When I was in Bhopal last December for the anniversary of the gas tragedy, which claimed almost 3000 lives virtually instantly, it was devastating for me to see so many people still suffering and forced to live with the prospects of a bleak future. Particularly sad was to hear the pittance that they got in compensation following the tragedy.
The J P Nagar colony just across from the Union Carbide is living testimony to the pain and suffering from the tragedy. Go to any house and there’s a story to be told, suffering to be narrated and the signs of utter neglect on the part of the government.
In 1984, when the tragedy struck, the settlement was on the outskirts of Bhopal city proper, but the city now reaches the colony. Most of the people in the colony work as day labourers and earn 150 Rs to 300 Rs (about $7) per day. As for compensation, no one has received more than 50,000 Rs ($1300), with the government effectively washing its hands of the issue after the initial payments.
Many of those born since that fateful night are physically deformed in some way, while the hospitals that are supposed to provide specialist treatment are overcrowded and ill-equipped to treat patients.
How can a government be so callous toward its citizens?One thing I realized during my stay in Bhopal is that it’s not the money that’s the problem, it’s the lack of will on the part of the local and central government—if Union Carbide is responsible for the tragedy, the Indian government is responsible for perpetuating the suffering.
Politicians now indulge in the blame game, with all the debate in the media and political circles focusing on who let Peter Anderson, head of Union Carbide, leave India. Meanwhile, there’s been little debate about how best to assist those left suffering in Bhopal. The politicization of the tragedy is one of the most shameful aspects of the world’s biggest industrial disaster.
Can we seriously imagine a tragedy of this magnitude going without justice and proper compensation in the United States of America, or for that matter anywhere in the developed world?