Chapter 1: The blinding cocktail
The Union Carbide plant of Bhopal leaked a cloud of 42 tons of toxic cocktail into the air of the densely populated city. None of the six safety systems of the plant were functional and the machines were rusted. Union Carbide’s own documents state that the company designed the plant with unproven and untested technology, and cut corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money. As a byproduct of the profit Union Carbide made in India, more than 35,000 people died. More than 5.7 lakh suffered bodily damage, of which many went blind. A plotted holocaust, Bhopal’s Gas Disaster is the world's worst industrial disaster ever!
Ever wondered what happened to Union Carbide next? Our politicians safely ensured that Warren Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide, in spite of being charged for manslaughter, was safely sent back to the US, from where refused to return to India. Nearly 30 years have passed, and while the victims of the disaster are still denied justice, Union Carbide continues doing business in India as Eveready Industries India Ltd.
Chapter 2: The burning lungs
While most countries have either banned or are in the process are banning asbestos mining, India recently lifted its ban. Asbestos is a Category-One cancer agent. There is no known safety net against it. Once inhaled, the fibres lodge permanently in lung tissue and cannot be removed.
It is estimated that there are more than 6,000 workers affected by asbestosis (an untreatable lung ailment) and another 600 are suffering at the minimum from asbestosis-related lung cancer in India at present. But the subject has attracted very little attention from politicians, industry, labour, public health bodies or the medical profession. Asbestos continues to be the single largest source of occupational cancer in India.
If we have reason to believe that by not mining asbestos, a common Indian is safe from the disease, remember that it is an air borne disease. India is not just a producer; it is also one of the largest consumers of asbestos in the world. Interestingly, Canada banned asbestos use domestically but continues to export it to India where there is no ban on its usage.
Ever wondered why so many buildings come up in India with asbestos roofing that directly exposes those under it to cancer? Amidst all these, our politicians act innocent, and for most people, their ignorance is their bliss.
Chapter 3: Wasted sunsets
The company Monsanto, notorious for producing dubious genetically engineered seeds, has been physically expelled from most European countries. In India it flourishes through a subsidiary, Mahyco. They came up with a Bt (genetically modified) cotton which, despite all the claims by the company, caused widespread disruptions in many parts of the country. This cotton had no seeds, which ensured that over the years our farmers lost their traditional variety of seeds. Once the traditional breed of cotton was extinct, Monsanto dictated their terms and prices on our cotton farmers. It eventually led to over 10,000 farmer suicides in Vidarbha alone. The unofficial and unreported number of farmer suicide in India is in lakhs.
Monsanto, unquestioned, has turned to rice and brinjal. If these are genetically engineered, they will grow only with the special seeds the company produces and the traditional seeds will go extinct. A company with a monopoly on these seeds will have India at its mercy. They can control the prices of Indian food. They can choose how many peasants to sacrifice against a kilogram of rice.
Field testing of Bt Brinjal in India was done in secret. Agriculture ministers in West Bengal and Karnataka claimed that they were ignorant about the critical field trials which were being conducted in their states. While several European countries were banning genetically engineered food, Mahyco received approval for production of Bt Brinjal seeds in India.
Even in America, the home of Monsanto, there are strict regulations that force companies to state clearly that a product is genetically engineered. In India, we are denied even the basic right to know whether we are eating natural brinjal, or brinjal with pesticides injected in them, which will enter our blood stream. Human lives are valuable in America – but negotiable in India.
Chapter 4: The skeletons are in 'our' closet
India continues to be a third world country that is exploited both by internal and external forces. While globalization enabled a few to buy private jets, it has also snatched away the basic life amenities from a major part of Indian population.
Policy makers are corrupt, but this does not explain everything. The Chinese establishment is profoundly corrupt. But when it comes to China versus the world, even the most corrupt Chinese officials cannot be bought! Indian politicians and bureaucrats suffer from a lack of patriotism. A patriotic leader, even one accepting bribes or conducting activity to benefit his own needs, would have never allowed a person like Anderson to leave India. A man with the slightest love for his country and its people will never sell our farmers to a foreign corporation.
Aside from politicians, it is also us who are to blame. The tragedy of India is not poverty or corruption, but a mentality that accepts and even condones them. When a film depicting the horrors of Indian poverty wins Oscars, we protest against foreigners looking only at the negative side of India. But we fold our hands, and keep ourselves away from doing anything about eliminating these evils. We are the ones who wear branded clothes made out of Bt Cotton in our never ending quest of appearing cool. We are the ones who purchase Eveready batteries and allow the industry to flourish. Why can’t we purchase the alternatives available to asbestos and kill its market in India? How can we condemn others while we know that the skeletons are in our closet!
It is us, who pick these leaders who negotiate our lives with the multibillion corporate industries. We allow selling of those drugs in India which are banned in the West. We fail to overthrow governments which allow this to happen. Toxic electronic waste from western countries is regularly dumped in our soil, while we flick channels on our television, from IPL to item numbers.
It is our small and selfish egos that have accumulated and created the divide of inequality between one man and the other. It is us who have chosen not to focus on real issues and instead live the lives of comfortable slaves. It is us who have chosen to just like causes on Facebook and feel good about it. But we forget that all our indifference will, someday, come back to haunt us. Someday, the water we drink may also contain nuclear waste. Someday, the factory beside our bungalows, may explode!
Let's not forget that a country functions only as much as its people. We deserve only as good a politician as ourselves. And when things don't work and we sit and stare, it is us who are to be blamed.
Photo credit: sangatproject.org