Hundreds of people marched through the central Indian city of Bhopal late on Tuesday, waving flaming torches to commemorate the thousands who perished in what is seen as the world’s deadliest industrial disaster and demanding justice for survivors who continue to suffer three decades on.
In the early hours of Dec. 3, 1984, about 40 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate gas accidentally leaked from a pesticide factory in the city owned by US multinational Union Carbide Corp and was carried by the wind into the surrounding slums.
The government recorded 5,295 deaths from the leak, while activists estimate 25,000 people have died from illnesses in the years since. They say many more are dealing with cancer, blindness, respiratory difficulties and immune and neurological disorders, with no support.
“We are here to demand our rights from both the Indian government and Union Carbide,” Kamla Bhai, 70, said as she walked alongside other survivors, activists and supporters through Bhopal’s streets to the abandoned factory site.
“We lost our children, we lost our husbands, we lost our mothers, we lost our fathers, yet we have been ignored by the government and cheated by the corporate [sector] for the last 30 years. Their treatment has been shameful,” she said.
Bhai, whose husband died from cancer five years after the calamity, said survivors need healthcare and financial compensation, while a second and third generation of children with congenital deformities need special medical treatment.
Others at the rally called for the clean-up of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste buried by the company inside and outside the plant. The waste has seeped into the ground and poisoned the drinking water of 50,000 people living near the site.
Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide, has denied liability, saying it bought the company a decade after Union Carbide settled its liabilities to the Indian government in 1989 by paying US$470 million.
Various petitions to hold Dow to account for increased compensation and for cleaning up toxic waste are being pressed in Indian and US courts.
“The time has come to bring Dow and Carbide to justice. No more hiding behind share ownership and legal loopholes,” Amnesty International secretary-general Salil Shetty said.
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