After The Gas (Part 4.)
Sathyu Saranghi, describing the situation just after the disaster, describes survivor’s reactions and earliest mobilisation against the nexus of Union Carbide and the authorities.
‘The Big Picture’
Another drama was unfolding at that time. On the road leading to the factory, workers from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other Hindu fundamentalist organisations marched chanting alongside a truck in which a havan (the burning of wood, incense and ghee) was being performed. They claimed it would purify the poisoned air. We managed to stop them before they got anywhere near the factory.
With no sense of irony, the same government that had announced Operation Faith, stating there was no cause for panic, at the same time mobilised buses from all over the state to rush people away.
The government, unused to dissent from a normally easygoing population, tried to disempower those who were organising the people by siting relief camps set up for those driven out of their homes in a far off part of the city, a ploy that back-fired spectacularly as our mass mobilisations began. In the camps, people from several different neighbourhoods came together and began powerfully to share their pain and bitter resentment against Union Carbide corporation and the uncaring politicians and government of the state of Madhya Pradesh.
People spoke of the ‘big picture’ – plunder and pillage for profit – and the collusion between Union Carbide and local bigwigs. They discussed the many ways that common people could change this, ranging from exposure of crimes to working alongside other victimised communities to fight legal and extra-legal battles for the benefit of all.
A Plague of Lawyers
A plague of American lawyers now descended on Bhopal. Through local agents, they cajoled survivors into signing retainer forms – forms that many could barely see through their swollen eyes, let alone read, as they were written in English, which most people couldn’t understand. The fine print gave up to 40% of any eventual compensation to the lawyers as legal fees. The ambulance-chasers soon amassed bundles of forms marked with Xs and thumb prints.
You can read the complete Bhopal Marathon publication online here