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Hundreds of Survivors of Bhopal Disaster Protest Obama India Visit

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A group of 400 survivors of the Bhopal disaster have been protesting Obama’s visit to India. The 1984 Bhopal industrial gas disaster left an estimated 15,000 people dead. The company, Union Carbide, is now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical. Dow has faced calls to clean up the contaminated site, increase compensation for victims, and fund studies to assess damages to the environment and public health. India has also demanded the extradition of former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, who fled India shortly after his arrest in the disaster’s aftermath. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

ANJALI KAMAT: Vijay Prashad, you mentioned the demand for the extradition of David Headley. There’s also been demands for the extradition of Warren Anderson. And today, actually, there’s been a group of 400 survivors from the 1984 Bhopal tragedy who have been protesting Obama’s visit to India. They’re outside the Parliament.

Last year, we interviewed Sathyu Sarangi. He’s the founder of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action and a founding trustee of a free clinic for all the treatment — for the treatment of all those affected by the gas leak. We asked him to describe what happened in Bhopal.

SATHYU SARANGI: On the night of 2nd by 3rd December, 1984, over 27 tons of toxic gas leaked from this pesticide factory that was situated right next to where more than 200,000 people, poor people, lived. And this was a factory owned, designed and operated by Union Carbide Corporation USA. And during routine operations, water entered the tank, and because the safety systems were cut down or were very badly designed, and because the entire plant was under-designed, the water reacted with methyl isocyanate, which was stored in very high quantities, and there was a reaction, which then became a runaway reaction so that there was no control. And as it is, safety systems were under-designed, they were also malfunctioning or under repair. And this gas leaked, and like a 30-feet-high cloud, it covered about the entire city of all Bhopal, more than half a million people.

And there was no warning system in the factory. There was no one — no one from the factory was telling people to run in the opposite direction of the wind and not in the direction of the wind, as they did, and no one to tell them that they could actually protect themselves from the deadly impact of the gas by just holding a wet cloth over their nose and mouth. So the people got to know, only after they were surrounded by this cloud from all around, and they started running. And when they ran, as they ran, they inhaled more and more of this poisonous gas that sheared their lungs. And there was so much secretion of body fluids in their lungs that actually many people died, because they drowned in their own body fluids. And then there were lots and lots of people who died because of the effect on the brain. Women were aborting as they ran.

And it was the next — by the next morning, there were thousands of people dead. Within the first three days, between eight and ten thousand people died. And then in the subsequent years, more people died because of the damage that was caused to almost every organ in the body, because the poisons that people inhaled, they went into the bloodstream through their lungs.

ANJALI KAMAT: Well, that was Sathyu Sarangi speaking to us when he was in the United States last year. Right now, he’s just come out from a protest outside the Parliament. He’s in New Delhi. We go to him live.

Sathyu, what are you calling for? Sathyu, can you hear me?

SATHYU SARANGI: Yeah, I can hear you now.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your demands? Why are you protesting President Obama’s visit?

SATHYU SARANGI: We were demanding positive action from President Obama on the continuing crimes of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical [inaudible] Bhopal. We wanted to tell him that it is his moral responsibility, as he promotes American business in India, to also ensure that American corporations abide by Indian law and Indian courts and to do something about Union Carbide’s absconding for the last 18 years and for Dow Chemical refusing to clean up in Bhopal and refusing to accept the jurisdiction of Madhya Pradesh state high court for the last five years.

AMY GOODMAN: Sathyu Sarangi, we want to thank you for being with us, founder of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, founding trustee of the free clinic for treatment of all those affected by the gas leak in Bhopal. And we want to also thank Vijay Prashad, professor at Trinity College in Connecticut of South Asian history and international studies.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to Arundhati Roy about the Maoist rebellion inside India. Stay with us.

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