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India Gas Tragedy Victims Boycott London Olympics

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Download The victims of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy are urging the Indian government to boycott the 2012 Olympic Games.

One of the Games’ sponsors is the US-based Dow Chemicals – the company that now owns the Union Carbide Corporation, the firm responsible for the Bhopal disaster.

The victims are demanding that Dow compensate them adequately and clean up the thousands of tons of toxic waste that Union Carbide has left behind.

Bismillah Geelani has the story.

“We want Justice!”

That’s what hundreds of survivors of the 1984 Bhopal Gas disaster are yelling at this rally here in New Delhi.

The protesters are also holding banners and placards that say, “Dow is responsible for Bhopal.”

Among the protestors is 52-year-old Sunil Kumar who lost his mother in what is now known as the world’s worst industrial disaster.

“The decision to allow the Dow Company to be part of the Olympic Games is an injustice to the victims of the gas tragedy. The Dow Company has not fulfilled its responsibility; it has not paid compensation and other dues to the victims, its association with the London Olympics is unacceptable and everyone should oppose it.”

Protests like this have been going on for months in India and abroad, urging the International Olympics Committee to remove Dow Chemicals as one of the main sponsors of the London Olympics this year.

Dow is a US-based multinational corporation and the current owner of the Union Carbide Corporation.

The latter owned a pesticide factory in the Central Indian city of Bhopal, where the gas disaster struck 28 years ago.

About 40 tons of toxic gas leaked from the factory, killing at least 4,000 people immediately and more than 20,000 in the following two decades.

Dow Chemicals bought Union Carbide Corporation in 1999 and according to Bhopal activists inherited not just the company’s assets, but also its liabilities.

Satinath Sarangi is a member of the Bhopal Group of Information and Action.

“Dow has been running away from its legal liabilities by spinning all kinds of PR. The fact is Dow has pending civil, criminal and environmental liabilities. It is yet to pay full compensation because the settlement was neither full nor final and because Dow is not taking away the poison from the ground water and soil, there are still 40,000 people who are being exposed to contaminated ground water and children are being born with horrific birth defects.”

Sarangi says Dow’s sponsorship defeats the very purpose of the Olympic Games.

“Olympics is about universal brotherhood, universal peace, it’s about encouraging sports. And here we have a situation created by Dow where hundreds of children will never know what sport is, they will never be able to play. Is Dow sponsored Olympics really an Olympics? It totally violates that fundamental spirit.”

The Bhopal activists’ campaign against Dow has attracted support from various Indian and foreign groups.

More than a dozen British MPs such as Keith Vaz from the Labour Party have joined hands to put pressure on the organizers to drop Dow as a sponsor.  

“We want the London Olympic Games to be the best ever; it can only be tainted by Dow sponsorship.”

The issue has even triggered a high-profile resignation from within the organization.

Meredith Alexander, a former Ethics Commissioner for the 2012 Olympics says she didn’t want defend Dow.

“I can’t understand how you can do a proper due diligence with a company like Dow and not find out about the skeletons in their closet. This is one of the worst cases of corporate human rights abuse in my generation. I think the company has had its say and has been well heard but the victims of the tragedy haven’t had the opportunity to speak and my decision to resign was partially about trying to help tell their story in the public eye.”

The International Olympics Committee has refused to cancel Dow’s sponsorship deal.

According to the committee, the company cannot be held responsible for the lingering liabilities caused by the gas leak in Bhopal.

Pressure is now mounting on the Indian government to consider boycotting the games altogether.

Rachna Dhingra is another activist from Bhopal.

“The onus is on the Indian Government to take the step and standby its people and make sure that Dow is not allowed to sponsor the London Olympics. What we need is the Indian government to develop a spine and say they will not participate in such tainted Olympics.”

Former Indian Olympian Aslam Sher Khan is among the many athletes who are supporting calls for the boycott.

“We have to put collective pressure on. Our Olympic Association and the government should speak on behalf of the people of India and force the IOC to back down. It is not only a question for the people of Bhopal, Dow’s sponsorship will hurt the sentiments of the entire nation.”

While the government hasn’t yet made its position clear, many fiercely oppose the idea of boycotting the games.

V Krishnaswamy is senior sports writer and commentator.

“At the end of the day, we’ve got to take into account the interests of the athletes also. Stop firing from the shoulders of the sportspersons; whether it’s a war against Pakistan, whether it’s a problem with China or whether it’s a problem against whomever, the ultimate victim turns out to be a sportsman. I think that is patently wrong and unfair to sportspersons.”

Vinod Sharma, a political editor for the Hindustan Times says the move may not be the best way to get the message across.

He says India could lodge a much more effective protest from the games venue itself.

“The Olympic movement doesn’t belong to Dow. It belongs to the entire world. If Olympic movement is being misused by Dow Chemicals, let’s mobilize groups and environmentalists across Europe to protest at the inauguration venue. So I think using the Olympic arena rather than boycotting it is a better idea to put pressure on Dow chemicals because they advertising themselves at that arena. You advertise against them that they are an insensitive corporate, they do not carry out their duties as mandated by the charter of UN and other organizations the world over.”

With just a few months before the Olympics kick off, the race for justice is on.


Last Updated ( Monday, 27 February 2012 10:41 )  

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