Thousands of survivors of the world’s worst industrial accident blocked trains through a central Indian city on Saturday to demand more compensation.
The protests were on the 27th anniversary of the disaster in Bhopal, where a Union Carbide pesticide plant leaked lethal gas that killed an estimated 15,000 people and maimed tens of thousands more.
Activist Rachna Dhingra said that police charged the protesters with sticks on Saturday, trying to stop them from occupying Bhopal’s five train lines, and that three people were hospitalized with injuries. The protesters, most of them women sitting on the tracks, in turn threw stones at the police.
Vowing to block trains indefinitely, the five Bhopal victims’ rights groups that organized the protest demanded that Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, pay US$8.1 billion in compensation for the more than 500,000 people exposed to the leak.
The protesters — shouting slogans including “We want compensation” — said India’s government accepted far too little in a 1985 settlement for US$470 million, after initially asking for US$3.3 billion.
The Indian government is seeking an additional US$1.7 billion for the victims from Dow, and activists accuse the US company of not cleaning up oil and groundwater contamination in Bhopal.
Meanwhile, Dow has maintained that the issue was resolved by the US$470 million settlement.
“When the moment came to ask for rights for compensation, why this betrayal? The government has undermined the victims,” Dhingra said, calling the official death toll of 5,290 for the disaster laughable when the Indian Council of Medical Research was attributing 23,000 deaths up to 2009 to the contamination.
Bhopal activists and survivors are also calling for Dow Chemicals to be dropped as a sponsor of next year’s London Olympics. On Friday, 200 protesters marched to the now-abandoned plant and burned effigies of two Olympic officials.
At least 21 Indian Olympic athletes have urged the organizers of the London Games to end Dow’s sponsorship, which includes a curtain-style wrap around a stadium where some Olympic events will be held.
India has said it has no plans to skip the Olympics, after the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh state, where Bhopal is located, wrote a letter last month to India’s sports minister asking that the country boycott the Games.
London Olympic organizers have said they will not change their position on Dow’s sponsorship.