Friday, April 9, 2010

Remembering Bhopal

Eighteen years later, Bhopal is still happening. If, by the end of this story, I can show the reader that a human disaster is never inexplicable, or divinely ordained, or simply the result of ill luck; that the human side of a tragedy is not an unalterable, given condition; that every tragedy can be understood, analysed and prevented from recurring — then this story would have been well worth told.
- Suroopa Mukherjee, author of Bhopal Gas Tragedy

This book has been translated into Malayalam, is now being translated into Hindi and is slowly but surely improving awareness about the worst industrial disaster ever. 

In this context, Gautama Mehta introduces the work Kids for a Better Future has been doing to improve awareness about the tragedy and suggests ways in which you could do the same...

The worst industrial disaster ever is largely forgotten by the world, even though the Bhopal groundwater is still poisoned by the chemicals released twenty-five years ago by bad management at a pesticide factory. Children there are still dying and receiving birth defects from parents who were there on the night of the disaster. And yet, when I visited Bhopal last December, the most terrifying thing I found was that so many of these same children had no conception of what had happened that caused this. 

Perhaps their parents were too traumatized by what they had once-upon-a-time witnessed to explain to their children that an American multinational named Union Carbide had, in the early 80s, for the sake of cost-cutting measures turned off all the safety systems at their highly unsafe chemical plant, built in close proximity to thousands of slum-dwellers, and that on the night of December 2nd, 1984, a cloud of gas containing 40 tons of a deadly chemical called methyl isocyanate was leaked over the entire city—either that or the parents themselves never knew.

Image: Akash, 12, in one of the Bhopal bastis.

Tulika recently published a textbook “for young people” on the subject, Bhopal Gas Tragedy: the Worst Industrial Disaster in Human History by Suroopa Mukherjee. This is a highly informative, brief yet detailed explanation of the disaster. This is the best way to go about helping the survivors, most of whom have never received proper compensation for what has happened to them and their families. There are movements in Bhopal and in the U.S. to persuade the respective governments, and Dow Chemical, the company that now owns Union Carbide, to clean up the factory site or take legal action against those responsible. But none of this has any importance if no one knows about what happened, and what is happening. If nothing changes for the next five years, or ten years, or fifteen years, then all this will be placed in the hands of today’s children—my generation, and others younger than me. Increasing awareness is always the easiest way to remedy injustice.
Image: Kids for a Better Future protest outside Dow's office in Manhattan. Details here.

My family and I are going to Bhopal next year, as we did last year, to volunteer at the Sambhavna Clinic ( My younger brother Akash and I are part of a local Brooklyn kids’ organization called Kids for a Better Future ( and we have raised $12,000 for the clinic, which offers free health care to survivors, and we have volunteered for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal ( We decided to write a children’s book explaining the disaster to readers younger than Ms. Mukherjee’s (her book is aimed at high school students).
If you’re reading this you should realize that the simplest way to help doesn’t require giving anyone money, or signing anyone’s petition (although hey, money always helps.) The best thing you can do is to tell your friends about what happened not so long ago in Bhopal, and your family, and your government representative, and your teachers and your students, and best of all, your kids.

- Gautama Mehta, 15