Most recruited students unaware of Bhopal gas tragedy; say earning bread is their concern

Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide that was responsible for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, has recruited over a dozen students from the city in campus placements this year. About half of these selected students are from Anna University. The company took over Union Carbide only in 1999, but issues related to adequate compensation to victims of the tragedy that left thousands dead and remediation of the contaminated site are still lingering.

The Indian Olympic Association has expressed its opposition to Dow Chemical being one of the sponsors for this year's Olympic Games in London. And in 2007, when the U.S. multinational started recruiting students from campuses, over 1,000 students and faculty members of IIT- Madras had opposed it vehemently, leading to the cancellation of its recruitment drive on its campus.

Even today, the IITs in Madras, Kharagpur, Kanpur and Bombay do not allow the company to recruit from their campuses.

Recruited students of Anna University, however, have a different take on the issue.

A chemical engineering student hailing from Tiruvannamalai who got hired by the company this year said: “With 87 per cent in class XII, I am here studying chemical engineering in a government college because I needed to pay only Rs. 16,000 a year compared to the Rs. 2 lakh I would have had to pay if I went for computer engineering or any sought-after stream in a self-financed college. For a lot of us who belong to lower-middle class families, getting a job is paramount as we have to support our families.”

Many of these selected students, who are not even aware of the gas tragedy, were offered internships in the company through the placement cell of the Anna University in the third year itself, while the rest got recruited through campus interviews.

“For a lot of us, getting into Dow is like a dream come true because there are very few core chemical companies that come here for placements,” said another student from the chemical engineering department.

“Indian Oil Corporation may have offered the highest pay packet, of Rs. 8.7 lakh per annum, but Dow Chemical, which offered Rs. 6 lakh, was a favourite because it simply had an HR interview, unlike the others who conducted technical interviews as well,” the student added.

“Our seniors say the workplace at Dow is quite conducive for fresh graduates because there is no hierarchy as is seen in many of the PSUs. And unlike many recruiters, the company has already given us offer letters, asking us to join on June 4 at the Chennai office,” said another Dow recruit. “As for the Bhopal tragedy, we were not even born then. Moreover, Dow was not in control of Union Carbide at the time,” he said rather diffidently.

Three years ago, when Dow Chemical was to sponsor ‘Kurukshetra,' the annual fest of the College of Engineering, students from engineering institutions across the city came together and urged the college to return the money, warning the college that the association could severely affect its reputation. Organisations such as International Campaign for Justice for Bhopal (ICJB) and Students for Bhopal had also written to the University to shun the sponsorship.

“Instead, we wanted the university administration and students to meet the survivors of the tragedy, but the officials did not show any interest. The story of the tragedy was never presented to the students, because of which many are not even aware of it,” says Nityanand Jayaraman, a city-based activist associated with the struggle to get justice for the victims.

“It is the fault of educational institutions that provide a forum for such companies to foster associations. It is disheartening to see pay packets meaning more than values.”

Anna University officials maintained that no sponsorships were being accepted from Dow Chemical even now but refused to respond on its students being hired by the company through campus interviews.

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