Justice denied for citizens of Bhopal, India

“A succession of warrants and civil subpoenas followed over the years, but the U.S. Government refused to contemplate his extradition. Anderson remained almost invisible at secluded homes in Greenwich, the Hamptons and Vero Beach, Florida, where he was said to enjoy fishing, gardening and baking Swedish bread. His recent death at Vero Beach on September 29 was not announced by his family.”

On the night of Dec. 2, 1984, 40 metric tons of Methyl Isocyanate was released by an over-capacitated pesticide plant in the town of Bhopal, India. One cup of the gas, when inhaled, clogs the lungs, creating a sense of breathlessness—as if someone is desperately trying to swim to the surface, even when a surface does not exist. As the town was slowly filled by the gas, people were caught off-guard—unaware of what was happening around them.

Accounts of the incidents by those who somehow managed to swim out remember a scared anguish in the air. Disoriented masses trying to walk around with closed eyes, unable to bear the itch of the gas. But sadly so, these accounts are rare to come across. Not many have survived to tell the tale. In fact, around 10,000 people died instantaneously (though reported numbers are far less) and 30,000 have died since.

30 years and 3000 deaths per year later, the people of Bhopal, still search for the man behind the leak—Warren Anderson, a rich businessman. No one knows where Anderson is, what is he doing with his life, why hasn’t he been tried in a criminal court? Theoretically, Anderson should be 92 by now, but is he even alive?

The truth is that the man behind the Union Carbide plant died a month ago. His family decided to keep his death a secret till the time a Telegraph article (printed barely six days ago) let the cat out of the bag. Warren Anderson, the face of a corrupt system, passed away peacefully at 92. He divided his time between the Hamptons and Vero Beach, Florida and, according to his obituary, he was said to enjoy fishing, gardening and baking Swedish bread. Swedish bread! Well, sorry to put it so bluntly, but that sure as hell makes me angry.

I’m angry because while Anderson  was enjoying his Swedish bread on the beach, every day a child was born in Bhopal with severe physical deformities. I’m angry because as he enjoyed protection from the U.S. Government, a whole chapter in the history of environmental disasters thirsted for justice, unable to grant themselves closure from this horrible, horrible incident. I’m angry because despite all the evidence and visible social pressure, the system had failed the people. It showed, yet again, that morality was not decided by the masses, but was dictated by corporate greed augmented by corrupt bureaucratic support. It showed, yet again, that no matter what you and I think, how right or wrong our opinions, we have nothing to show for them.

The system does what it wants to do and the system wins. The failure to convict the culprits of Bhopal Gas Tragedy exalts its relevance to a new level of universality. Not only does it expose the hypocrisy that United States and many other countries silently practice, it also shows that sometimes the systems that we have created fail even common sense.

Social activism is present in the town of Bhopal since the tragedy. On the streets of Bhopal, posters of Anderson hang from walls, just to remind people that justice has not yet been served. The generation that directly suffered by the tragedy have almost all passed away, but their children continue the struggle. Many of them are not even aware that Anderson has passed away without being punished. There is no easy way to tell the citizens of Bhopal. Incidents like these are what create the division between the public and the bureaucracy. It almost sounds too absurd to be true.

Everyone knew that Anderson was guilty. Everyone knew that it was his signature which lead to the tanks being over-capacitated. That it was under his guidance and supervision the town of Bhopal was enveloped by that scared anguish.

Everyone knew that, but still, it wasn’t enough to bring Anderson down. As soon as the people of Bhopal know the truth, their perceptions of their government, their rights and their opinions are bound to shatter. How will these people reaffirm their belief in these systems ever again? What is the purpose of having these systems in place, when every now and then we are reminded that they don’t mean anything?

Why were the people of Bhopal not given justice? We have no answer for this. International relations and political strong-arming by the United States might be one way to explain this. Poor bureaucratic administration might be another. But these are all excuses. They cannot be used to justify anything. With the death of Warren Anderson, will the people of Bhopal ever get justice? No, they will never. Who will take responsibility for the tragedy after his death? He will remain, like many others, a deceased file in some judicial warehouse in India, a case closed—even when it is far from that.

The sad part is that this is not the first time we find ourselves in such a position, and I know this won’t be the last time. Yes, I am angry, but at the same time, I am disappointed. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy did stand for the moral degeneration that we had suffered, but by convicting the right people at the right time, it could have stood for much more. It could have sent the message, loud and clear, that if one commits a crime, no matter how influential, powerful or big he or she might be, justice will be served. It could have, but it didn’t. And now there is nothing we can do about it.

—Udbhav Agarwal ’18 is currently undeclared.

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