Abandoned to their fate

Indra Sinha, The Guardian, April 9th, 2008
Victims of the Bhopal disaster are still campaigning for justice. Their suffering is emblematic of the struggle faced by huge numbers of Indians
guardianwahid.gif
Wahid Khan, 72, blinded by the gas which spread over Bhopal from a pesticide plant owned by an Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation on December 2 1984. Photo: Corbis
At the end of January I was dining with an old friend, now one of India’s top policemen. Intelligence, counter-terrorism, external threats, internal security, he’d done it all. He knew of my work with the Bhopal gas survivors, whom I’d accused successive Indian governments of betraying.
“Betrayal? Isn’t that rather a strong word?”
“Well, what would you call selling out the Bhopalis for a pittance? Canning all medical studies into the effects of the gas? Letting Union Carbide leave Bhopal without cleaning its factory? Turning a blind eye while toxic waste leaks and poisons the local water supply? Ignoring a supreme court of India order to provide clean water? Beating up women and children who dared to ask why nothing had been done? Doing business with Dow Chemical while its wholly-owned subsidiary Carbide refuses to appear in court to face criminal charges? Conspiring to get Dow off the Bhopal hook in return for $1bn? All this while people are still sick, while hundreds of children are being born deformed? What part of this cannot be called betrayal?”
As we spoke, my Bhopali friends were preparing to walk 500 miles to Delhi for the second time in three years. After the last march they had sat for a fortnight on hunger strike before the government deigned to talk to them. The politicians had made plenty of promises but kept none, so the Bhopalis were about to walk again.
“Indra, Indra,” replied my friend, when I was finally done. “Don’t tell me you are really so naive. Politics isn’t about social justice. It is about power.”
It didn’t used to be. Not entirely. Long marches and hunger strikes were the weapons of Mahatma Gandhi. His portraits still hang in Indian embassies, where his politics are nowadays an embarrassment.
Modern India is everything Gandhi loathed: a society of ephemera that worships money, cheap celebrity and expensive foreign goods. The poor have been abandoned, their memory obliterated by a deluge of commercials for share issues and cars. It is “anti-progress” (and thus unpatriotic) to mention the thousands driven from their homes by huge dams, the 150,000 farmers who have committed suicide over the last decade, the 100,000 members of ethnic communities forcibly displaced by mining and steel corporations in a savage unreported war in the forests of central India. These poor have no share in India’s new wealth, no voice and no powerful friends. When they get in the way of progress they can expect to be jailed, tortured, gang-raped or murdered. They are the victims of what Arundhati Roy has called “the most successful secessionist struggle ever waged in independent India – the secession of the middle and upper classes from the rest of the country.”
Politicians may grit their teeth when Roy speaks (in Gujarat they organised a wholesale burning of The God of Small Things) but for the moment she and other prominent dissenters are protected by their fame. For how much longer? In the central Indian war zone, filing a news story could land you in jail. Or worse. A police phone call was intercepted. “If any journalists come to report,” the district’s senior officer was heard to say, “get them killed.”
In my novel, Animal’s People, a character asks: “When grief and pain turn to anger, when our rage is as useless as our tears, when those in power become blind, deaf and dumb in our presence, and the world’s forgotten us, what then should we do? Must we put away anger, choke back our bitterness, and be patient, in the hope that justice will one day win? We have already been waiting 20 years. And when the government that is supposed to protect us manipulates the law against us, of what use then is the law? Must we still obey it, while our opponents twist it to whatever they please? It’s no longer anger but despair that whispers, if the law is useless, does it matter if we go outside it? What else is left?”
This article was amended on Thursday April 10 at 11.30am


madcapmagician
Comment No. 1260009
April 9 18:37
GBR Its good work you are doing, mate!
I was caught up in that tragedy
http://piquancy.blogspot.com/2004/07/for-every-glance-behind-us-we-have-to.html
and here’s my commentary on the hospital that the gas money helped to build
http://piquancy.blogspot.com/2004/07/land-of-hope-if-not-glory.html
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ashwattama
Comment No. 1260012
April 9 18:38
USA I agree on most counts. The yuppy class of India has completely disengaged from the rest of the country. If you live in South Mumbai or in a happening suburb of Delhi or Bangalore, it is possible to live your entire life without knowing how the other 95% lives. I know several educated Indians who fervently believe that the trickle-down theory is working in full force (“villagers are trading commodities on the CBOT, THIS is progress!”)
