Bhopal and the Indian Democracy


Ever since the verdict on the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy has come into the forefront I am listening and reading various opinions. Most of them have criticized the Indian judiciary and rightly so. After all the court that is a machine of the judiciary, gave a verdict that made human life look less expensive than peanuts. Two years of jail for all the accused and it also released all of them on a personal bond of 20,000 INR, which is less than a month’s salary of a CEO. So, people are really angry, pissed off, and I myself have a feeling of numbing sickness. But frankly speaking I was not shocked by the verdict. It only shows the weakness of the great Indian democracy.

Everyone said that we deserved better, I say we did not! We waited for 25 years to get justice. As if justice is a dish that we have ordered for. It is a RIGHT, I will say it is a BIRTHRIGHT. But the whole Indian populace, the strong Indian vote bank and the educated and thoughtful part of the civil society kept waiting for the day when a Daniel will give them justice. Give me a break! We know for people with influence even 5 minutes are enough to tamper and manipulate a case in their favour and we gave them 25 years. This case is not only a failure of the Indian judiciary but also that of the Indian democracy, WE the PEOPLE OF INDIA have failed in making the system work for us. We blame the system but we all have become a part of it, we just don’t realize.

But first a gist of what has happened prior to the judgment. Because, the reason of how and where we have failed as democratic citizens lies within the facts of this case. The case against the Union Carbide India Ltd, a subsidiary of the Union Carbide Corporation (USA) was lodged under section 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). Under this rule the punishment is a maximum of 10 year imprisonment. The police arrested all the accused by December 7.  The list of arrested persons included Mr Anderson, the CEO of the company. Now, we know that within 24 hours Anderson got bailed and left for Delhi. The CBI probes started in December 6, 1989.

After that it is one mess after the other. The Indian Government, undoubtedly and unforgivably, created much of this mess. It decided to become the representative of the victims and passed an act Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (processing of claims) Act 1985. It sought $ 3.3 billion compensation from UCC but later surprisingly settled for $ 470 million. I don’t even want to spend my time discussing the mathematical difference between 3.3 billion and 470 million, you do that if you want. This resulted in stopping the criminal proceedings against all the accused as a condition of the settlement. The Supreme Court allowed it and we the people of India let it happen.

The proceedings again started in 1991 after much pressure that, thankfully, came from the Indian civil society. But the biggest shock came in 1996. The Supreme Court gave a verdict that changed the charges. This time the case got registered under section 304 A (causing death by negligence). According to this section the maximum number of imprisonment is only two years. It is under this section that the case has continued till now, and the verdict given is in accordance to this law. Mr Mohan Tiwary, the chief judicial magistrate, is technically not at fault. The greatest injustice was committed in 1996. Once the section is changed no judge and no court can give the accused more punishment. Our fault? We did not notice this technicality. Why the whole matter escaped the learned fraternity and why they did not protest against it beats me.

During these 25 years how many governments have been overthrown only because of Bhopal Tragedy? In these 25 years India has seen at least 8 different Prime Ministers, starting with late Rajiv Gandhi. Governments have fallen on issues of racism, communism and economy. Once Winston Churchill famously said people get the government they deserve. It is true that system works at its own pace, but 25 years? And a major change in the charges going unnoticed even by the media and legal experts?

Let us understand one thing. It is not the people at the helm who get affected if the system remains unchanged or unquestioned, rather it suits them. It is we the common people who get affected. We let the system work the way it works. We criticize corruption but we ourselves do not stop to bribe. In 1984 India saw two more tragedies. The assassination of Ms Indira Gandhi and anti-Sikh riots. During the latter young Rajiv Gandhi most (in)famously uttered that when a big tree falls it causes earthquake. He became the next Indian premier and got the popular sympathy. Did anybody ask themselves if he’s the right person? Judging him by that comment I don’t think so. The comment reeked of vengeance rather than a need for justice.  Innocent people got killed just because they shared their religious belief with the assassins.

Emotions have always won the race in India. The NDA government gets brickbat for the Kandahar episode. Of course there was intelligence failure. I personally believe that success against terrorist attack means great intelligence work. But were the people of India who had their relatives on board of that flight ready to sacrifice their family members for national security? I doubt it. We expect everything without sacrificing or contributing nothing. Once we elect a government we think our job is done. As parents we work more hard. We do not abandon the baby after its birth, we care for it and sometimes criticize it or rebuke it. We expect stringent traffic laws while we violate the present ones. Many educated Indians do not wear protective gears while driving a bike or a car.

In this country the young generation gets away by bribing the police. Is it cheaper to bribe a constable than buying a helmet? Getting a licence is so easy. In Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, I find so many underage drivers. You want me to believe that the parents know nothing about it? Is it okay to steal 5000 bucks but not the stealing of 5 crore? The powerful are doing the same things. No business house is ready to go off a tender even if it means shelling out crores to influence the verdict. Corruption will never cease unless we stop feeding it.

But what can we do? Sometimes when mere word fails we must take to the streets. We did it earlier. We do it many times. If people can gather around an airport to receive Shah Rukh Khan then they can also hit the street on more important issues. A government is as good as its people. If we don’t force it to stay on the right track it will never bother. A system is made by people who are as fallible as we are. We need to remind them constantly about their duties. We need to demand the answers from them. The anger that I can see now is the outcome of frustration. But it is our fault we waited too long.

The government is still talking about the rehabilitation of the victims. I am yet to see one article in a newspaper that asks the government how it has spent the $ 470 million. No one will come and answer you unless you ask. We must also know our rights. Children should be taught their rights and responsibilities as citizens. Bhopal is a part of our history and so is anti-Sikh riots, but they do not have any mention in any history book. Gujarat riot and Babri masjid demolition too are not critically analysed in any school curriculum. Unless we know our mistakes, faults and failures we will never be able to make right decisions.

The people of Bhopal died on the very day the tragedy happened. They were present only in our memory as a news reference. But their suffering was real. The anger that we feel now, they felt everyday. We have failed to mould the system the right way. But, we still have time. Let us take our anger and use it as a force to move the system. Force the government to appeal in Supreme Court for a change in the charges from 304A to the original 304. There is a provision in the Article 137 of the Indian Constitution to file a curative petition in the Apex Court. We forget things too soon, but this time let us make sure that we do not rest till the justice is done.

As far as changing the system is concerned we can start it by changing ourselves. Not paying bribes can be a good step. When a company recruits a new employee they prefer him to be proactive. This means rather than waiting something to happen or rather than waiting someone to guide him or her the person will make things happen and will learn things on his or her own. Many professionals do not find these demands unjust. Then why we cannot follow the same philosophy while dealing with the system.  India has the “sab chalta hai” attitude only because we Indians practice that.  Taking dowry is illegal but most of the families in Hyderabad and in other parts of India either give it or accept it. Let jus accept our responsibilities. We are digging our own graves. We just don’t care for it, but shout when someone powerful tramples us. India is a democracy and we have the right to raise our voice. Let’s do it. We MUST critcise and rise when it matters most. Sometimes waiting is a crime.

[Source: Deccan Chronicle 10.6.2010.

“It is Culpable, it is homicide” by Nandita Rao, published in Deccan Chronicle 9.6.2010]


One thought on “Bhopal and the Indian Democracy

  1. “You can’t get the answers if you don’t ask.” I have always believed in this philosophy. It’s a gr8 write up but needs to reach the right place… keep writing more motivating stuff.

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