Bhopal gas tragedy victims still await justice

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 04 Dec 2018 12:02:02


By Anshuman Bhargava,

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy entered its 34th year in 2018. But over three decades down the line, the wounds and pains of that traumatic night of December 2, 1984 are still fresh and intense in the people. Till today, more than one lakh people wait everyday for justice that can salve their 34-year-old scalds – people, whose lives were ruined forever by the events of the fateful winter night of December 2.
Over 3,000 people were wiped off the face of the earth in a matter of hours. Over 1.3 lakh others lived to see and bear suffering all their lives.

Children grew into adults with multiple deformities inexplicable in words. Adults are surviving their daily battle with cancer. The old are coughing blood; their innards are charred! The toxic gas that leaked from the Union Carbide plant and choked people to death on December 2, is still killing people, slowly, by and by, through constant torture. Its effects are still very much visible around. The water is contaminated, the soil is poisoned.

The very air people breath still reeks of poison, of politics and neglect. It still reeks of greed, of injustice and ignominy. People are fighting to end this indolence of our leaders and people in power – who can act but won’t! It is a shame and pity that Chairman and CEO of the culprit company Warren Anderson was in the country at the time of the incident and he could not be caught and brought to book. We all know how some Indian leaders helped Anderson fly away to the US at the earliest, so that he is saved from people’s wrath and the legal action he would have faced here. In any other country, a person responsible for the death of 3,000 people, would have been put behind bars overnight.

But in India, our pride in pandering to a foreigner and interests of a foreign company weighed heavily on our own people.  The company later doled out a paltry compensation of about Rs 700 crore, which proved too infinitesimal to serve the needs of treatment and rehabilitation of the poor victims. Each person got just Rs 25,000 to survive. Many perished.

Treating those affected was a costly and long drawn affair, even if we forget the grave loss of life and the recurring damages to health that the incident led to, which people are still suffering. The company did not take into consideration all these, nor our governments could push it to give more.  It was not just the question of bloody 3,000 ‘insignificant’ lives, which were lost, but it was a question of one generation of men, women and children whose whole genetic mapping was damaged.  Millions and millions of sick and deformed babies were to be born for centuries! Would UC ever be able to compensate that damage?

The era of litigations and counter litigations started. The 80s passed by, the 90s ended, the 2000s also brought no hope. The decade from The next decade is also about to close. Generations died and new generations grew old, but the cases continued. They still do. The outcomes of all these years of struggle have been negligible. The hospitals are still crowded with patients hit by the aftereffects of the tragedy. There are not enough doctors to handle the patients. There are not enough hospitals to accommodate them. Several cases are hanging fire in so many courts for years, without any verdict yet. Even the smallest demands of the victims like, making sufficient doctors available, are pending a hearing.

The legal nitty-gritty is complex, not just because it is a deep socio-economic issue comprising several layers of problems concerning varied aspects from healthcare to livelihood, from ethics to environment, but also because it has to deal with a company that no longer exists and its culprit CEO who has died five years back. Then obviously the political will to bring justice expressly to the victims is missing because the issue is intertwined with economics, business, diplomacy and political compulsions and interests. No comprehensive verdict is ever given that could resolve some of the major problems of the victims because that can open a can of worms for the leadership and their economic and diplomatic priorities. No one wants to visit the ghost of the past as long as it is avoidable.

By buying time and delaying action on the issue, there is an attempt to never allow it to hold the centrestage of public attention for any longer. As long as it is just an annual December 3 affair of protest marches in Bhopal, no one bothers to lend much currency to it more than what political compulsions mandate. For much of the year, there is no attempt by any political party to take on the challenges head on and end the problems for good. On every anniversary, however, they are all seen with their list of promises. For some, keeping the issue alive is a ticket to their political existence. Many leaders have survived by selling the Bhopal Gas Tragedy story and feigning solidarity with the victims, though none has done even a small part of what he could do by his power, money or influence. It is a lone battle the sufferers are fighting, whose only strength is hope. Hope that somewhere in eternity, good times will come. It must be remembered by all that the fight is not about a handful of people. The fight is all about the pride of our nation. It is the fight to drive home the message that our people are not guinea pigs for the grand schemes of billion-dollar companies.

The fight is for all the underdogs across the world who want a decent and respectable life and are conveniently denied so. The fight is against all those big brands, which ignore employee interests and safety and exploit them for a pittance. It is a fight for humanity. It is a fight for the pride and victory of human values and human unity. The fight goes on. There is desperation, uncertainty and an unending struggle – the struggle to live. But the fight goes on. It must. For struggle is the sign of life and vitality. Individuals die but people live; their dreams and hopes live, on which societies run. The best antidote to wriggle out of the gloom of December 2, 1984, is to embrace life, embrace hope.