P. Sainath (Everybody Loves a Good Drought) should be made mandatory reading for every yuppy in India.
The only mercy is, these 5% jokers (includes my entire family, by the way) don’t ever bother to vote. They are politically irrelevant and should be completely ignored.
Your friend was right – politics is not about social justice, but about power. And it always was – and not just in India. Social justice comes from social consciousness and awareness, and from denial of power to those who have failed to make good their promises. Even today, wherever the ‘real’ Indians have displayed political awareness and been intelligent about their electoral choices, you can see pockets of real social and human development progress.
In a democracy, you get the government you deserve. If you keep re-electing the same lot, presumably you have nothing to complain about. Dont blame the yuppy wimps, or even the corrupt politicians. Create a strong peoples movement that will sweep away this miniscule minority.
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CountBernadotte
Comment No. 1260058
April 9 19:04
GBR @ Indra Sinha
What the hell..?
After 24 years…
Is there any justice in this world AT ALL?
———-
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DomesticatedYeti
Comment No. 1260061
April 9 19:07
GBR ….
No matter matter how jaded I feel about the world, the Bhopal disaster never loses its capacity make me so very angry.
….
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Stumpysheep
Comment No. 1260091
April 9 19:24
GBR Many thanks for this article Indra, we cannot be allowed to forget this atrocity.
Of course unless the Indian government foots the bill (like that’ll ever happen) the survivors will never receive any compensation because the company responsible, Union Carbide, was stripped of its assets by its parent company, Dow Chemical, before this went to the US courts, and under US law at the time (I think this has now changed) the lawyers could not seek damages from a parent company.
Capitalism at its ugliest.
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RogerINtheUSA
Comment No. 1260120
April 9 19:38
USA CountBernadotte posted
Comment No. 1260058
April 9 19:04
GBR
@ Indra Sinha
What the hell..?
After 24 years…
Is there any justice in this world AT ALL?
Hi CountBernadotte
Remember – this is a Guardian article. In reality, Union Carbide paid $470 million in compensation to the Indian government in 1989.
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pakeezah
Comment No. 1260129
April 9 19:42
GBR It is shameful how successive Governments in India have failed to address the plight of those affected by the Bhopal disaster. There are numerous reasons for this. Firstly, the overwhelming majority of those affected are poor and India has always failed its poor. Secondly, the interests of large US owned companies are being protected. Thirdly, politicians look after number one. Corruption is rife and power is misused.
The wealthy dont give a toss about those less well off and the situation is getting worse with a widening gap between the haves and the have nots. All this talk about India fast becoming one of the world’s leading economies fails to acknowledge that this is a country where your caste at birth still determines your future.
Thank you for this article.
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Stumpysheep
Comment No. 1260136
April 9 19:45
GBR Here’s the wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_Disaster
Roger – Note that the $470 million figure is referenced as ‘citation needed’, or go and ask the victims if they’ve seen a cent of it.
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madcapmagician
Comment No. 1260148
April 9 19:54
GBR Stumpy
they have, check out the 2nd link which I posted. the Bhopal memorial hospital was constructed out of those funds.
and let us not just blame capitalism, let us also blame the local venal corrupt politicians….
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DomesticatedYeti
Comment No. 1260160
April 9 20:06
GBR ….
RogerINtheUSA –
And you think that represents justice! If this disaster had occurred in a US city, do you honestly believe the final compensation settlement would have been $470 million? And do you think there would have been no criminal prosecutions?
….
Stumplysheep –
A few years ago I read a report in the Independent that said a total compensation figure of $470 million had been settled with Union Carbide, but for what at the time was going on a decade and a half after the settlement the thing had got caught up in legal wrangles and corruption, and the final sum that the victims would get had still not been decided. The victims were receiving $5 a month until a final settlement was reached. I don’t know what’s happened in the intervening years, but the report said that the final amount was expected to be less than $400 per person, from which monthly stipends already paid would be deducted. According to RogerINtheUSA, this is justice.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/after-18-years-bhopal-still-waits-for-justice-641302.html
….
madcapmagician –
Of course, capitalism and local venal corrupt politicians don’t go hand in hand.
….
