Justice for Bhopal

It was an 8 to 88 crowd’s rally demonstration outside the court, demanding the arrest of former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson. On one side, the BJP accused the Congress government, under Rajiv Gandhi, for helping the accused escape, and on the other side, Congress blamed the then Madhya Pradesh CM, Arjun Singh government and protesters burnt his effigy.
After an hour’s failed struggle with the security to get a glimpse of the cursed factory, a broken wall led to a curiosity that tickled our nerves, and we slipped through a hole. With pounding hearts and pulse racing thrice the normal rate, we walked half a mile through an ignored forest. Far, there stood, in the silence, the burnt monster. The rusted machines and broken pipes still stand there as the evidence of the most tragic night in Bhopal’s history.
The dead seals of the Atlantic, off the coast of Alaska after the 1989 Exxon Valdex Oil Spill were valued higher than the thousands of humans in Bhopal who suffer to this day! Exxon fixed the compensation for economic loss and punitive damages at 1.5 billion dollars, which is double of the Bhopal gas tragedy amount of 470 million dollars. There is only an inheritance of loss for Bhopal’s gas tragedy victims. It is unbelievable how every time the rich and the wrong doers get off scot-free while the victims suffer.
As MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced the constitution of a five-member panel of legal experts to examine the judgment before going for an appeal, PM Manmohan Singh offers EGoM (Empowered Group of Ministers) as a balm to the victims. But the victims neither understand the N-Bill nor does any legislature-executive-judiciary clash bother them. All they want is justice.
It is not every day that the fossil of a child’s head is found amidst the soil and brick chunks, or a hundred corpses are scattered across the street, or a thousand   skulls are stacked into jute sacks to be disposed off!
The Bhopal gas tragedy verdict amounts to a travesty of justice. By awarding just two years imprisonment to the accused, the Indian judiciary has made a mockery of the thousands whose souls still haven’t rested in peace in their graves. In Bhopal, no-one uses the term ‘accident’ to describe the calamity that took place here in the early hours of 3 December 1984.For, ‘accident’ implies blamelessness.
In Bhopal, the hunger for justice among those who suffered seems undiminished. Those who survived remember the terrible randomness of it. Eyewitnesses saw a dense cloud of poisonous gas settle on the slum areas that crowded the Union Carbide pesticide plant. As it passed through the dimly lit streets, the direction of the wind determined who lived and who died. Within three days, 8,000 were dead. Thousands more died in the months afterwards. And 500,000 people were exposed to the gas. Many still suffer life-long chronic illnesses. Campaigner and owner of Sambhavna Hospital Satinath Sarangi says he has ample evidence that the Union Carbide plant is still, after all these years, leaking toxins into the ground water supply on which many people still depend.
As the case history reveals, former Chief Justice A.M. Ahmadi headed the Supreme Court bench in 1996, whose ruling is widely seen as having helped the accused in the 1984 tragedy to get away with a light sentence of two years imprisonment. He was caught on the wrong foot for defending his 1996 decision to charge the Union Carbide officials for only having caused death due to negligence.
“My 16 year old sister Ishrat died in my arms. I can never forgive Union Carbide,” weeps Nusrat Jehan, a resident of JP Nagar, one of the worst affected areas in the gas tragedy. In another slum, Shakra Bi, now 63, and suffering from partial blindness and speech disorder, moans about losing nine family members in the gas tragedy in that one night, and also for not being able to attend her son, Wasim’s funeral.
Sometimes, a single sentence captures a magnitude like nothing else can. In 2002, Kathy Hunt, the Chief Public Relations honcho for Dow Chemicals, declared with what can only be called twisted, imperial arrogance— that 500 dollars was “plenty good for an Indian.” Hunt was talking about the pittance that the Indian government accepted in its bewilderingly weak-willed settlement with Union Carbide. Dow in 2001 commented that a few hundred dollars is “enough to cover a full year of medical care in India.”
Over 25 years have passed; Bhopal is still waiting for justice, and with them, are about 120 Crore people, and the accused cannot escape, because the blood of the Indian middle class usually reaches boiling point after two things— defeat in ODI cricket, and any act of cheating by the dollar imperialism.

Aryani Banerjee

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