of six, said, through a translator, that little has been done despite numerous protests.
Khan was involved in protests that included people chaining themselves to the prime minister’s home, wearing shirts with pleas for help written in blood and starting a campaign aimed at giving the prime minister a compassionate heart.
“Dow should not think there are only a few people in Bhopal making this noise, but that there are people everywhere making noise against them,” Khan said through a translator.
Miller noted that a tank at a Union Carbide factory in West Virginia exploded in 2008, but had fortunately not been filled with gas.
If it had, he said, the United States might have experienced its own Bhopal disaster.
“Part of this, in a sense, is the corporate model internalizing the profits and externalizing the cost,” Miller said.
Other speakers included Tom Hastings, director of PeaceVoice and a professor in Portland State’s department of conflict resolution.
Attendees said they came to learn more of the past and how similar disasters can be avoided in the future.
Ashish Singh, a 25-year-old student who lived all but the past year of his life in Indore, a city located about four hours by train away from Bhopal, said he came to learn the disaster’s valuable lessons.
“In the future this thing should not happen,” Singh said. “It lost a lot of human life, and human life is above all things.”