Tuesday, 8 June, 2010

Bhopal Gas Tragedy....

Growing up in the 80s and 90s in India, we kind of grew up with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. It happened when we were in primary school, for me it happened the year my brother was born. Before that my association with Bhopal was through my General Knowledge class where I was taught that it was the capital city of Madhya Pradesh. So when the newspapers carried news about Bhopal I was naturally interested. It was a name I had learned recently and I wanted to know what the newspapers were saying about this city. I was too young to realize the full import of the incident, though I remember my mother explaining that many people had died. As a child I was fascinated by the fact that many animals had died too.  One newspaper image still lingers in my memory, of that a small boy curled up dead clutching a dead animal, probably a goat. What a tragedy it was...the nation was stunned, its citizens shocked...newspapers were full of it, whenever elders met they discussed it. Political parties made full use of it, indulging in blame game and the Communists blamed the US imperialism and  the central government to their hearts' content.

Years passed, the civil society movement around the tragedy grew as we were growing up... the anniversary was commemorated each year, there were rallies, candle light processions, gheraos, protests and people wore black bands to show solidarity and news papers carried articles to trigger public memory. NGOs mushroomed working with the victims and fighting for justice. So the incident lived on, sometimes ebbing away, sometimes coming to the forefront. The court cases started, and along came the controversies and the frustration at the long winded judicial system. Various studies started coming out, how the health of the population was affected, how the environment was affected. Two messages came out very strongly-- how government, bureaucracy  and Union Carbide were responsible and how people were pinning their hopes on the judicial system to bring justice.

Years later in college and then later in universities, I interacted with groups working with the victims,  watched theatrical  performances  on the disaster, art exhibitions. Studying human rights the case came up for discussion in the course of my study. For me it was reliving the incident. I got to know more facts about the tragedy which had happened years ago, an incident which was not personal yet deeply personal, a tragedy which did not touch me and mine, yet had an enormous impact on me.

Over the years I have followed the fight for justice, most times through news papers, sometimes by wearing the black band, or donating a meager amount of money or visiting a public meetings, lectures or debates.

It was not only the fight for justice for the people affected, for our generation this fight was to affirm our faith in our justice system. Some horrible tragedy had happened when we were kids and we had expected that by the time we grew up justice would be delivered! What a wrong expectation that was!

Way too many things had already gone wrong, too many mistakes by our bureaucrats and government, we thought that the judiciary would poke its finger in the right place and pin responsibility onto the guilty. The judiciary was to be our savior. Because otherwise who else was left? The next step is the dreaded 'rebellion' by the people driven by frustration and voicelessness. No we did not want that...we wanted to have  our faith in the Indian Constitution and the rule of law reaffirmed. Today's verdict is such a massive let down...I am not angry, I am disappointed. My first instinct was to ask myself whether the Chief Judicial Magistrate is under political pressure or God forbid taken a bribe? Then I recoil from my own thoughts, I do not want to reach that level of cynicism. I am part of young India, we need to take the nation forward, not give up on it.

Somehow in this rush to be developed, the poor has gone out of favour in India. The poor and the disadvantaged are considered unpleasant aspects of the nation who need to be swept under the carpet or pushed into another hastily patched slum which is more like a black hole. All we want to show the world is our IT engineers, our rich industrialists with unprecedented personal riches and our English speaking, accent faking youth working in call centres. Thankfully India is much, much more than that and we Indians are proud of our diverse background. So what if we are developing and riddled by multitude of problems, we have our dignity and our faith for better future. If only our politicians, bureaucrats and judiciary believed in it too!

1 comment:

  1. Suchi,

    It was the Supreme Court that reduced the offences to that of a "traffic offence". The Bhopal Judge sent the 7 accused to the maximum of 2 years under the sections that the Supreme Court had directed him to use.

    Indignation and fury should also be directed at those in the Government then. They detained Anderson for two days, and then escorted him to a flight to the US out of Delhi. Union Carbide had sent an old and insecure plant to Bhopal, suppressed a gas leak a year earlier in which one worker had died, and still did nothing to prevent a recurrence.

    Romesh Bhattacharji


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