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Time to move on

I salute the individuals who have fought for 25 years to help the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster. Their dedication has been exemplary.

india Updated: Nov 26, 2009 21:22 IST

I salute the individuals who have fought for 25 years to help the victims of the Bhopal gas disaster. Their dedication has been exemplary. They have fought for compensation, treatment, and justice. I recognise the suffering of those who died and the huge number who suffer from ailments arising from having inhaled the gas as children. But it is time to stop.

It is time for all the disaster NGOs to fold away their newspaper cuttings, empty the filing cabinets, pack up the computers, shut shop, and move on. This is, of course, easier said than done. I did not see a loved one die an excruciating death. My lungs have not been damaged from inhaling methyl isocyanate, making breathing painful and earning a living impossible. But the cottage industry that has grown up around the disaster must end. Victims cannot continue to be victims for 25 years.

The catastrophe has been so relentlessly blown up and brandished and — dare I say even hyperbolised — that a tragedy of far greater magnitude, Hiroshima, starts to appear like a minor short-circuit in comparison. I suspect that the activists must have enjoyed blasting an evil multi-national like Union Carbide as it hits all the right ‘guilt points’ of the West and works a treat in loosening the purse strings that have funded 25 years of activism. But there has to be an end to this perpetual breast-beating and wailing. NGOs must stop feeding off the catastrophe unless, as seems likely, they plan to pass the baton on to their children. Bhopal’s grief has been preserved beyond its natural duration.

Build a museum so that no one forgets. Hold an annual ceremony to remember the dead. But it’s time to end the protests, fasts, accusations, and drama. For the bereaved, it can sound cruel to be told ‘to move on’. But this message is not to them. It’s to the activists who have crossed two fine lines. The first is the one that separates dedicating yourself to a good cause from making it your raison d’etre. The other is the one that separates remembering the dead from parading their suffering like a badge of honour.

Amrit Dhillon is a New Delhi-based writer

The views expressed by the author are personal