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Clarity begins at home

India’s demand of removing Dow as an Olympics sponsor sounds hypocritical, writes Amrit Dhillon.

india Updated: Mar 14, 2012 22:44 IST
Amrit Dhillon
Amrit Dhillon

Bogus. That’s the only way to describe the bleeding heart that India is showing the world over Bhopal. Earnest efforts have been made to persuade Britain to remove Dow Chemicals as a sponsor of the London Olympic Games.

But either the Indian government has forgotten that it has not given a damn about victims for 27 years, or it hopes that if it keeps spluttering moral indignation over Dow, no one will notice how precious little it has done for the people who continue to suffer the catastrophic consequences of the Union Carbide pesticide factory disaster.

But the din of phony moral outrage cannot drown out the fact that while Bhopal happened on one dreadful night on December 3, 1984, more Bhopals have been happening ever since thanks to the indifference of the Madhya Pradesh government. If India cares so much for the victims, then why has MP never taken the trouble to clean the plant? Perhaps, technically, it is Dow, as the company that took over Union Carbide, which bears the responsibility for removing the toxic waste that still lies inside the factory. But it seems perverse to adhere to legalities when you could do the job yourself.

Instead, the state has ignored studies showing that this waste has leached into the groundwater around the factory. So caring is the Centre that the people who live in the shanties around the factory have been drinking polluted water. On what basis can India strike a morally superior attitude towards Dow while poisoning its own people? If India cares so much for the victims, why do survivors complain that the hospital built exclusively for the victims has been reluctant to dispense medical care to them? In this, the state has been complicit, often stating that the coughs, asthma, and high incidence of congenitally deformed babies are the result of poverty and unhygienic living conditions rather than the gas leak. Given what the State knew about the chemical’s impact on health, it would have been sensible to offer medical pre-screening to young pregnant women to avoid some of the worst deformities.

All along the way, tokenism has been the order of the day. Despite periodic noises, no serious effort was made to get Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson to appear in an Indian court. And why keep demonising Dow when it was the Indian managers who were so negligent that all the five back-up systems that were meant to kick in if gas ever leaked from the plant failed? Let’s forget for a moment all the things that India could have done and has not bothered to do. If India cares so much, why is there no annual remembrance ceremony across the country in memory of the victims? If India cares so much, why has it not paid tribute to the victims by building a memorial?

(Amrit Dhillon is a freelance journalist)

The views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Mar 14, 2012 22:42 IST