Saheli*: Musings and Observations
Saturday, December 04, 2004
 
Bhopal, the BBC, and Film

Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the biggest industrial disaster, the gas leak at Bhopal. Killing about 7,000 people immediately, 15,000 people eventually, and grievously making chronically ill or maiming around 100,000 more, the leak of methyl isocynate gas from the Union Carbide plant in 1984 also left behind a wreck of a factory that is still oozing and dripping toxic waste into the surrounding city. (Rediff.com's timeline.)

The plant was a venture more than 50% of which was owned by Union Carbide, an American corporation. This corporation struck a deal with the Indian government for $470 Million in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution. Only half of this money has been disbursed to victims, but even if all of it were, that would work out to only $4700 per living victim, without addressing the environmental harm*. In 1999 Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical for $11.6 Billion.

Needless to say, this situation has become a touchstone of modern Indian activism, yet its full scope is little known in the United States. Yesterday, the BBC ran an interview with a Dow Spokesperson announcing that Dow accepted responsibility for the victims at Bhopal, and was going to liquidate the Union Carbide subsidiary to set up a relief and clean-up fund, only to announce hours later that they (the BBC) had been deceived by a pair of protest-pranksters. (MSNBC & WSJ articles.) Many people might have dismissed the story as yet another example of a news company making a really dumb mistake. But here's the view from one filmmaker who was standing in front of the factory with activists and victims during the commemorartion:

Fyi, I can tell you no one believed it at first, but then the local BBC reporter made a call to London and confirmed it, and it still seemed unbelievable but now other reporters were asking for reactions.
I got on my computer, hooked up my cell and a crowd huddled around me as I tried to accesses the BBC, PRNewsWire, Dow and other sites.
My perception of the afternoon was that the victims and activists went through a very cruel emotional process.
For several hours, the people who've kept up a fight for 20 years went from thinking of Dow as the opponent to trying to consider a new future -- only to have it all pulled away.
I personally have never seen the activists so emotionally wounded.


Journalism is powerful stuff.

This also builds evidence for my general theory that some activist stunts are really unhelpful to their seriously needy causes, contrary to the arrogant attitudes of those carrying them out.

I met the filmmaker quoted above, Zachary Coffin, at the South Asian Journalism Association
conference in New York this last June. (He sent the above in an email to SAJA's founder Sree, who has set up a great website tracking the Bhopal coverage.) He is producing a feature film about the disaster, and recently announced that the incomparable Aishwarya Rai will star in it. Zachary emailed me about some of the hard work he's putting into making this a successful film, and I'm hoping his efforts will renew global awareness about Bhopal.
 


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Saheli Datta started this when she was a journalism student at Columbia in New York. Now she lives in the Bay Area. *Old people call me R. New people, call me Saheli. Thanks! My homepage. Specifically, my links. Email me: Saheli [AT] Gmail [dot] Com

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113th Street
american footprints(Nadezhda & Praktike)
ANNA's Diary
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Dave Barry
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Dark Days Ahead
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Geomblog
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Heliolith
Alexandra Huddleston
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Indeterminacy
India Uncut
InSpiteOfEverything
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter et al
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Jesus Politics
John and Belle Have a Blog
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1Locana
Maenad (Nori Heikkinen)
Scott McCloud
Mind Without Borders
Electrolite: Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Corey Pein
Political Animal(Kevin Drum, formerly Calpundit)
Kevin G. Powell
QuakeHelp (South Asian Quake)
Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
Reneebop
Rhinocrisy
Scott Rosenberg(Salon.com)
Rox Populi
Felix(&Rhian)Salmon
samVaad
Nick Schager
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Sepia Mutiny
Amardeep Singh
Snarkmarket (Robin Sloan & Matt Thompson)
South-East Asian Earthquake and Tsunami Blog
SreeTips: New To Sree
Steprous (Bear)
Robert Stribley
Subjunctive.net:klog
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Tech Policy
TiffinBox
A Tiny Revolution
To The Teeth
TreeHugger
Unfogged
VatulBlog
Venk@
Manish Vij
Vinod's Blog
War and Piece
Nollind Whachell
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WorldChanging
Matthew Yglesias:Old
Yglesias:Tpmcafe
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham
Ethan Zuckerman
Zwichenzug



Some Categories

Blogs focusing on policy, politics, and national security:
Armchair Generalist
Back To Iraq 3.0 (Chris Albritton)
The Decembrist
Brad DeLong
Daniel Drezner
Eschaton(Atrios)
Green Ink!
Iddybud (Jude Nagurney Camwell)
Idea Spout: Daniel Sanchez
Informed Comment: Juan Cole
Intel Dump: Phillip Carter
The Intersection (Chris Mooney)
Irregular Analyses
Jesus Politics
Mark A. R. Kleiman
Liberals Against Terrorism(Nadezhda & Praktike)
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Talking Points Memo: Joshua Micah Marshall
War and Piece
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Yglesias:Tpmcafe

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Radiation Persuasion (Nick)
TiffinBox

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Apartment Therapy
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Campaign Desk (CJR)
Ranajit Dam
Cyrus Farivar
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Corey Pein
Nick Schager
Zoo Station:Reuben Abraham

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