Why we must throw Dow Chemical out of India

Author-Activist Indra Sinha’s appeal to students of Delhi University to join the poisoned people of Bhopal, the villagers of Shinde-Vasuli in Maharashtra, the Warkari Bhakti movement and thousands of fellow citizens in forcing US multinational Dow Chemical to quit India.

On 26 July 2006, my friend Satinath Sarangi (Sathyu) called me in tears from Bhopal to say that our mutual friend, Sunil Kumar had taken his life. Sathyu said that when they lifted Sunil down from the ceiling fan from which he had hanged himself, he was wearing a tee-shirt that said, ‘No More Bhopals’.

Sunil was an orphan of the Union Carbide gassing of Bhopal on 3rd December 1984, losing his parents and three siblings during that night of terror. Aged 12, he began doing two jobs a day to support the surviving members of his family and later joined the survivors’ struggle for justice. On the day Sunil died, Dow Chemical’s CEO Andrew Liveris visited the United Nations. Fireboats hired by Dow’s PR agency jetted huge sprays aloft in the Hudson River as Liveris told assembled diplomats, ‘Lack of clean water is the single largest cause of disease in the world and more than 4,500 children die each day because of it . . .We are determined to win a victory over the problem of access to clean water for every person on earth. . . . we need to bring to the fight the kinds of things companies like Dow do best.’ Grand words, but when someone asked if he would clean up Bhopal’s drinking water, poisoned by Union Carbide’s chemicals causing hundreds of children to be born malformed and brain damaged, Liveris replied, ‘We don’t feel this is our responsibility’. Wrong. In acquiring Union Carbide’s assets, Dow also acquired its liabilities. Dow accepted Carbide’s US asbestos liabilities and set aside $2.3 billion to settle them. So why refuse to accept Carbide’s Indian liabilities?

The hard answer is that for Dow, Indians are not as human as Americans.

Dow paid $10,000,000 to an American child brain-damaged by Dursban, a pesticide banned since 2001 for domestic use in the US. But last year Dow was caught bribing Indian government officials to license Dursban as safe for use by Indian families. If an Indian child dies there’ll be no $10,000,000 or even $10,000. Challenged about the meagre compensation paid to Bhopal survivors for two decades of illness, pain and lost earnings, a Dow public affairs chief famously remarked, ‘$500 is plenty good for an Indian.’

Dow is the 100% owner of the company that caused the deaths of 20,000 Bhopalis, the on-going poisoning of 26,000 more, and which since 1992 has been refusing face criminal charges in a Bhopal court because it says Indian courts have no power to make it obey laws. Dow, the creator of napalm, Agent Orange, nemagon, and dioxin has brought death and illness to millions globally. In Nandigram, Dow tried to evict people from their ancestral lands to create a chemical hub without labour regulations or taxes. Villagers resisted and encountered brutal repression. Fourteen were killed. Women and girls were mass-raped.

Now Dow has grabbed 100 acres of grazing land near Shinde-Vasuli, Maharashtra. The land belongs to the villagers but state officials didn’t consult the gram sabha or gram panchayat before giving it to Dow. Dow says it’s building ‘an R&D centre’, but applied to manufacture 20 hazardous chemicals. The villagers, knowing about the lethal mess left in Bhopal, with resulting cancers, brain damage and birth defects, are determined to resist.

Led by a former High Court justice and supported by the powerful Warkari movement (followers of saints Tukaram, Gyaneshwar, Eknath and Namdeo whose sacred places are nearby), they protested against the land-grab and sought answers about the exact nature of what was planned. Dow and its chums in the state government stonewalled all attempts to discover details of the project, even refusing right-to-information requests.

On July 25th, some Warkaris torched and trashed the Dow site. Their leader Banda Tatya Maharaj Karadkar claimed responsibility and publicly courted arrest, but the police instead charged twenty Shinde villagers with dacoity and other punishable offences. Last night (July 31st) a large squad of police went to Shinde-Vasuli and broke down the doors of more than 20 homes. Many people fled. They remember Nandigram. According to the villagers, police acting on behalf of Dow plan to drive people out and terrorise those who remain into accepting the poison laboratory in their midst.

Dow truly thinks it is above the law. That it can go on buying officials, twisting politicians round its little finger and terrorising ordinary people. It believes that it can do what it likes in India, that its money and friends in high places will always protect it.

Now the people of Shinde-Vasuli and the Warkaris have vowed to throw Dow out of India. The Bhopalis and Nandigramis have joined them.

Students, it’s your turn! Do what must be done!
The ‘Dow Chemical Quit India’ campaign launches on August 9, the 66th anniversary of Gandhiji’s ‘Quit India’ Bharat Chhodo Andolan. http://www.dowquitindia.com