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mintaka
Comment No. 1260162
April 9 20:07
GBR It is true that Union Carbide paid $470 million. What Roger omits to mention is that this figure is peanuts. There were thousands killed and about a hundred thousand severely affected. If the same thing had happened in the US, compensation would have been in the tens of billions. (For comparison, Exxon paid $2 billion after the Exxon Valdez oil spill affected fishing grounds and thereby the livelihoods of local fishermen.) Even allowing for lower medical costs in India, the compensation paid was a travesty. Union Carbide fought very hard to have the case heard in India rather than the US, so that it could take advantage of the comparatively undeveloped framework of tort law in India.
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funwithwhips
Comment No. 1260191
April 9 20:26
GBR the union carbide debacle just shows what happens with the globalised economy. A large Western corporation skimping on safety, allowing literally hundreds of thousands of people to die (and they are STILL dying today), destroying large areas of land with poluting chemicals and then getting away with it completely.
The problem is definately compounded by the fact that the indian government are a bunch of spinless self serving bastards who crumble at the sign of a fight with another country. Lets face it, the poor are treated awfully in teh country while the middle classes lord it up and look at the case of the gas pipeline from Iran, the US said dont do and the indians tip their hat and say “yes Sahib”.
Its absolutely disgusting and an embarresment personally that India has become what it is, a country run by cowards and corporate yes men.
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JessicaAshdown
Comment No. 1260234
April 9 20:56
USA You’re doing great work by shedding light on this issue and I thank you for that. I think I will look for your book Animal’s People. I recognized your name and couldn’t place it but I remembered that several years ago read your book The Death of Mr. Love.
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JessicaAshdown
Comment No. 1260241
April 9 21:02
USA DomesticatedYeti – Thanks for your reply to RogerintheUSA. Some people…
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goldengate
Comment No. 1260276
April 9 21:21
USA Unfortunately the US Judiciary, wrongfully denied the Union Carbide culpability and the case being too old; and the Indian Governments own corruption rendered the cause of the victims untenable, making them expendable. Just another case of malignant narcissists, chronic scape goaters, uncorrectable grab baggers sacrificing others with coercion, reckless abandon and impunity to promote their own outward/hypocrite self image of good and perfection. The crooked timber of humanity getting more crooked with no recourse.
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Vulpus
Comment No. 1260298
April 9 21:36
GBR My heart goes out to the people of Bhopal who still suffer to this day, not only to the familes who lost loved ones, but also the children with birth deformities, and the people who still live in the contaminated area.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/548521.stm
Apparently some years ago after considerable diplomatic pressure there was a warrant out for the arrest of the CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson. The FBI however said they could not find him, then surprise surprise, there he was, filmed by investigative journalists, sleeves rolled up mowing the lawn.
And look how far India has fallen too.
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SquirrelNutZipper
Comment No. 1260392
April 9 22:44
GBR I still see the full-page ads in magazines and newspapers here in the UK, deploring the fact that the world’s attention has ‘moved on’ from Bhopal.
As with a previous poster, whilst there are a few topics that make my blood boil, Bhopal sinks me into full-blown despair over the human race. My anger is only tempered by my resignation that, considering how the world actually works (rather than how it should work), there isn’t a chance in h*ll that anything else will be done for the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of victims of Union Carbide’s total inhumanity.
[This comment, and subsequent comments that refer to it, have been edited – moderator] [Offensive? Unsuitable? Report this comment.] Recommend?
CountBernadotte
Comment No. 1260466
April 9 23:36
GBR @ RogerInTheUSA
Man – who are you trying to defend..?
Cynical isn’t the word.
You – are a heartless idiot. Full stop.
——————-
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CountBernadotte
Comment No. 1260491
April 9 23:56
GBR @ Indra Sinha
Please keep up this work.
Continue TO PUSH for these people.
————–
Good Luck.
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afancdogge
Comment No. 1260557
April 10 1:18
GBR Indra
If you can bring this injustice back into the centre of discussion there may be some hope of a resolution – in so far as monetary compensation can in any way redress the balance. The people need money in order to live, they need support and need to feel they have not been forgotten The difficulty is, as in many other instances of grave and obvious injustice, that those who feel anger and digust at the behaviour of the powerful are helpless. WHO is going to apply effective pressure on the Indian Gvt. or touch the consciences of the selfish 5%?
As for the caste system in India – it may no longer “exist” officially but it certainly lives on in the minds of those who consider themselves “superior”.
———————-
Count.
I have noticed from other threads that you and I share a similar worldview. Do you also feel helpless and inadequate?
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RogerINtheUSA
Comment No. 1260567
April 10 1:34
USA DomesticatedYeti posted
Comment No. 1260160
April 9 20:06
GBR
….
