Here in Ann Arbor, few people are aware of the worst industrial disaster in history. In fact, most of the world has chosen to forget about the 1984 tragedy in Bhopal, India. But in Bhopal, 18 years after a lethal gas spill from a pesticide factory killed over 20,000 people, not only does the memory of the tragedy continue to cause pain, but so does the tragedy itself. Because the area was never properly cleaned, the inhabitants of the region around the factory are still affected by the poisoned air and water. Just last year, for example, mercury, lead and organochlorines were found in the breast milk of local women.
The people of Bhopal have come together to give a voice to their suffering and pain. They have come together to find hope, to seek from Dow Chemical Company, the company now responsible for the disaster, justice for the distress they have experienced these past 18 years. For nearly two decades they have protested for fairness, compensation and righteousness.
But does the world hear their cries? Is the public aware of the injury these people have suffered? No. The voices of Bhopal, while eloquent and compelling, are not strong enough to move Dow Chemical Co.
Here at the University, we have an incredible opportunity to help strengthen those voices. While the people of Bhopal are protesting against a foreign, unseen and unheard corporation that is continents away, we, the students of the University, are a mere drive away from the headquarters of Dow Chemical Co. Halfway around the world, the people of Bhopal seek justice from the world’s largest chemical manufacturing company, which happens to be located in Midland. The continents and oceans that separate Dow from Bhopal have served to dwarf the voices of those whose lives have been ruined.
As students of the country’s most politically active university, we have a unique opportunity to help those who are in need, though it may seem as though they are worlds away from us. For the Indian and Indian American student population here at the University, the victims and survivors of the tragedy are our relatives, our people. For us, Bhopal is something that we have always heard about, but never paid much attention to. It is time to start paying attention. The people of Bhopal need us to carry their message, to be the voices of the voiceless.
Last semester a group of University students began a campaign to pressure Dow into assuming responsibility for the environmental and health disasters of Bhopal. The efforts of these students will continue and will strengthen over the course of this semester through student groups such as Justice for Bhopal and Association for India’s Development. We strongly encourage all students to partake in peaceful, yet powerful forms of protest and to get involved with this campaign; it is one that is tangible, close to home, and, without a doubt, worth fighting for.
Saksena and Shetty are LSA juniors and serve as co-chairs of the Indian American Student Association’s Political Awareness Committee.