Raging against the corporate machine

Yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling has been described as a disappointment, a black day for justice, and a sad day for Bhopalis.

Here in Bhopal the disappointment, frustration and sadness was palpable, as hopes were dashed after many weeks of preparation. To comment on the legalities would be unfair, as I don’t know enough about them. For more indepth information on the legal proceedings of the past few weeks visit the ICJB website.

What I do know is that the people of Bhopal deserve better.

They deserved better in 1984 when their fears and concerns were disregarded, and their lives were considered less important than turning a profit. Did it really matter to Union Carbide if a few  local slum dwellers’ lives were lost in the name of cutting costs? I’m quite sure no one within the corporate walls ever predicted such a catastrophe, but the warning signs were evident and they were wilfully ignored.

They deserved better when Union Carbide walked away from the plant, leaving a legacy of toxic contamination, birth defects and numerous health problems that continue to this present day.

They deserved better on Wednesday, when the opportunity to bring some closure to the history of Bhopal was presented, and left to slip away.

What seems to have been forgotten by corporations, by Supreme Courts and by governments, and sadly I suspect, by many people in the world is humanity. We can call the situation in Bhopal a humanitarian catastrophe, which it certainly is, and we can state the abuses of human rights, of which there certainly are many, but what do those statements actually mean?

Spending the last few months in Bhopal has taught me what it means.

What it means is that the woman who welcomed me into her home, fed me everything she has, who has hugged me and kissed me and told me to comb my hair on countless occasions, goes for 10 days without a clean water supply, and is  forced to buy contaminated water from local vendors. This water has been poisoning her and her family for 26 years, and will continue to do so until serious measures are taken to provide consistent alternatives to the contaminated groundwater.

It means that Chinu, a little boy who helps us out around the clinic and bring us chai every day in Nawab Colony, who jumps on my knee with a big smile, wipes his grubby little fingers all over my camera lens, and who puts his hand to his head in an ‘aye aye captain’ sign every time he sees me, probably can’t afford the treatment he likely needs for a provisional diagnosis of extra pulmanory TB. He is seven years old.

It means that my friend here in Bhopal who lost most of his family members on the night of the gas leak, and another as a direct consequence, and who I have never seen without a smile on his face or a joke on the tip of his tounge has never seen justice for what happened to him, and his family.

It has been argued that these people lived in poverty anyway and so were destined to have difficult lives regardless of what happened in 1984. If anything this means they deserve more, as any opportunity they may have had through employment or education has often been denied as a result of death, acute and chronic illness, post-traumatic stress, and financial ruin that so many faced as a direct consequence of the Union Carbide gas leak and ensuing contamination; not to mention Dow Chemical’s refusal to acknowledge responsibility for clean up or compensation, and the government and CBI’s  lack of interest and blatant disregard for the affected peoples lives. It simply isn’t good enough.

It is enraging that we live in a world where the faceless corporate machine with the complicity of its governmental cogs and wheels, can carry on regardless of the humanitarian consequence. These groups are made up of people who have families and friends and who I’m sure would not personally agree with causing suffering, misery and pain to an individual. I fail to understand how the human faces in this situation can be forgotten. One thing is certain: the people making the decisions have no idea what it means to suffer at the hands of greed and corruption as the gas-affected communities of Bhopal have. If they did, then things would surely be different?

While I was crying at the unfairness of the situation to the people I have come to love and respect so much here in Bhopal, those  people got busy. Within hours of the Supreme Court announcement signs were painted, a torch rally was organised and hundreds of us marched the streets protesting against the ruling. I walked behind a woman evidently struggling for breath, yet she continued every step of the way, chanting with the crowds , and refusing to let go of her torch.

Justice will prevail, in one form or another. And in the meantime the people of Bhopal will not give up, and neither should we in our international support. Though have been given another smack in the face by the Supreme Court, last night their cries of the crowd could not be quietened:

Ham phul nahi hai. Chingari hai. We are not flowers, we are flames.

And they will not be extinguished.

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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.