Interview with Sathyu, Managing Trustee of Sambhavna

Sathyu talks to Aditi and Andrew, 15-year-old high school students from the US who are studying the impact of the 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster

Aditi & Andrew: Hi Mr Sathyu. First off it is an honor to talk to you! We are grateful for all of the work you have done to help the victims of the Bhopal gas leak and care for them. We’re familiar with the Bhopal situation because of the news in India when one of us was there last summer. We’re doing a project on the Bhopal tragedy and our goal is to cover the tragedy itself, and then the debate around the disaster, and some successes and failures and consequences of the event.

Sathyu: Good to hear from you.

Aditi & Andrew: The disaster had major repercussions around the world, what do you think are some of the big consequences of the disaster?

Sathyu: The saddest thing about the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal is that it did not have enough of an impact to make the world safe from corporate crime and industrial pollution. One general impact was that people became more aware of industrial disasters. In the USA it led to people and neighbourhood populations having the right to know the chemicals stored, used and produced at a manufacturing facility. It did little to change the way corporations behave. They continue to put profit way over the lives and health of ordinary people. One of the consequences of this is that according to the International Labour Organisation (part of the United Nations) every year more than 2 million workers die whilst at work. Most of these deaths are caused because  corporations do not put safety devices in place and expose workers to risky work situations. One impact the Bhopal disaster has had on corporations is that they have become more smooth and cunning. For example, Dow Chemical started a programme called Responsible Care which actually meant nothing but gave the impression that they indeed care for the environmental and health consequences of what they do.

Aditi & Andrew: Many people have failed to respond in the proper way, who/what do you think failed the most in this situation?

Sathyu: I think it is the politicians of different political parties (who were in the government in India and the USA) who made dirty deals with the corporations who failed the most. The judges in both the USA and the Indian courts also failed. Scientists working in government scientific laboratories downplayed the health impact of the disaster and the environmental consequences of hazardous waste dumping. Doctors too failed because they still have not been able to find (they never tried to find) the proper line of treatment for exposed people. People in the media failed too because they do not talk much about the continuing disaster, nor do they talk about the slow and silent Bhopals all over the world.

Aditi & Andrew: What, if any successes have you seen as a result of this tragedy?

1.    Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide in 2001 with the aim of doing business in India but because of the struggle of the Bhopal victims and their supporters the Indian government has announced that Dow Chemical’s investments in India could be affected because of Union Carbide’s liabilities in Bhopal. Dow Chemical has made no investments since 2001.

2.    Dow Chemical wanted to build their global R&D Centre near Pune. They occupied 100 acres of village land in 2007 and started building. Later there was much protest by local villagers and they had to quit.

3.    The Indian Institute of Technologies are the top institutions of this country. They have boycotted Dow Chemical so the corporation is unwelcome to recruit on their campuses.

4.    People in the communities with contaminated groundwater are getting some clean water through pipelines.

5.    The criminal case against the corporations and their executives is still ongoing and the government of India has had to file a curative petition to ensure that the executives are sent to jail for 10 years.

Aditi & Andrew: At any point, were you scared when you went to Bhopal right after the disaster? Seeing all of the people in pain? Have you every gotten sick from the gas?

Sathyu: I was just numbed because there were too many people with too much pain. I don’t think I was ever scared, just an overwhelming helplessness. The only time I was sick from the gas was in the immediate aftermath. Because the gas was heavy it stayed in corners of houses (and inside office cupboards for at least a week as office workers discovered) for a long time. I inhaled some of this as I was picking up people from the floors of houses inside the communities next to the railway station to carry them to the main road and send them to the hospital on passing vehicles. I was breathless and lost consciousness for a few minutes. After that I have had health problems but I don’t think there was any direct causal connection.

Aditi & Andrew: Thank you so much for answering our questions. It’s amazing, all the work you have done and continue to do to help the people in Bhopal. Next time I come to India to see my family I hope to come to Bhopal and visit the clinic to see firsthand all the great things that you do. Thank you again.

Sathyu: I  need to mention that though the media has chosen to portray it like that, none of what is credited to me has been done by me alone. The work here has been done by a large number of colleagues, friends, supporters and volunteers. It’s very good to know that you will be visiting us. Best wishes!

Sathyu’s Introduction to the Union Carbide Gas Disaster in Bhopal for Young People will be posted soon.

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.