Harvard students launch fast for Bhopal survivors

Cambridge, Dec 3 :. Harvard students and community organizations launched a 365-day relay fast on Tuesday in support of survivors of the Bhopal Gas Disaster, the world's worst industrial disaster.

A candlelight vigil and protest attended by several dozen people was organized at Harvard Square, Cambridge on Sunday to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the disaster.

The goal of the fast is to draw attention to key survivor demands: clean-up of the contaminated site, medical relief and economic rehabilitation of all survivors, and prosecution of Dow Chemical, whose subsidiary Union Carbide's pesticide factory was the site of the 1984 disaster.

On the midnight of Dec 3, 1984 in Bhopal, India, 27 tons of methyl isocyanate, a lethal gas, leaked from a pesticide plant owned by the Union Carbide Corporation, killing 8,000 people instantly, poisoning and blinding thousands.

Twenty nine years after the disaster, the death toll is above 25,000 and counting, while 150,000 people suffer from chronic, debilitating, exposure-related illnesses.

In 2001, Union Carbide Corporation was acquired by Dow Chemical which has since refused to acknowledge any responsibility for the actions of its subsidiary.

Sunday's candlelight vigil and the relay fast was organized by students from the Harvard Kennedy School in coordination with the Association for India's Development (AID) and the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB).

Speaking on the occasion of the anniversary Harvard graduate student Shashank Shukla said, "It is unacceptable that 29 years after the disaster people are still being exposed to dangerous toxins."

Shukla, who has previously worked with the Supreme Court of India, said that the coalition of groups is prepared to stand with survivors till justice is done in Bhopal.

"The fast is both a means of expressing our collective outrage over what is happening in Bhopal as well as a vehicle to globally amplify the voices of the survivors," he said.

Leonid Chindelevitch, an ICJB volunteer said that Dow's irresponsibility is setting a dangerous precedent for the future behavior of transnational corporations in India by showing that they can escape from being liable for social and environmental harm caused by their actions.

While the situation on the ground in Bhopal is grim, Nitin Gujaran, an AID volunteer and a software engineer working in the area is hopeful that the 30th anniversary year will energize a global movement for justice in Bhopal as well as increase awareness about other such disasters.

"Bhopal teaches us about what happens in a toxic industrial society which prioritizes profits above all else", he said.

He said: "It is a reminder that in some ways we all live in Bhopal."

--IBNS (Posted on 03-12-2013)

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