Forgotten Bhopal


December 3, 2009: Today is the 25 th anniversary of the Union Carbide gas leak “tragedy” in Bhopal. On this occasion, a spokesperson for Union Carbide released an official statement, which appears on the internet: “We continue to have the untmost compassion and sympathy for the victims and their families.” Is it true the government of Madhya Pradesh claims only 3787 deaths resulted in the immediate aftermath? I’ve read elsewhere that 8-10,000 died within 72 hours, and another 25,000 affected persons have died since. A $470 million settlement. Assuming the toll was “only” 10,000 dead, and discounting property damage, that comes to compensation per life roughly equal to the cost of keeping one person in prison in the USA for two years.

December 4, 2009: When I asked the twenty-plus students in attendace at my Contemporary Moral Issues class today if they recall ever having heard or read of a place called Bhopal, not one hand headed for the ceiling. When I asked if they had ever heard or read or heard of a place called Chernobyl, one-quarter of the hands in the classroom headed for the ceiling. Few if any of the students had been born at the time of either accident (Chernobyl: 1986; Bhopal: 1984), yet if we are to believe them, none recalled the word Bhopal, while half recalled the world Chernobyl. As I learned in the course of a couple of follow-up questions, most if not all of those who had heard of the city in Ukraine associated it with a terrible event. Indeed, when a student associated Chernobyl with a nuclear accident, expressions of recognition came over the faces of more than one student who hadn't raised her hand initially. The WHO counted the Chernobyl victims at 56 (including 47 accident workers), plus an estimated 4,000 extra cancer deaths among the 600,000 directly exposed. Later reports put the number of immediate dead at 85.

Below is a two-page ad that appeared on the inside of the front jacket and the opposing page of The New Yorker of Oct. 26, 2009. It seems that, for the sake of selling their brand, Dow Chemical, the parent company of Union Carbide, has appropriated images of South Asians, so many of whom they poisoned. The text accompanying such images remind us of how very important it is to love humanity.



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