MINNEAPOLIS —Tens of thousands of people in Bhopal, India, have died as a result of a massive leak of poisonous gas in 1982 at the hands of Dow Chemical. This is became known as the worst industrial disaster in human history.
On Dec. 3, 1984, the people of Bhopal were awakened just after midnight to screams of pain and clouds of poison stemming from a leak at a Union Carbide plant.
One survivor, Champa Devi Shukla, said breathing the gas “felt like somebody had filled our bodies up with red chillies.”
By morning, the streets were piled high with bodies.
Victims died in agony, coughing and vomiting. Women miscarried as they ran in terror through the streets. Others were crushed to death by panicked people and livestock.
According to the Indian Council for Medical Research, over 520,000 people were harmed in the disaster. At least 3,000 people died that night. Some estimates suggest as many as 8,000 people died in the first two weeks, and another 8,000 have died of diseases like cancer and respiratory problems in the years since.
Activists and survivors are still struggling for justice for what’s considered history’s worst industrial disaster. Under a 1989 settlement, survivors received only about $500 each, and Union Carbide was absolved of responsibility, despite evidence that it repeatedly cut corners on safety.
In 1999, Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide, hampering the quest for justice. Now, activists say the U.S. Department of Justice is protecting Dow from being forced to appear before India’s courts on manslaughter charges.
On May 15, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal launched a WhiteHouse.gov petition demanding the DOJ stop standing in the way of justice. The petition received over 6,000 signatures in just four days, but needs to 100,000 signatures to receive a response from the Obama administration.
Today, I’m joined by Rachna Dhingra. In 2003, she moved from the United States to India, where she co-leads the Bhopal Group for Information and Action. I asked her to explain what motivated her to move across the world to help the survivors of this tragedy.
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