Regular readers of Lalkar will know that the 1984 industrial mass murder at Bhopal has appeared in our paper a few times over the years. This is essentially because this has never been settled – the company that committed this genocide just walked away from the horror and carnage that they visited upon the Indian people and, in true imperialist fashion, will never be held to account for the deaths of upwards of 20,000 people and the continuing suffering and disability of many thousands more.
It took the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) five years before it paid any compensation and even then it was paid to the Indian government, No direct payment from UCC has ever been paid to the families of those who died so horribly or any of those who survived to live lives of pain and disability. Since that night in 1984, when 45 tons of the highly toxic MIC gas poured out of the Union Carbide plant and through the shanty town all around it before going on through the city and into the surrounding countryside, many thousands more, some who were not there or not even born at the time, have been affected because of the lingering contamination both in the soil and in the subterranean waters for miles around the city. This is the reality of imperialism where the sole reason for production is maximum profit for the company at any cost to anyone or anything else!
The gas-affected have organised themselves and their supporters to fight for justice, something most of them now acknowledge will only come with the overthrow of imperialism. It has taken 25 long years to get a ruling in an Indian court, during which time UCC (now wholly owned by the Dow Chemical Company) have passed the blame onto its Indian subsidiary Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), thus making sure that the real culprits, who set the production and profit targets which necessitated the plant management wilfully ignoring safety policies, procedures and equipment, were never to face any charges.
In the end, eight former members of UCIL senior management faced reduced charges, and one of those died peacefully while the marathon legal farce played out over long years. The defendants, while not the main criminals in this case, are certainly not innocents. They had full knowledge before the event of how dangerous a leak of MIC could be to the people of Bhopal and yet did nothing to ensure that such a thing could not happen. The senior management of the parent company and that company itself, along with its new multi-billion dollar owners (Dow Chemical Company), the Indian government, both national and local (who relaxed and/or turned a blind eye to their own safety controls in order to attract and keep UCC production in India), are not only not charged with any culpability in the murders but can carry on all over again somewhere else. The Indian parliament is at present discussing a bill to reduce payments to any potential claimants from any future industrial disaster and Dow chemicals will continue setting up plants where life is cheaper and safety regulation is relaxed or non-existent.
The seven former senior management members who were found guilty by the Indian court of the lesser charge, in the face of overwhelming evidence, of ‘causing death by negligence’ instead of the more correct charge of ‘culpable homicide’, were sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of around £2000. The company UCIL was fined around £10,000. The seven are very unlikely to see the inside of a prison though and will start legal appeals and challenges to the ruling which are likely to take a few more years to settle.
Meanwhile the gas-affected are left with their suffering and their anger and the growing conviction that the political system they live under can never deliver justice for them against the rich and powerful. In the words of one activist on hearing the result “the judgement and letting the Union Carbide Corporation off without even being charged is as big a disaster as that night 3 December 1984!”. Another activist complained bitterly that “these sentences are what you give people for motorcar offences not killing 20,000 people!”
If all the money that UCC paid the Indian government in 1989 were to be shared among all those with a claim they would get the princely sum of around £300 per claimant. Compare that with the huge payout to survivors and families of the Lockerbie disaster when an airliner was exploded above the Scottish village. In that instance Libya, who most certainly had nothing to do with the bombing (see Proletarian issue 32, October 2009, ‘Megrahi released in deal for oil’), had been forced by means of sanctions and bribes to accept responsibility for the crime and put £1 bn into the ‘pot’ for paying out to victims families.
The price of Indian lives comes a great deal below that of British and American lives when lost in disasters and that is another factor that multi-nationals callously take into consideration when deciding where to build potentially dangerous plants.
The Bhopal gas-affected have not organised and struggled for 25 years to walk away now – there will be continuing protests and possibly legal challenges but, more importantly, the hard lessons re the different legal treatment of rich and poor clearly shows what bourgeois democracy is and, with the killer widely recognised as imperialism, this is fertile ground for communist education, agitation and hopefully activity.
These lessons are not just for the Indian proletariat; all workers need to understand that imperialism is a monster that will sacrifice any of them at any time to increase or protect profits. Only the path of socialist revolution leads to a decent and fulfilling life that will bring our descendants into the warm glow of a communist future.