RogerINtheUSA –
And you think that represents justice! If this disaster had occurred in a US city, do you honestly believe the final compensation settlement would have been $470 million? And do you think there would have been no criminal prosecutions?
….
Stumplysheep –
A few years ago I read a report in the Independent that said a total compensation figure of $470 million had been settled with Union Carbide, but for what at the time was going on a decade and a half after the settlement the thing had got caught up in legal wrangles and corruption, and the final sum that the victims would get had still not been decided. The victims were receiving $5 a month until a final settlement was reached. I don’t know what’s happened in the intervening years, but the report said that the final amount was expected to be less than $400 per person, from which monthly stipends already paid would be deducted. According to RogerINtheUSA, this is justice.
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/after-18-years-bhopal-still-waits-for-justice-641302.html
hi DomesticatedYeti
No, it was not enough. My point was that the Guardian gave the impression that there had been no compensation by UC at all. There was compensation, but the Indian politicians did not distribute it to the victims.
I certainly wasn’t defending UC, but pointing out the deception in the Guardian article.
Documents later turned up showing that UC had cut corners. They had not installed safety equipment that could have prevented this.
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Somu
Comment No. 1260574
April 10 1:41
USA
Indian Government at its tragic worst. Its unfair on one section of people to bore the brunt of these mindless development and red-carpeting dangerous Chemical companies like DOW.
DOW is notoriously known for its anti-human research.
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Somu
Comment No. 1260576
April 10 1:41
USA
Indian Government at its tragic worst. Its unfair on one section of people to bore the brunt of these mindless development and red-carpeting of dangerous Chemical companies like DOW.
DOW is notoriously known for its anti-human research.
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RogerINtheUSA
Comment No. 1260626
April 10 3:25
USA Comment edited – moderator] hi SquirrelNutZipper
There was not enough compensation. It was paid in 1989 and then held up, not by UC, but by the Indian government. I’m not trying to defend Union Carbide, just point out the deceptiveness of the Guardian article.
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GuyFawkesIsInnocent
Comment No. 1260628
April 10 3:30
USA Good work Indra.
Bhopal was much more than a crime. As you point out, it was a “betrayal”, and the victims have never been properly compensated.
madcapmagician is also correct in blaming the Indian authorities. I recall that India once had a vibrant and independent press. The last gasp seems to have been when the offices of the “Hindu” were raided in 2003….
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Bamboo13
Comment No. 1260643
April 10 4:08
IND The indifference of Indians is not new. Indians don’t care one thought about the victims of U.C. Bhopal. They don’t care for the 100,000 slaughtered on the roads each year, unless of course they are friends or family. Then they care a lot.
The world is about to experience this very ugly side of Indian life. As China and India strut the world, with massive buying power from their bloated populations, they are about to grab the worlds resources.
Without blame, it is the demand from these 2 super powers that is causing prices to surge, and the poor to feel squeezed. National Pride is seen as standing up for India in the shallowest way, not creating opportunities for all it’s citizens.
India has not evolved in a balanced way, and conditioning creates a blindness in society that widens the gap between the elites and the disadvantaged.
It is unfortunate that both India and China that now have so much influence failed to evolve a sustainable way to live, and now intend to create the world in their own image.
It should be noted that India and China don’t give a shit about Burma, Africa, human rights, and the reality that many Indians experience by a corrupt, indifferent bureaucracy, with now be experienced by the world
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Indra
Comment No. 1260814
April 10 8:54
FRA Thank you, those who appreciated the article. 600 words is not enough to begin to unravel the complexities of what has happened in Bhopal.
Someone has commented that Union Carbide paid $470 million to the Indian government. Yes, it did. A sum so derisive that news of the settlement caused Carbide’s share price to jump for joy.
Thousands died in the gas, to this day more than a hundred thousand remain seriously ill. 568,000 people were injured, according to the official figures. Carbide’s pittance had to be shared between them all.
The Indian government sat on half the money. Most people received payments of around $330 – meant to compensate for a lifetime of suffering. Over the years it works out at roughly the price of one cup of tea per day.
By contrast, as the Times of India pointed out, Alaskan sea otters affected by the Exxon Valdez wreck were airlifted fresh lobster at a daily cost of $500 per otter.
Union Carbide and the Indian politicians were equally guilty of wreaking this terrible havoc on the Bhopali people. They continue jointly to be guilty of perpetuating it.
