Friday, June 11, 2010

Bhopal's Betrayal


" $500 is plenty good for an Indian "
- Kathy Hunt, Chief Public relations officer, Dow Chemicals 2002

It is said that life is cheap. Specially when you are an Indian. More so when you are poor, powerless and living around a chemical factory which does not follow safety norms. 1984, the year etched in the Indian memory as the year of operation bluestar, Indira Gandhi's assassination and Sikh pogo gram ended on a somber note in December when Methyl Isocyanide was leaked from the pesticide plant of Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. 2000 people died immediately. Hundreds were to die in the next few days and thousands were to have respiratory problems for life. Not only them but their coming generations too. 26 years was what it took for the trail to bring the perpetrators of the biggest industrial disaster to justice and it ended in a betrayal.

The people of Bhopal were betrayed repeatedly at each and every step. By the company, who did not follow proper safety procedures in its India plant but followed them at a similar plant in the US. By its management which was more interested in cost cutting and than protecting a few Indian lives. By its police who declared at 7 Am the next day that everything was normal. By its medical staff who did not know what to do and kept giving people cough syrup and eye drops till probably it was very late. By its government who let the chairman of the company who passed the laws for these negligence to escape. By the same government which hired second grade lawyers in US to represent its case and settled for a partly $470 mn. By its courts which took 26 years to arrive at a judgement handing out 2 years sentences to 7 Indians and asking the company to pay $11000. A partly 50 cent per person who was affected by the tragedy.

But to me that's not where the betrayal ends. In this dirty spectre of collusion of US corporates, netas, bureaucrats and Ngos all of whom are in it to further some self interest, it the man on the street who was unlucky enough not to be in those 2000 who died that day, but survived to live through the horror and pain of these 26 years suffers. The debates surrounding me today are not about how to compensate the victims or about how to make sure that correct medical care is given to the victims. They are not even about detoxifying the ground water of Bhopal and the area around the factory. Nobody is even forceful in implementing laws to make sure such a thing never happens again. What our politicians and media are however interested in, is to find " the culprits". Getting Warren Anderson back might be the correct thing to do. But doing it at the cost of forgetting the victims. Is to me the biggest betrayal of all. Finding who let Anderson fly is important. But what if, we do actually find out who did. How would it matter now? How would it matter to the boy who died a premature death. To the man who became a vegetable because of consuming that gas. He may rejoice that he has been given justice. But what kind of justice would be got by bringing one man back when it was hundreds who colluded. I am not supporting Anderson. To me he always was and will remain a mass murderer. But what unsettles me is that nobody talks of action or what to do now!. Everybody talks of revenge. Do the people of Bhopal actually need revenge? Or they need something more than that.

What they need is not the culprits. They need medical care. They need compensation. They need laws which promise them that such a thing will never happen again. But nobody cares about that. All people care about is hanging the culprit, finding who did what. And why should they not. After all an Indian life is cheap. Darn cheap!

The betrayal continues! and will continue.
Till the next disaster!
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