Nothing and nothing and nothing

Annie Zaidi

I spent some time on the Bhopal website. They have a timeline tool. It shows you a page crowded with information on what happened during the gas tragedy in December 1984. On the right, there is a horizontal bar with forward/backward arrows in neon green. I clicked on the forward arrow.

There was nothing. And nothing. And nothing. And nothing.

Then there was something, a little something. In 1989. Criminal charges against Carbide. Then a little further on, in 1991, the Supreme Court review of the Carbide settlement. Then, in 1992, the reopening of the criminal liability case. Then in 1993, Union Carbide and Warren Anderson were declared ‘absconders’ from the law.

And then nothing. And nothing. And nothing. All the way to now, and nothing.

While keeping my finger on the click button of the mouse, arm began to hurt. I was irritated and frustrated at staring at the blank screen. I wanted to speed things up. Move on. Move on to the point where something happened. Why was 1989 taking so long to turn into 1991? Why was 2002 not moving into 2005. Why was 2005 dragging? I found myself just wanted to give up. Shut the window. Look at something else. Plenty of other ways to waste time on the internet.

And then I began to wonder – what is it like for nothing to happen if you are on the timeline?

When 1989 never ended. Where 2005 never quite began. And if it did, it looks no different from 1985, or 2009. What happened to time, if (almost) nothing was all that happened?

What must it be like to sit there and wait for something to happen, and not even be able to click a button. Not be able to shut windows. Not be able to waste time because so much of your time, your life, your patience, your body has already been wasted.

And as for what happened in 1989? This.

…the Indian Supreme Court unilaterally, without giving the victims a chance to make their case, imposed a settlement to the amount of $470 million, with the government to make up any shortfall. The government had asked for $3 billion from Carbide. Carbide executives vere delighted; they speedily transferred the money to the government. That was in 1989. The first victim did not see the first rupee of Carbide’s money until Christmas of 1992, eight years after the night of the gas. A total of 597,000 claims for compensation have been filed. As of May 1996, the government has passed rulings on only about half of them – 302,422 – and awarded compensation for injuries to 288,000 Bhopalis…

Although the government isn’t releasing figures about the average amount of awards, the welfare commissioner’s office told me that the maximum compensation awarded for deaths is 150,000 rupees ($4286), except in a handful of cases. Mohammed Laique, a local lawyer who has been representing claimants from the beginning, gave me the standard rates of compensation. For most deaths, the amount awarded is 100,000 rupees ($2857). For personal injury cases, 90 per cent get 25,000 rupees, or $714 (the award bestowed on most of the survivors I spoke to directly).

Read the whole piece. It talks not only of the tragedy of poison gas. It talks of the tragedy that us. India. Our courts, our bureaucracy, our people. Us.

Cross-posted here.

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One Response to Nothing and nothing and nothing

  1. Indra says:

    Annie, the timeline has a zoom thing which means you can move out to take a look over a larger number of years. I haven’t finished filling in the blanks yet. I have hundreds of things to add between 1984 and 2003, and from then till now.

    Having said that I think your insight is very powerful because the things reported o the timeline don’t impact on ordinary people’s everyday lives anyway. There is an old lady called Laccho Bai, who lost four children. In 1995 she lost her reason and began wandering the alleys half dressed muttering. Some took pity on her others treated her badly. A few years later she lost her sight. According to her neighbour she spends all day sitting in the doorway of her house, clutching a garment that had belonged to her daughter. She’ll sometimes sing, words that no one understands, or laugh. “She sits there all day calling out to god or to whoever will listen”. What indeed must life, day after day, year after year, be like for her?

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