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colonelhackney
Comment No. 1261506
April 10 13:19
GBR Personally I believe that compensation based on US legal principles should be paid to the victims of Union Carbide.
As a matter of interest does anyone know what happened to the victims of Chernobyl and whether they were offered any compensation?
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edwardrice
Comment No. 1261528
April 10 13:25
GBR There’s a good piece by Greg Palast about Exxon Valdez.
http://www.gregpalast.com/exxon-suxx-mccain-duxx/
btw Indra, great article.
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RogerINtheUSA
Comment No. 1261669
April 10 14:00
USA colonelhackney posted
Comment No. 1261506
April 10 13:19
GBR
Personally I believe that compensation based on US legal principles should be paid to the victims of Union Carbide.
hi colonelhackney
UC should have paid far, far more. But UC was not the sole owner of the plant – 47 percent was owned by Indians – and one wonders whether the laws of the majority owner’s nation should apply in these cases. Should workers injured in Jaguar and Land Rover factories henceforth be compensated by Indian courts? Should Chelsea football related lawsuits be handled by Russian courts?
colonelhackney posted
As a matter of interest does anyone know what happened to the victims of Chernobyl and whether they were offered any compensation?
hi
colonelhackney
a quick internet search shows that there are dispute over the death toll and how much compensation has been paid. Apparently it wasn’t paid in cash but has been substantial
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jk47
Comment No. 1261698
April 10 14:08
GBR Funny how in a week when we have seen the results of the condemnation of China’s human rights record, we get a article scratching the surface of India’s. The treatment of lower castes, like the Dalits, is appalling. While I am no fan of how the Chinese treat the Tibetans, do they make them clean up their shit with their bare hands? Do they resign them to a life of poverty and destitution on the basis of the colour of their skin? One thinks that if the Olympics were being held in India, there wouldn’t be the furore that we have now. Why is this so? Western perception is trained by Western thought, India cannot be a cesspool of human rights abuses and a two tier society because we have created them in our image! Democracy and the rule of law mean nothing if not enforced and respected. India is merely prostituting itself to the west, selling it’s soul for a few rupees, while China at least looks after it’s own people and industry by demanding all foreign companies doing business in China take on a local partner. India is the founding father of modern science, mathematics, astronomy, religion, language and civilisation itself, it is sad to see it in the state it is in today. After 1000 years of colonial rule (by Islam and Britain), India has lost its way and lost its soul.
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callcopse
Comment No. 1261827
April 10 14:41
GBR Hi Roger U,
To be fair I think the tone of the article seems much angrier with the Indian government than UC. I think it is somewhat accepted as an unpleasant fact of life that it is a little naive to expect a corporation to do other than what it is obliged to do, as they are trying to make money.
Still, Dow could have behaved better just for PR and because that may have helped make money.
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Bochi
Comment No. 1261923
April 10 15:08
GBR Well said Indra! I know you will never give up on this cause.
While the issue of compensation and the Indian Government’s outstanding ability to ignore the most basic duties a democracy owes to its citizens is important, there is also the matter of preventing future Bhopal disasters.
Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide at the time, who insisted on installing all the necessary safety measures at an identical plant in the USA but not at Bhopal, is wanted in India for culpable homicide. He’s living in the exclusive “Hamptons” estate on Long Island in New York.
Whether the compensation is 470m or 4.7bn or 47bn, it’s just another risk assessment procedure in the boardroom. You work out the downside, you note the brown skins, and you make your decision.
The only way to stop this stuff from happening is to lock up the people who make those assessments. Perhaps Greenpeace, having tracked the bastard down to his New York lair, could fly some of the Bhopal survivors and a few Indian journalists and cameramen to the Hamptons for a tiger hunt?
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JennM
Comment No. 1261937
April 10 15:12
FRA As the Beatles sang “There’s going to be a revolution, yeah yeah I know…”
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marksa
Comment No. 1262095
April 10 15:56
GBR well its somewhat pointless going about the failings of the Indian government. The society is extreme libetarian because the government is non existent. Mind you there are a lot more resources available now, so some of the issues (like clean drinking water) should be addressed.
Upper class Hindus like the writer bemoaning the crass commercialism of today should be treated with scepticism. They are as disengaged as anybody else in reality. Efficient governance does not happen overnight.
