Given how uncommon the discourse on Bhopal Gas Tragedy is on international media it is hard to reconcile with the fact that it is the worst industrial disaster of all time. The facts are relatively straight-forward: 30 years ago, on the night of December 2nd, 1984 water leakage into a tank at the Union Carbide pesticide plant near Bhopal set off a series of chemical reactions that released 30 metric tons of toxic gases including MIC (Methyl Isocyanate), a chemical extremely hazardous to human health. The cloud that enveloped the surrounding area also contained phosgene and hydrogen cyanide among other deadly gases.
Estimates vary and there is great debate about the specifics and conspiracy theories swirl but anywhere from 8,000 to 30,000 people died in the aftermath of the disaster, mostly poor living in slums around the factory. As many as 4,000 are believed to have died overnight - about the same number that died in the 9/11 attack, as a morbid comparison. An additional 500,000 people have had adverse health impacts since including birth defects, stillbirths and shortened lifespans.
I was a kid when this happened but I have a vivid memory of this time and the days that followed. Much clamoring, politics and the usual call for blood of the corrupt industrialists and foreigners! Everyone found the usual irregularities and lack of safety measures or lapsed enforcement. Everyone wanted justice and everyone wanted to punish those held accountable. After a lot of back-and-forth with the case being tried in U.S., it was finally transferred over to Indian courts. Finally, the case was settled out-of-court for approximately $500 million, about 20% of what was originally demanded. The settlement was appealed but finally all appeals were rejected and all legal remedies eventually exhausted. Alas, the human toll never really exhausts.
And then eventually, life goes on. At least for those not directly involved. Those whose lives or support wasn't rudely curtailed right in the middle of it all. On a night that started just like any other night. But unlike other nights, it never really ended for so many.
I, for one, certainly want to pause and take a moment, close my eyes and let it sink in: We are all minutes away from the next inevitable disaster, industrial or otherwise.
And yet, we continue to live. Largely unfazed by all the deaths, wanting and believing that we will live forever, answering the Yaksha Prashna in our own experiences.