Bhopal: A Forgotten Feminist Struggle

It’s time for feminists to stand up for reproductive justice in Bhopal. 
Click here to sign the petition.

We know reproductive justice transcends abortion and birth control; genuine reproductive justice is the ability to choose to have children or not, and to parent the children we do have in environments that are safe, healthy, and free from violence. It is often the last part of reproductive justice that receives the least attention, at a great cost to women everywhere. Recently, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the Zika Virus in parts of Latin and South America have raised our collective consciousness about the many different areas of gender and reproductive justice. In Bhopal, India, women have been stripped of many of their rights to motherhood in safety because of continued corporate violence.

From Repeal Hyde Art Project, by Megan Smith

Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, has a history of gendered exploitation that stretches back to the 1980s, when the company faced class action lawsuits from women who claimed they developed autoimmune diseases after receiving breast implants produced by the company. The company still refuses any allegations that their products harmed women.

Dow Chemical has evaded Indian courts for a quarter of a century yet continues to do business around the world and makes immense profit. The United States government and the Department of Justice are complicit in the continued injustices against the people of Bhopal. The Indian government has now sent four summons to the DOJ for Dow Chemical, and none have been forwarded on to the company. Instead, the DOJ appears to be actively preventing Indian courts from holding Dow Chemical accountable. U.S. officials have even lobbied their Indian counterparts to not pursue criminal charges against Dow Chemical. A lack of corporate and governmental accountability has allowed Dow Chemical to hide from the Indian courts while humanitarian and environmental crises continue in Bhopal.

Despite all this, Bhopal has proven yet again what feminists have always known to be true: women are resilient and will always rise up. Women in India have been vanguards of the movement by organizing their communities to protest, establishing treatment facilities like Sambhavna Clinic, and influences new generations of activists to continue the struggle for justice. In 2006, survivors of the gas leak walked 800 km (nearly 500 miles) from Bhopal to Delhi to bring attention to the continued suffering in their city. In 2005, Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla founded Chingari Trust, a rehabilitation center committed to “extending economic and livelihood support programs to gas-affected women and their families; taking up initiatives that help protect and support the rights of victims of the Gas Disaster, particularly women and children.” I was fortunate enough to visit Chingari Trust in 2013. The children at the facility have serious mental and physical disabilities, and Chingari Trust is committed to their safety and care. I am so grateful to have met some of the many children who depend on Chingari for rehabilitation. The resilience of the children and their mothers to move forward, to defy odds and find recovery, is something I think about often. The factory itself, though now abandoned and riddled with rust and overgrowth, remains almost untouched from its former state more than thirty years ago, with dozens of toxic chemical bottles strewn about and the site of the leak.

Children of Bhopal at Chingari Trust. Photo by Ed Hanley

My visit fell on the 29th anniversary of the disaster, and thus many of the great organizations that are fighting for justice on the ground were gearing up for actions across the city and country. The struggle for justice in Bhopal began in 1984. It has now been 32 years since survivors and organizers started to demand justice for crimes committed against them by Dow Chemical. It is time for us to demand that corporations like Dow are held responsible for destroying our environments and communities, especially those of women.

It is for all these reasons, and many more, that I call on all of you to join me in a month of action starting on May 15th. Activists from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal are launching a White House petition to call on the Department of Justice to stop shielding Dow Chemical. The petition needs 100,000 signatures to be considered by the White House, so it is imperative that we use all avenues available to advocate for the community in Bhopal.

Please sign the petition here. You will receive an email to confirm your signature. You must click the link in the email or your voice will not be added.

Learn more about the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal here.

Learn more about The Bhopal Medical Appeal, Chingari Trust, and Sambhavna Clinic here.

See the incredible women activists of Bhopal in action here.

Community mural in Bhopal. A quote from Seamus Heany reads, “History says / Don’t hope / On this side of the grave / But then once in a lifetime / The longed-for tidal wave / Of justice can rise up / And hope and history rhyme.”
One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.