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AfricanSnowman
Comment No. 1262472
April 10 17:40
GBR Would it nt have been truly great if the scam that is discussed in this report had actually happened :
“The 20th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy was a day of embarrassment for Dow chemicals and the major news media around the world when the BBC fell victim to a hoax from a man claiming to be a Dow spokesperson who claimed full responsibility for the tragedy and announcing a multibillion dollar compensation package. We play the interview and speak with “Jude Finiseterra,” a member of the Yes Men, which played the hoax. [includes rush transcript] ”
For more go to : http://www.democracynow.org/2004/12/6/yes_men_hoax_on_bbc_reminds
Not surprisingly, the company’s share price fell significantly when the announcement was made thereby re-inforcing the truism that what is good for us poor folks is not good for them rich ones.
I have felt for some time now that the greatest threats to world peace come not directly from nuclear war, biological/chemical warfare or terrorism but from the exploitative and heartless nature of so-called “globalisation” which will provide the catalyst for these events.
Slavery represented the first audacious steps in the sordid “globalisation” project and we can see similar considerations that applied then to what happened in Bhopal. Here I quote from Richard Ennal’s very illumanting book on the subject (“From Salvery to Citizenship”)
“The British played a leading role in the slave trade, but it was conducted offshore, in the notorious “Middle Passage.” Ships left Liverpool and Bristol for west Africa, full of British manufactured goods,…. In between, safely out of sight, they carried slaves from West Africa to North America. Few slaves were brought to England. A comfortable fictional account can be presented of slaves singing and dancing on the Atlantic crossing, and of their happy lives with new masters. Many of those who owned plantations in the West Indies never visited. They enjoyed an income from their investments, and had no wish to know the sordid details of how the profit was obtained.
International outsourcing is made easier by virtue of being conducted away from the glare of publicity. Leading companies, for whom corporate social responsibility is an important marketing tool, tend to see corporate social responsibility as primarily an issue for the local market, and for the home investors. It is rarely applied in global terms. The British had yet to join the European debate, in which corporate social responsibility includes obligations by employers to their employees and former employees ”
(and to the societies in which they operate)
AND
“Finance directors are concerned to analyse hard data, and are resistant two arguments based on soft factors such as health and learning. It is notoriously difficult today to make the business case for investing in people, even when the rhetoric declares that people are the most important resource. We have no agreed ways of value in human capital, or of measuring the impact of investments in the health and learning of the workforce. Thus any such expenditure tends to be seen as the cost to be cut in the short term, rather than an investment in the longer term.”
Here is an article that discusses in detail the events that lead to the disaster and to the chincanaries both before and after.
http://www.democracynow.org/2004/12/2/bhopal_disaster_20_years_later_a
Breifly, cost cutting in the face of unfavourable business conditions was behind it all.
So, every time you hear business leaders and politicians talk of the need to “remain competive” be very carefull – your life could be the next one to be offered to this sacred cow.
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easterman
Comment No. 1262856
April 10 21:07
IRL Small drop in a seedy pond but fair play to ‘FC United of Manchester’ (FCUM) for adopting Bhopal as its charity .
Big contrast to the greedy old yank milking the Big United franchise or the squabbling septics down the east lancs . What is it about Yanks and wandering around the globe pissing people off.
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SquirrelNutZipper
Comment No. 1262908
April 10 21:43
GBR Apologies, Moderators. I did get a bit OTT with RogerINtheUSA there. But then another poster or two also commented on the heartlessness of his posting that provoked my response.
How has it come to pass that Bhopal isn’t as shameful an event in human history as so many others? How is it that the wildlife from the Exxon Valdez disaster were compensated in such ugly contrast to the human beings affected so badly by Union Carbide’s unholy disaster?
The outpourings of emotion and money relating to the Boxing Day tsunami a few years back stands in stark contrast to the world’s continuing apathetic response to Bhopal. Why is that? Because a tsunami is seen as an ‘Act of God’ but Union Carbide is a mega-corporation stuffed with human beings … and we, as a people, are more forgiving of humanly dastardliness than the unknowable force of nature?
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bruceybaby
Comment No. 1262991
April 10 22:53
GBR This makes me cry.
I walked through the villages of India for 2 years, and, after a bad accident in the Himalayas, lived in a cave for a year among the `gaddi` people, for whom I have utmost respect, such beautiful people continuing self-sufficiency as it had been done for thousands of years.
That was in ca. 1984.
I returned 20 years later to find the `gaddi` people absent, and their farmhouses largely rented by Israelis who had total disrespect for the local people.
How can such a beautiful culture disappear so quickly?
I despair.
