Saturday, December 01, 2007

Oh Bhopal

In a chilly night on 3rd December, 1984 a gas leak took place and 3800 people died in Bhopal. It was as simple as this.

24 years have passed and those who lost their loved ones still fruitlessly yet religiously take out processions demanding action against Dow, the new owner of UCC, the company which was responsible for the leak. 

Warren Anderson, the then head of UCC is in US and his extradition constantly refused.

More than 1.5 lakh people were affected by the methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leak and now they are living their lives in complete oblivion. Though the same does not hold true for Dow. The US giant has been allowed to continue providing its service in India and in 2006 the Industrialist and investment commission headed by Ratan Tata requested the Planning Commission to absolve Dow of any liability so as to increase and strengthen the trade between the two country. Reliance too is now working with Dow in the chemical production field.

Another not so important fact that should be noted here is that under the Indian legal eyes UCC is still an absconder. Maybe the law will acquit UCC because it has managed to achieve what no one could do: put Bhopal on the world map.

Dow is represented by Abhishek Manu Singhvi in India and just for the records the PMOs file on Bhopal gas tragedy contains legal opinions that have given by Singhvi. During my law-studying days I frequently use to hear the saying " I am the jury and I am the judge". At that time these lines were too complicated for my nascent mind and it would have been more helpful if we were taught the same principle by illustrating the above example. Now I know what this 'Jury-judge' connotes.

5 years ago while waiting for my train at the Bhopal station I met a crippled man and in the course of having tea on the platform we struck a conversation. He told me that he was an unfortunate survivor of the 3rd December holocaust and he lost his wife, mother and 2 daughters on that fateful night. With moist eyes he told me that was able to survive because he was sleeping on the floor, one on which her wife had recently applied a fresh coat of dung to keep the place warm and insect free. According to him the gas released from the dung neutralized the MIC gas. His family was not so fortunate as they were sleeping on the bed above the ground when the gas leaked.

The dung saved him, at-least that’s what he believes.. He also had one more belief : America used Bhopal as a testing ground for its chemical weapon- the MIC.

In the year 1999 on the 25th anniversary of the tragedy the city of Bhopal observed a two minutes silence in respect of the departed souls. December comes every year. And every year rallies are taken out, speeches made and victims remembered.

For many it is enough. What else do you expect for a bunch of unknown toddlers, aged-old infirm, men and women who died many years ago?

Maybe some justice, not much, but still a small token as to convey the message that those who lost their lives were not worthless and expendable.

3800 people may not be enough to bring people out on the streets of Delhi for a candle-lit protest at the India Gate. Maybe the number is not just enough to warrant a 2 minutes slot on the news channels.

The survivors have now accepted their fate. The Bhopal victims don’t shy away from their helplessness, they have learnt to love with that. Probably we all have.

But at-least we can try to delay the inevitable by 10 years. Can't we resist ourselves from inviting Dow and the UCC to India for some more years? Till the last of the remaining survivor go to a never ending sleep and never awakes to see the ignominy.

"We are not expendable. We are not flowers offered at the altar of profit and power. We are dancing flames committed to conquering darkness and to challenging those who threaten the planet and the magic and mystery of life."

-- Rashida Bee, Bhopal gas leak survivor

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