Bhopal Gas Tragedy: When Apologies Replace Justice

The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident in India, considered the world’s worst industrial disaster. Image via Getty

In December 1984, the world woke to the news of an industrial disaster on an unprecedented scale – Methyl Isocyanate had leaked from a Union Carbide factory and killed thousands of sleeping victims in its immediate vicinity. The victims stood no chance and many died on the spot with countless others suffering from inhalation of MIC (Methyl Isocyanate). Till date no one has been penalized for the consequences of that fateful day. Nobody went to jail, victims were not properly compensated.

Studies on the health of those who survived the gas leak have indicated long-term debilitating health issues like:

  • Eyes: Chronic conjunctivitis, scars on the cornea, corneal opacities, early cataracts
  • Respiratory tracts: Obstructive and/or restrictive disease, pulmonary fibrosis, aggravation of TB and chronic bronchitis
  • Neurological system: Impairment of memory, finer motor skills, numbness, etc.
  • Psychological problems: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Children’s health: Peri- and neonatal death rates increased. Failure to grow, intellectual impairment, etc.

Thirty-four years later the victims of Union Carbide continue to suffer. Union Carbide has changed its name to Dow Chemicals and is back to doing business as usual. If the story is reversed the ending would have been dramatically different. If an Indian company had committed a similar blunder in the United States of America the entire force of the US Administration and diplomacy would have been brought to bear on the Indian government to see to it that the perpetrators suffer the consequences for their actions and fried them alive in their notorious correctional facilities.

Fast forward to the present day and there is a different story that has unfolded in two specific parts of the world and one particular US company is involved. There has been a loss of lives in two different places but the management is gleefully going about its business as usual and apart from minor hiccups in its profit does not seem to have suffered any consequences for its actions. The company in question is Boeing and the loss of lives are on two of their aircraft owned by Lion Air and the Ethiopian Airlines. Boeing woke up to the problem when the similarity of the incidents was uncovered – in both cases, the aircraft went down quite unexpectedly.

Stall is a condition when the flying aircraft is no longer able to produce the required lift for normal flight. This usually happens when the aircraft is flying at low speeds, though there are other factors like load, airframe icing, landing gear etc which can contribute to stall. However, when an aircraft is approaching stall speed the control column shakes (stick shaker warning) warning the pilot of an impending stall, and to correct it either by increasing the speed or lowering the nose. But in both the Ethiopian and Lion Air incident it was the fault of sensors which gave a wrong speed read out, and the aircraft automatically lowered the nose, and in both cases, the pilot was forced to raise the nose.

Will the US Department of Justice send the CEO of Boeing to a penitentiary for marketing a “killer product”?

What Boeing is not acknowledging is that “there appeared to be a serious problem with the anti-stall system”, which in retrospect is a serious design flaw, which has resulted in airlines across the world grounding the Boeing 737 Max until a solution to the problem is solved. This in itself is an indictment of Boeing Company for killing several hundred people and endangering the lives of several thousand. Will the US Department of Justice send the CEO of Boeing to a penitentiary for marketing a “killer product”?

Oxycontin is a pain killer that was manufactured and marketed by Purdue Pharma which was owned and managed by the Sackler family of USA. Oxycontin is notorious for the opioid addiction that it has caused in America commonly referred to as “Opioid Crisis”. The Sackler family has made billions by marketing an “across the counter sold” addictive killer and generating huge profits which helped them to fund their lavish globetrotting lifestyle with homes in rich neighborhoods like Bel Air, California and Gstaad, Switzerland. Here the story takes a different twist because this is an American company which had made billions by marketing an addictive opioid-based pain killer to Americans they are saddled with lawsuits with claims if awarded will strip them of their wealth.

The moral of the story is this – there are rules but it is relative. In some countries life is cheap but in others it is precious, and there is hell to pay for messing with something as precious as American lives.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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