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marph70
Comment No. 1263028
April 10 23:21
GBR Indra
great piece the campaign must continue to expose the multinational and their ugly policy towards the third world.
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CountBernadotte
Comment No. 1263042
April 10 23:27
GBR @ afancdogge
Thanks.
This song articulates the impotent rage that I feel!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWdh7ERLb3E&feature=related
“As I walk through,
This wicked world,
Searchin’ for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There’s one thing I wanna know:
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?
And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.
‘Cause each time I feel it slippin’ away, just makes me wanna cry.
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?”
[Nick Lowe / Elvis Costello] ——————-
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Indra
Comment No. 1263073
April 10 23:52
FRA I must correct a few misapprehensions.
Marksa says:
Upper class Hindus like the writer bemoaning the crass commercialism of today should be treated with scepticism. They are as disengaged as anybody else in reality.
My reply:
I am neither upper class, nor a Hindu. Nor am I disengaged, at least from the Bhopalis, with whom I have worked for 15 years, raising money in the UK to fund a free clinic in Bhopal for the victims of the gas and water poisoning.
I have a lot of close friends in the squalid bastis of Bhopal. Their courage and good humour in the face of unimaginable suffering were the inspiration for my novel Animal’s People. Anyone interested in finding out more about the clinic and its work can visit http://www.bhopal.org. Some of the fundraising appeals I have written (and published in the Guardian since 1994) can be found at http://www.indrasinha.com/bhopalappeals.html – anyone interested in discovering some truths about Dow Chemical please visit https://www.bhopal.net/masks.html
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CountBernadotte
Comment No. 1263155
April 11 0:44
GBR @ Indra Sinha
Thanks for the links.
Everyone who visits this thread should AT LEAST take a look at this website:
http://www.bhopal.org.
—————-
And thank you for putting this ‘issue’ back into focus.
—————-
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CountBernadotte
Comment No. 1263160
April 11 0:50
GBR Dear Editor/Moderator
Any chance of removing the above ‘off-topic’ items?
[leslove Comment No. 1263108 CHN] Thanks!!!
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marph70
Comment No. 1263177
April 11 1:11
GBR any where else this type of carnage happened? And what is the latest twist on the compensation? Nowadays hardly you find groups to campaign for such causes. It’s the game of media’s vicious circle. Bhopal, Tibet or Burma. If it wasn’t for Olympics Tibet would have never reached today’s headline.
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afancdogge
Comment No. 1263215
April 11 2:03
GBR marph
Your comment re. media strikes a chord. The people who are interested in supporting victims of injustice have to go in search of info. The internet helps in the search and articles like this bring issues to the attention of some. It is noticeable, sadly, that threads such as these attract few comments.
Generally media agenda seem to be tied in with international finance; occasionally “lip service” is paid, on a revolving basis to issues such as Bhopal. I agree that the current media interest in Tibet is quite simply allied to the Olympic torch fiasco. We need an “in your face” policy from popular media outlets, forcing an awareness among the majority of those living in the developed world of the bases of their prosperity; a prosperity built on foundations of human misery. It is not popular to say this.
It is not popular because if justice were to be implemented world wide consumer goods would rocket in price. We would all have to have a little less in order to give a little more to those who have nothing. Not a popular campaigning slogan.
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Indra
Comment No. 1263232
April 11 2:22
FRA RogerINtheUSA says:
UC was not the sole owner of the plant – 47 percent was owned by Indians – and one wonders whether the laws of the majority owner’s nation should apply in these cases. Should workers injured in Jaguar and Land Rover factories henceforth be compensated by Indian courts? Should Chelsea football related lawsuits be handled by Russian courts?
My reply:
Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) of Danbury, Connecticut, owned 50.9% of the Bhopal plant. It was UCC’s publicly stated policy to maintain direct control over its overseas subsidiaries via majority shareholdings.
The Jaguar-Chelsea analogy is misleading. Neither’s owners have imported to the UK ultra-hazardous proprietory technology requiring constant access to foreign experts for its safe use. Union Carbide Corporation’s Indian subsidiary had absolutely no experience of working with methyl-isocyanate (MIC), and was wholly dependent upon the US parent for its expertise, know-how and guidance.
Issues of technical and managerial control were critical in determining liability for the disaster. The Indian government argued that only in an American court could clear and convincing evidence be extracted from the parent company via the discovery process.
