The Bhopal Disaster

From 1976, there were harbingers–excess pollution and toxic attacks on workers were occurring on a regular basis at the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. On the midnight of December 2nd-3rd, 1984–exactly 25 years ago today–gas leaked from the factory and unleashed menthyl-iso-cyanate poison into air and water in an industrial diasater that would eventually kill over 30,000 people and maim hundreds of thousands more.

It was estimated within the first 24 hours, some 3,000 people were killed. Hospitals could barely cope with the survivors. Gravediggers had to work through the night and multiple people were buried to a grave. Twenty-five years on, Bhopal’s population has tripled to 1 million people but scars remained. In the world’s largest democracy, the government is holding most of the money, half a billion dollars paid in compensation is still sitting in the bank. This paternalism and notions that state should take control of industrial activity and its redistributive force worsened the disaster. Not a single person has been held criminally liable for the disaster.*

Following the vehicles that were taking the dead to be cremated and buried, Pablo Bartholomew of Gamma saw the body of a child, with eyes glazed, milky-white and staring up at him. His subsequent image became an icon of grief and greed in the face of industrial disaster, winning the World Press Photo of the Year for 1984.

[*Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, refuses to accept any liability for the incident: “it is important to note that Dow never owned or operated the plant, which today is under the control of the Madhya Pradesh state government. Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide Corporation more than 16 years after the tragedy, and 10 years after the $470 million settlement agreement — paid by Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India, Limited — was approved by the Indian Supreme Court.”]