There’s a haunting image from thirty-four years ago. Whenever I see it, an unknown terror fills my mind, and snatches my ability to reason. It’s from the infamous Bhopal Massacre (yes, I call it that) of 2-3 December 1984.
Not many in India remember it or talk of it today. That’s expected, looking at how we forget deaths through a collective collusion. I choose not to forget. How can a person alive and thinking ever forget something that converted thousands of living human beings into just bodies, with paper pasted on their foreheads, the same children’s forehead that their parents used to kiss?
Nothing can be written here about the actual set of events that led to the tragedy better than what has already been done at several sites and in several books. The reason behind remembering Bhopal is two fold. It’s to remind us of Bhopal, and also of the high level of institutionalized corruption at that time that was the main reason behind what happened that night, and after that.
Let’s set the broader perspective for this piece first. There was a PM of the Indian National Congress in New Delhi for over fifty years, (1947 to 1977, 1980 to 1989, 1991 to 1996 and 2004 to 2014). Bharatiya Janata Party was born in 1980 and has been in at the centre power for nearly eleven years. Today, the intelligentsia is mostly anti-Modi and anti-BJP. I have no objection to that. Yet, I object to the short term memory of nearly all influential persons and agencies. They have decided to forget the wrongs that the Congress had done in its fifty years, and focus about what Mr. Modi and his government has done wrong in the last four years. Of course there are many supporters of Mr. Modi, but even they, it seems, have forgotten the fifty years of corrupt and disastrous governance that Congress gave India. I have decided to remember those years too.
1984 was the annus horribilis in the history of humanity (shall I put “Indian” humanity here, as my focus is on India? But then, humanity is not country specific). As Prime Minister Rajeev Gandhi so metaphorically put in his “When a big tree falls, earth shakes” speech, one person was assassinated, and thousands had to lose their life in the planned so called “retaliatory violence”. The official figure was close to three thousand. Till date, justice had been denied to the victims of the Sikh Genocide of November 1984.
Exactly one month after the Sikh Genocide, on 2-3 December 1984, nearly 3000 persons officially died in Bhopal due to MIC leaked from the Union Carbide factory built flouting all international laws and safety standards in a densely populated area.
At the official website of BJP I found this booklet that has a couple of wonderful articles on the second massacre in 1984 for which the Congress (I) government was responsible in so many ways. Here’s the booklet: http://www.bjp.org/images/upload/publications/bhopal_gas_kand.pdf
The gas leaked and affected nearly the whole population of the city.
“An exact death toll has never been established. Union Carbide, not surprisingly, set the toll on the low end at 3,800, while municipal workers claimed to have cleared at least 15,000 bodies in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Thousands have died since, and an estimated 50,000 people became invalids or developed chronic respiratory conditions as a result of being poisoned”. (https://www.wired.com/2010/12/1203bhopal-disaster/)
There’s a lot of material available all over the internet and it points towards a definite state complicity in the crime. First of all, the permission to manufacture methyl isocyanate was given during the Emergency that Mrs. Indira Gandhi had imposed on India. Then, it was Mr. Rajiv Gandhi’s subsequent governments that botched the whole case against the Union carbide and assisted its CEO Warren Anderson’s escape from India. He was never punished. There was a settlement with Union Carbide that got the people of Bhopal nearly nothing. “… faced with a $3 billion lawsuit, the company dug in. It eventually agreed to a $470 million settlement, a mere 15 percent of the original claim. In any case, very little money ever reached the victims of the disaster”. https://www.wired.com/2010/12/1203bhopal-disaster/
The official response of Union Carbide was that water was introduced into a tank filled with MIC by probably an employee of the same. That it was an act of sabotage and not an accident. http://www.bhopal.com/Cause-of-Bhopal-Tragedy
Even if that is granted, where did that act of sabotage happen? Who was responsible to prevent it? Why was their plant with such volumes of such a deadly chemical functioning in that area?
The only reason the company and its CEO were not punished was because it happened in India, and the corrupt Congress government was at the helm. The main responsibility for those 3000 deaths, many of them children, lies with the company that set the factory there and ran it negligently and then, could not prevent its own employee from doing what he did as there was no concern for safety or so many human lives that would be lost if anything like that happened. The governments that gave Union Carbide the license for the plant and then did not ensure that the quality of production and safety measures are maintained is equally responsible. Neither was punished even thirty-four years after the incident. It happens only in India.