The legal battle began in the Lower Manhattan District Court. UCC asked that the case be transferred to India. The court agreed, on condition that UCC agreed to abide by the decisions of Indian courts. But when US executives were summoned to answer criminal charges in a Bhopal court they refused, saying that Indian courts had no jurisdiction over them.
Not a single UCC executive has ever had to appear in court to account for events that led to the massacre in Bhopal: if I could underline this fact and print it in blood red letters I would, because it is so outrageous. Outside the witness box, bound by no oath, Carbide’s executives could regard the deaths of thousands of Bhopalis as a PR problem.
Four days after the disaster, UCC Vice President Jackson Browning assured The Guardian that the Bhopal plant had been built by Americans and enjoyed the same high technology as the ‘sister plant’ in Institute, West Virginia. But Carbide documents obtained via discovery revealed that US engineers planning the Bhopal plant were worried about using different and ‘unproven technology’, especially in the fatal MIC unit. UCC decided it was an acceptable ‘business risk’ and underspent on safety systems. Institute had a computerised operating system. Bhopal’s “unproven technology” was in the hands of workers who spoke little but Hindi, but were given safety and process manuals written in American English.
In 1981 a leak of phosgene killed a worker. A 1982 safety audit conducted by UCC’s own experts identified 61 hazards, 30 of them major, 11 in the ultra-dangerous MIC/phosgene units. Poorly trained personnel, rapid turnover, leaking valves, shoddy gauges and inadequate water spray protection were all identified as representing ‘a higher potential for a serious incident or more serious consequences if an incident should occur.’
This report prompted UCC to strengthen safety measures at Institute, but in Bhopal nothing was done. The plant was losing money. Carbide planned to dismantle it and sell it to an operator in Indonesia or Brazil.
In October 1982 a chemical leak hospitalised large numbers of people living near the factory. Even this warning was ignored. Instead of spending on controls, safety systems and maintenance to avert a greater disaster, UCC did the opposite. The US executive management team instructed Indian managers to implement a drastic cost-cutting strategy, which they called an ‘Operations Improvement Programme’.
An accountant with no chemical engineering experience was brought in to run the Indian factory. 350 staff were laid off. The safety staff was halved, training time cut from six months to two weeks. Supervisors were taken off critical shifts, maintenance work was reduced. New parts were no longer used in repairs, old defective ones were re-used. Broken pipes and valves were not replaced.
In early 1984 Carbide managers were boasting of having saved $1.25 million. By this time the Bhopal plant was wildly in breach of the UCC’s own safety policies. Instead of rectifying the defects, the company chose to rewrite its operating manual.
MIC is 500 more times toxic than hydrogen cyanide and so volatile that it can even react with itself. UCC’s 1978 operating manual specified that to minimise the risk of a runaway reaction the MIC storage tank should be kept at 0˚C. The rewritten 1984 manual allowed the refrigeration unit to be switched off to save the cost of freon gas.
At midnight on December 3rd 1984 a runaway reaction caused the locomotive-sized tank to belch 27 tons of MIC over a sleeping city. The refrigeration had been off for three months.
For what sort of money would it be worth risking the lives of a whole Indian city?
Union Carbide did it for $37.68 per day.
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Bamboo13
Comment No. 1263327
April 11 6:18
IND The Chief justice of India has stated that 20% of supreme court judges are corrupt. There are 10s of millions of cases that are pending. Any VIP who thinks they may be in the shit, applies for “Anticipatory bail.
Lawyers representing Union Carbide, would have assessed the situation, and advised accordingly. Only a fool would leave themselves at the mercy of an Indian court where witnesses turn hostile, and justice is not usually dispensed.
Jessica Lal was murdered in a posh Chandigargh bar by the son of a powerful politician. There were many witnesses, and no doubt about who the shooter was. All the witnesses turned hostile, and he was acquitted. It was only the outrage of the public that allowed the verdict to be appealed, and he was eventually sentenced to life.
The legal system failed as it often does in India, and it was vox pop that allowed the conviction.
A lesson for India is that with ever more world involvement, it’s judicial system is unacceptable, and lawyers will advise their clients to avoid it like the plague. The rule of law is not applied in India, and frivolous cases can be time consuming and costly. Ask Richard Gere or the Hinduja Brothers if they would risk all for their day in an Indian court. As always it is the weakest who suffer, and this time it is the Bhopal Victims.
Seeing through divisive thinking is always the best way to get a multi angular viewpoint, and Union Carbide did what most other companies would have.
The victims of Bhopal were sold out by Indians.

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