Generations in the Shadows: How a Legacy of Destruction Affects Personal Lives
Written by Anne Foy
It is a disaster which made international headlines and has caused decades of anguish and devastation. Yet today, even with thousands of campaigners fighting for justice, the Bhopal disaster remains in the shadows and the culprits of the world’s worst industrial catastrophe continue to evade repercussion. It is not only the social, political and economical tragedies which have shaped the region to a bewildering effect, but the lives of individuals who have been forever changed by this disaster. The trauma of this horrendous crime – extending even into second generations of children who struggle with birth defects as a result of the incident – is something which people continue to endure without the support and closure they need.
Coping with Loss
There are several stages of devastation which have occurred as a result of the Bhopal disaster which have had and continue to have a huge psychological effect on those involved. First, there is the tragedy of the initial incident itself which saw more than 30 metric tons of methyl isocyanate along with other harmful chemicals seep into the atmosphere, responsible for taking thousands of lives and resulting in hundreds of thousands of injuries over the next few decades.[i] At the time of the immediate disaster, people lost mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and other family members as well as friends; not one family remained untouched by the event. In the following days, weeks, and months that ensued, thousands more would also die, leaving families ravaged by loss and without the means to carry on.
Families who had lost mothers, fathers, and older children not only faced the grief of losing a loved one, but additionally, they had to cope with the continued effects of the Bhopal disaster and find alternative ways to support the family. This pushed some families into poverty while young children were forced to bear the strain of taking care of their family at an extremely young age, which also led to less time in school and the opportunities which should have been available to them. As years passed, people in Bhopal would experience the brunt of the long-term effects of the disaster, suffering from a range of health-related problems. Economically, the region would be destroyed[ii] – without the core industries to provide income for many workers and no legitimate compensation on the horizon, Union Carbide – the company responsible for the incident – left the population to fend for themselves. The environmental devastation continues, marked on the 25th anniversary as an ongoing crisis.[iii] Today, 30 years later, the region is still damaged.
Toll on Individuals
The grief of injustice and complete lack of acknowledgement for the incident would only add to the struggles of the people. Individuals would see the prospects of their future destroyed while still struggling to cope with losing their family. Along with a collectively-shared trauma, people would experience mental and emotional struggles, without support from the government. Many people whose prospects for any kind of future continue to be shattered by the incident – be it health-related or otherwise – and are left on their own to cope. Disaster-inflicted mental illness and subsequent drug and alcohol abuse continues to be ignored on a worldwide scale, especially where Bhopal is concerned. The resources required to help deal with these social and personal problems have been limited, or non-existent; rehabilitative programs are not a priority goal as part of the overall recovery plan. In fact, in a continued lack of respect and misuse of the victims, rather than receiving help for their struggles, people of Bhopal have been subjected to drug testing by pharmaceutical companies violating international ethical medical standards.[iv]
30 years later, the repercussions of an incident which should never have happened still prevail. Yet even more disturbingly, the way in which the incident has been dealt with by the government, Union Carbide and the international community (those in the industrial and pharmaceutical businesses) has worsened the situation. Disillusioned, anguished, and desperate, can there be hope for those who survive, who question what kind of world they are surviving for?[v] Yet it is these survivors who somehow find strength and motivation to build solidarity with one another, gain support from the international community of activists and campaigners, and work towards a future where companies and governments must take responsibility.[vi] There is a long way to go, but together, the world must stand beside those affected by this incident, and stop sweeping this tragedy under the carpet.
Written by Anne Foy
[i] University Press. “The Bhopal Saga Causes and Consequences of the World’s Largest Industrial Disaster”. Accessed December 22, 2014.
[ii] BBC.co.uk. “Bhopal’s economy was stalled by the 1984 gas leak”. Accessed December 22, 2014.
[iii] TheGuardian.com. “Bhopal: 25 years of poison”. Accessed December 22, 2014.
[iv] IndiaTimes.com. “Bhopal gas victims used as guinea pigs for drug trials”. Accessed December 22, 2014.
[v] GatewayHouse.In. “Bhopal tragedy and the future”. Accessed December 22, 2014.
[vi] Bhopal.net. “International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal”. Accessed December 22, 2014.