Students recognize disaster, emphasize accountability

Shivam Purohit

Almost three decades after one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, UT students gathered Friday to remember the victims and add more pressure for Dow Chemical to take responsibility for the incident.

In 1984, a Union Carbide India Limited — now Dow Chemical — pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked 27 tons of lethal gases into the atmosphere, said aerospace engineering graduate student Parvathy Prem. The leak killed approximately 8,000 people in the first week, and about 150,000 people still suffer from exposure-related illnesses in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.

The 1984 spill is comparable to this summer’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Prem said. While the rig’s operator, BP, faced billions of dollars in fines and lawsuits within months of the spill, Dow Chemical has not seen enough legal action against it, she said.

Prem was one of 12 members from the Austin branch of the Association for India’s Development, a nonprofit that supports grassroots groups in India that staged a mass “die-in” on the West Mall to bring awareness to the issue. Protesters laid covered in white shrouds while others spoke about the importance of the tragedy, collecting signatures in support of an Austin City Council resolution denouncing Dow Chemical’s actions.

“The fact that corporate negligence led to the death of thousands of people is truth that is very important to express,” she said.

The group collected 54 signatures in support of the cause, said Vikram Garg, a computational and applied mathematics graduate student.

“Some people I talked to were aware that the disaster happened, but didn’t know that the tragedy continues to this day,” he said. “The conversations we had with them reinforced the impression that when people realize what happened and is still happening in Bhopal, they do really care.”

Garg also said the U.S. government should extradite Warren Anderson, a former CEO of Union Carbide who returned to the U.S., and make sure American companies uphold international environmental standards. The Indian government should help the victims secure the compensation they deserve and ensure Dow Chemical cleans up the contaminated sites, he said.

Chemical engineering graduate student Avni Jain said she volunteered at the event because she felt that students can actually make a difference on this issue.

“I believe we need to stand with them and make sure that what happened 26 years ago is not forgotten,” she said.