Nothing and nothing and nothing

June 12, 2010

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.
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Dear Mr Obama

June 10, 2010

Dear Mr Obama

This is my first letter to you. I have to confess, I didn’t much care when you won the election. It may have been history in the making but it was American history and I live too far away to care. I didn’t wear Obama T-shirts. I didn’t read the book. I didn’t buy the ‘Change’. Call me cynical. Goes with the job description.

But today, I feel compelled to write to you. You’re having a problem with oil spills. I don’t know how you’re going to deal with it but you’ve been promising compensation and not just ‘nickel and dime’ stuff. Which is good. By and large, the US seems to take accidents, the disabling of human beings and monetary compensation pretty seriously.

I also read about some plans to compensate veterans, those who worked to test nuclear weapons. It says here that the compensation could be pretty generous.
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A Cloud Still Hangs Over Bhopal (New York Times)

December 4, 2009

Suketu Mehta writes in the New York Times:

IN the Mumbai kindergarten my son went to, the children never had to clean up after themselves; that was the servants’ job. So I really liked the school my son attended when we moved back to Brooklyn, where the teachers made the children tidy up at the end of the day. “Cleanup time, cleanup time!” my 6-year-old sang, joyfully gathering his scraps. It’s a wonderful American tradition: you always clean up the mess you made.


Union Carbide and Dow were allowed to get away with it because of the international legal structures that protect multinationals from liability. Union Carbide sold its Indian subsidiary and pulled out of India. Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide chief executive at the time of the gas leak, lives in luxurious exile in the Hamptons, even though there’s an international arrest warrant out for him for culpable homicide. The Indian government has yet to pursue an extradition request. Imagine if an Indian chief executive had jumped bail for causing an industrial disaster that killed tens of thousands of Americans. What are the chances he’d be sunning himself in Goa?

The Indian government, fearful of scaring away foreign investors, has not pushed the issue with American authorities. Dow has used a kind of blackmail with the Indians; a 2006 letter from Andrew Liveris, the chief executive, to India’s ambassador to the United States asked for guarantees that Dow would not be held liable for the cleanup, and thanked him for his “efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate.”


The survivors of Bhopal want only to be treated as human beings — not victims, not greedy money-grabbers, just human beings who’ve gone through hell and are entitled to a measure of dignity. That includes concrete things like cleaning up the mess and providing health care for the sick, and also something more abstract but equally important — an acknowledgment that a wrong was done to them, and an apology, which Bhopalis have yet to receive.

That was another fine thing my son learned in the Brooklyn school: when you’ve done something bad, you should say you’re sorry. After a quarter of a century, Dow should acknowledge that it is responsible for a very big mess. And now, it’s cleanup time.

Read the whole piece.

Then also, let’s remember

November 30, 2009

Hari Bhatti

Bhopal is the name of an actual, living city—a city with an elected government and real residents you can see traveling through real streets that look a lot like the streets you will find in many other Indian cities. Those of us living in Delhi or beyond have no doubt about this: Bhopal appears from time to time in our newspapers; it occupies a place on our maps; we may pass through its railroad station on the way to other places.
But since the chemical disaster that happened 25 years ago this week, Bhopal’s name has come to represent something else as well; something less tangible than the city that serves as the capital of Madhya Pradesh, but no less real. Like Chernobyl, Darfur, Hiroshima, and several other cities that come to mind if you think for a moment, Bhopal’s name now stands for something horrific that should never have happened.
Symbols like these are powerful: they help us understand the world we live in—what is wrong in it and what is right; what is just, what is criminal. But as powerful as they are, these symbols are also ephemeral: unlike real cities, they are not made of cement and steel, but are the product of our collective memories; the more we forget, the more they fade.

So let’s not forget these few things:
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The Gas Also Whispered Liability

November 29, 2009

Dilip D’Souza

As the crow flies, or as the gas leaks, the Union Carbide plant is no more than a hundred metres from Tulsabai’s one-room home in the shantytown of JP Nagar in Bhopal. When I arrive there one afternoon, she is asleep on a mat. Much as she must have been, I think to myself, that dark night in 1984. So many years later, there in that one room, Tulsabai and I sit to chat. And I am disconcerted to find I am listening to her only intermittently.

For I’m very conscious of that plant. Of its dilapidated, weed-surrounded bulk: a brooding presence, right there across the street. Much as it must have been in 1984. Only a hundred metres away as the crow flies. Only a hundred metres away as the gas whispers death.

Apologies, Tulsabai. But I hear you. I hear the pain and sorrow in your quavering voice, the hurt that has not gone all these years later. And I understand how much is wrong, unjust, about how the tragedy of Bhopal has played itself out.

The bare bones, first. Nearing midnight on Sunday, December 2 1984, a cloud of deadly gas erupted from a storage tank in the Carbide plant. Reams have been written about what the cloud contained, how it was formed and how it leaked. Suffice it to say, here, that over the next few hours, it spread some 27 tonnes of poison — think of it, 27 tonnes wafting through the air — over a sleeping city.
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