Middle class myopia on Bhopal and beyond

It is a sorry commentary on our value system that the mainstream media in the country has little time to pursue an unresolved issue such as the Bhopal gas disaster. The New York Times has today put out a grey report on the state of the issue, which can be read here.

Indians are forever spraying, spewing and releasing toxins in other forms into their environment, blissfully ignorant about the impacts of harmful chemicals on themselves and their natural surroundings. Without preserving the health of nature, they will not get clean air and water for sustenance of life. Yet, such elementary logic does not impress the consuming class.

The NYT piece, though by no means a sterling piece of journalism (it says inexplicably that the toxic chemical waste on the Union Carbide/Dow site is “languishing” for years now), serves the purpose of summarising the situation. It also points out that many years after the tragedy, there are people living amidst the polluted surroundings. 

The State Government, which belongs to the bigoted “India Shining” brigade, has done nothing to help. It took a Supreme Court order four years ago, and two decades after the deadly gas leak, to provide water to the wretched people living in the gas leak area.

How starkly different the world of these miserable people is from the comfort zones that India’s middle class imagines iteself to be in, with its opulent villas, gated security, health spas and polished cars. It is unlikely that this class of people, feeling a false sense of security thanks to their isolation from reality, will appreciate the story in question. They are unlikely to be moved, because of their deep ignorance, of the narration of Government indifference, corporate corruption and the emaciated nature of India’s environmental laws and the implementing agencies.

The tragedy is that the middle class is unable to see the creeping poison under its feet, as the toxic sludge from a variety of poorly regulated industrial activities is poisoning its land, water and air. It happened quickly for those closer to the Bhopal site, but is taking place at a slow but sure pace for the rest of us.

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