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Fight for Bhopal victims reaches the US

Jun 15, 2010 08:44 AM IST India India

New York: After India, the fight to get justice for Bhopal victims has reached the US as activists try to build public awareness about the industrial disaster.

They are demanding the extradition of former Union Carbide chief Warren Anderson to India and want Obama administration to take the same strong stand that it has taken against British Petroleum for the oil spill.

US-based activists campaigning on behalf of the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster have been galvanised into action by the recent court verdict in India which sentenced eight accused to two years imprisonment.

On Monday, activists of 'Kids for a Better Future' and the 'International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal' (ICJB) staged a symbolic protest outside the headquarters of Dow Chemicals in New York. The plan was to hand over copies of the Indian warrant and criminal charges against Warren Anderson to the company's lawyers. However, they were not allowed into the building.

"We were denied access into the building. They wouldn't even actually let us put a letter in the mailbox of the office we were trying to reach which seems a little unnecessary," says Gautama Viswanath Mehta of Kids for a Better Future.

Denied a meeting with Anderson's lawyers, 12-year-old Akash Vishwanath Mehta opted instead to read out his message to the 90-year-old former Union Carbide CEO.

"Mr Anderson, today you are known only for your role in the disaster. Your name is met only with hatred by hundreds of thousands of Bhopalis and people all over the world. The only way you can change that to clear your name is to make a moral statement for justice in Bhopal. And then you can live the rest of your life in peace, with your head held high, knowing that you made a difference," said Mehta.

However, the activists were pessimistic about their demand for Anderson's extradition from the US to India being taken seriously by the government of either country.

"In 2004 the State Department denied such a request for extradition on the ground that it would have a chilling effect on American foreign investment, and even found at that time that there were no grounds for criminal liability on the part of Union Carbide or Warren Anderson. The US State Department is not a finder of facts in a court of law, it's a political entity, nevertheless that's the position it's taken. I'm not confident that the position would be any different under the Obama administration," says Brian Mooney, Anthropology Professor, New York University and ICJB Supporter.

Gautama Mehta believes that business interest is keeping the Indian government from pressing for Anderson's extradition.

"The Indian government's position is pretty easy to read. It's just that they think it's bad for business if they put too much pressure on American owned companies in their country," adds Mehta.

And even though the State Department has said that the US would carefully consider any Indian request to extradite Anderson, the administration currently has its hands full with another industrial accident.

Ironically, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has helped bring fresh attention to the Bhopal gas disaster. American activists point to the Obama administration's aggressive approach towards BP as a model for fixing corporate responsibility in the Bhopal case as well.