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The Bhopal Gas Massacre and the Politics of Tragedy

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Abhirup Bhunia:

The powers in India have a propensity for making decisions under politically guided thoughts and thus, often, turn out to be a government highly insensitive to public sentiments. By giving precedence to political and fiscal corollaries over its citizens’ grievances, the authorities have garnered an anti-people image. Bhopal exemplifies that.

When the nauseating gases that seeped out from the factory which owed its parentage to the America based Union Carbide, now defunct, engulfed the city of Bhopal, and turned it into a chamber of death, India was a nation-state with little market value.

The Bhopal gas leak, the world’s worst industrial accident, took place in 1984 precisely. It made for the third lead on the front page of New York Times the very next day — present editor of Hindustan Times, Sanjoy Hazarika was the correspondent.

Millions were affected in the long run and thousands killed within days of the disaster. Affecting an entire generation and reportedly showing its effects even to this day, the Bhopal gas leak was more than a criminal negligence – it was culpable homicide under the Indian Penal Code. That would have amounted to ten years of rigorous imprisonment for the eight of them who have been offered a meagre two-year custody. And like there is always the worst to be stored for the end — all of them were granted bail immediately in exchange of Rs 25000 (500$ roughly).

What followed the Bhopal cataclysm was horrible. The charges against all the accused were diluted. Reasons, even more horrible. Industrialists meant investments and why would India want to muddle up the money-spinning prospects, after all the victims were poor. A poor man’s life is expendable — yes, indeed it is, at least that’s what one can gauge from the apathy demonstrated by the authorities. Rajiv Gandhi, the illustrious scion of India’s Gandhi dynasty was then (in 1984) the Prime Minister of India. He was busy resurrecting India’s growth. Credited as the architect of India’s Information Technology boom, Rajiv was actively engaged in bringing India in the global forefront, which in other words meant, making India a rich country. And it is waste of time to even mention that the process was inequitable — a callous disregard for the wellbeing of the poor. The poor weren’t complaining — but they couldn’t help but whine at what can possibly never be justified: Rajiv aided Warren Anderson, the chairman of Union Carbide group, the prime accused in the disaster that exterminated the heart of India, personally, as Anderson was flown off to USA. Forget justification, severe criticism of the act should fall short in this case. The then Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, of which Bhopal is the capital, was the treacherous partner in the crime. It was in his official flight in which Anderson, the slaughterer of thousands of lives, made his way swiftly, unscathed to US.

And all this information comes from where? The classified documents of Central Intelligence Agency, the American resource center. How ironic!

It is more than just palpable that the decision came under terrific political forethought. India knew detaining Anderson could come in the way of Foreign Direct Investments in future; it could paralyze the nation’s wealth escalation and of course, it could mean a strain in the relationship with America which was anyhow mediocre at that time. It could turn off investors. So the government thought it righteous to give merchants the liberty to amass money, which also meant riches for them, in return for nothing — at least not liability in any case. But the people had to pay the most precious price — lives.

A lot has happened in light of the unforgivable slip up by New Delhi. Protestors rallied, activists raised voices, some shouted, and others cursed. And the resentment is all the more since the rather valued Rajiv Gandhi, from whom it was least expected, was the accomplice. And adding salt to injury was the fact that successive governments representing varied political dogmas overlooked Bhopal’s victims as if they were nonentities.

But seldom do governments learn lessons. In a blatant show of exactly that, the parties of the nation have engaged in mudslinging and blame shifting. The government has successfully acquired an anti-poor and apathetic image following these revelations, which some like calling ‘The Bhopal disaster II’ but shows little interest in making amends. Why would they anyway? After all the Prime Ministerial elections are almost four years away.

It is time they understood what mattered was the lives of people, the kin of dead, the little children who have been denied the right to lead normal lives, and much more, at least not what prevented them from doing what was natural, i.e. getting Anderson punished and sending out the message to foreign nations that nothing in India was of more importance than the interests of their citizens.

Last of all, isn’t it high time someone reminded the government that political upshots of everything can be regarded, but not of human tragedy? Till then let the world lampoon India and its patriotism deficiency! And did you notice the media has already gone quiet? But let us not do the same!

Abhirup Bhunia is a special correspondent at Youth Ki Awaaz. He takes a special liking to global diplomacy and international developments along with social issues. Follow him at twitter.com/abhirup1 or contact him at abhirup.b1@gmail.com.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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