Monday, March 07, 2005

About Bhopal...

It's totally out of context, but I felt this need to blog a bit on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Well, if a context is really necessary: Ajitha and I were in the middle of yet another freelance project, and it dealt with a series of women who have made major contributions in the area of social work. And there was the story of Champa Devi Shukla and Rashidabee, two women - rather well known, and widely covered in the media down the years - who have contributed immensely in the campaign against Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals.

Now, while their story is one do I put it...well, it's the sort that, if nominated for an Oscar, will be good enough to convince the other four nominees not to even appear for the ceremony.

But that said, I am not blogging on either of them. If I had to, it would be about Medha Patkar. Who, incidentally, I had the good fortune of spending many delightful hours with once upon a time. It was when I was with tehelka, and I was sent to report around the Narmada Valley. I struck up a good enough rapport for her to get in touch with me whenever there was a story worth reporting, or when she was in Delhi and had time for a meet-up.

Anyway, to get back to the Bhopal Gas Leak... it was last year, wasn't it, in December, that the twentieth anniversary of the Disaster was 'celebrated'? Yeah.

Now, the deal about the whole story that continues to baffle me is how despite the massive international support to the campaign, the powers-that-be (the judiciary in the US and in India, the United Nations, etc) continue to pass the buck and treat the entire issue as one that will gradually go away. It will pass, and one day everyone will wake up and realise that none of it ever happened, Union Carbide is still doing good work in India, all children in Bhopal are born in perfect health, flowers bloom in the Union Carbide factory compound, and the water in Bhopal is pure as mountain streams. It's been 20 goddamn years now, for heaven's sake! And till date, UC first and then DC, have done nothing. Nothing at all. It's been one court case after another, with decisions that get pushed back...American univeristy students continue to protest with people from India and many other parts of the world, but at the end of it, nothing at all happens.

The Bhopal incident is widely acknowledged as the greatest, biggest industrial disaster to have ever happened. I found out from reading about Champa Devi and Rashidabee that their protests in the US - significantly, during a DC Board meeting - actually resulted in DC's share prices dropping substantially (Forbes acknowledged it as being so). But DC (or/and UC) are yet to pay even a fraction of the compensation due to the survivors (or victims) of the Disaster.

The government of India has never pushed too hard to earn justice for the victims, and they continue to play indifferent. The Indian Communist Party has also been shockingly lax in doing anything, and they continue to stay away.

And, as I reach this stage, I realise that I have nothing more to say. I mean, I do. But it would be a lot of repetition of things said and done to death with down the years...

Meanwhile, this is an interesting site with a few facts about the Disaster that will help put things in perspective.