A 12-year-old Indian American activist tried to issue summons for Warren Anderson, former chief of Union Carbide over the deadliest 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal.
"Today we are here to appeal to Warren Anderson and summon him to the Indian court where he has been charged with culpable homicide, which is the equivalent of manslaughter in America," Akash Viswanath Mehta said, standing outside a skyscraper on Park Avenue, which houses the law firm that represents Union Carbide.
Akash along with his older brother, Gautama, 15, were asked to leave the premises by the building owners who said it was private property owned by H J Kalikow. The media was also not allowed to film on the property.
Akash who had the 1992 summons along with a criminal chargesheet in an envelope requested that the package be delivered to the legal offices of Kelly, Drye and Warren. The owners of the building responded that there was no one in the office and the activists should make an appointment or send the summons by post.
"Do you know they represent the CEO of a corporation that is absconding from justice in Bhopal India?" said Adrianne Raff Corwin, an activist from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
"He is being charged with culpable homicide...they are protecting a man who is basically responsible for murdering thousands of people in India and he should be extradited from America," she added.
"It is not necessary for me to be able to understand you," responded the building representatives, who refused to identify themselves.
The protest was organised by ICJB and Kids for a Better Future based in New York. The two groups noted that their objective was to remind that Anderson was still absconding and needed to respond to the outstanding charges.
When the summon bearers were told to leave, Akash read out a statement to a handful of building owners and cops. By the end of the demonstration the number of police officers had increased from one to six.
Below is the complete statement given by Akash:
June 14, 2010
Last Monday, Union Carbide and seven persons were held guilty for the Bhopal Gas Disaster by an Indian court. They were all given absurdly small sentences, and have all paid $2000 in bail, escaping punishments relating to the deaths of 25,000 innocent Bhopalis. Warren Anderson, former CEO of Union Carbide, was declared guilty, in absentia, for manslaughter in the year of the disaster, but he ignored the court summons, and instead was declared an absconder by the Indian Government. The Indian Prime Minister refuses to act, so Bhopali activists are here instead.
Twenty-five years ago, Warren Anderson was the CEO of Union Carbide when the terrible disaster occurred. Now, I don't want to depict Anderson as a despicable creature who killed thousands of people. In fact, I'd like for everyone to remember the fact that despite all legal counsel, purely because of a feeling of moral obligation, Anderson went to Bhopal after the disaster to survey the scene firsthand. I don't doubt Mr. Anderson's claims to a guilty conscience; any human being involved with the tragedy would feel terrible.
Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Anderson escaped arrest and his day in court. I have no illusions that that day will come for Mr. Anderson, who is no longer the face of the Bhopal's suffering anyway. But, I would like today to appeal to Warren Anderson's conscience, his guilt and his grief, and ask him to stand beside me.
If he is truly haunted by the disaster that happened on his watch, which destroyed an entire community, I ask him to come forward and make a moral statement about what the right thing is for Dow and Union Carbide to do. According to American Law, the polluter must pay, and so Dow, the owner of Union Carbide, must pay to clean up its mess. Every single employee and former employee of Dow Chemical and Union Carbide has such tremendous power to make a difference for the people of Bhopal, especially Mr. Warren Anderson. There is stillplenty of work to be done in Bhopal. 15 people still die every month due to the long-term effects of the disaster. Generations have been born with birth defects. Bhopal's water is still poisoned.
If you really feel that guilt, Mr. Anderson, don't just hide speak out, reflect publicly about your regrets, announce to the world your sympathy for and support of the Bhopali people, and demand that Union Carbide and Dow Chemical clean up Bhopal, and adequately and fairly compensate all the vistims' families.
Mr. Warren Anderson, you have such power -- use it to make the world a better place. Come join hands with us in our struggle to clean the site where thousands of people still live today. Mr. Warren 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 that 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.
- Akash Viswanath Mehta
With inputs from agencies
Image: Akash Mehta (right) and his brother Gautama at 101 Park Avenue in New York | Photograph: Paresh Gandhi