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1984 is a year in India’s contemporary history that is marked by many unfortunate incidents. The first assassination of a Prime Minister of our country, the anti-Sikh riots that claimed many innocent lives and the Bhopal tragedy that claimed an estimated 15,000 – 20,000 lives.
There is a common theme to these ‘incidents’ as these significant acts are often described in bureaucratise. In both cases where mass loss of life was involved, no significant person of stature has been held responsible and punished, while thousands of Indians – our own citizens and countrymen/women have suffered the loss of their loved ones. And all through this most of us have remained mute spectators, with an occasional rant or whimper at this obvious miscarriage of justice.
The recent judgement on the Bhopal case can almost be thought of the straw that is finally breaking the camel’s back – The outrage a result of the waking up of our collective conscience to the fact that there must be something very wrong with us as a nation, people, government, judicial system – where an act of negligence by a corporation that has resulted in so many deaths – visible to us all – can go unpunished, be manipulated and almost swept under the carpet – with no one held accountable – a pittance being paid out as penalty, and most importantly, very pitiful little done to treat, rehabilitate and restore the community that was ravaged. We must have all been in collective amnesia if it has taken 26 years for us to finally form a Group of Ministers to look into Rehabilitation efforts in a community that was ravaged by this tragedy!!
There is something deeply troubling and tragic with our system of government – when there is such obvious lack of concern for the suffering of its people and where deals can be made in the name of investment and other factors over the 1000s of dead bodies and shattered lives in Bhopal. To those who say there is too much emotion and passion in this debate, I say – that it’s right to be emotional about this. Death and lives lost are issues to be emotional about.
Through all the debate and spin that’s being thrown at us now, I hope we can all be clear about one objective - We must not let up or compromise on the need to fix accountability for the Bhopal Crime and punish the guilty. Democracies such as ours can only function if there are rules and laws that are applicable equally to the common citizen, the rich and the corporates. Democracy, Governance and Media in our country are already under the extraordinary influence of Corporates and Big money. That is an inarguable fact and an increasingly obvious fallout of the last two decades of Economic liberalization. The influence of Big money on our politics and political debate is only increasing. Like the other advanced Democracies of the world, India too must send out a message to all – “We are a nation of laws, Break the law and you shall have to face the consequences, regardless of who you are.” It is in this background that we need to ensure that Bhopal isn’t another case of sweeping corporate crime under the Carpet. The thousands of shattered families in Bhopal deserve to get justice and closure and we owe it to them even if the guilty are the rich and powerful.
The fact that there will be some effort at soft peddling this awakened conscience of the country isn’t surprising. So I was not surprised to read one such effort - a statement by that financial icon from Mumbai – Deepak Parekh - who is quoted as saying “I agree Bhopal is our worst tragedy. But we can’t get emotional about it. Just by putting a Chairman and CEO in Jail is not going to solve the problem!”
This is an amazing statement – showing just how compromised and lopsided our system is. The hypothesis that is being advanced by Mr. Parekh here is of course that we should forget that there was someone culpable and responsible for this negligence – simply because he was a Chairman or CEO or a friend of someone who is someone. Mr Parekh is of course wrong – holding a Chairman or CEO guilty isn’t something that should be thought of being special. If a person violates the law of our country, regardless of whether he is Chairman or CEO or friend of Mr Parekh or not – that person should be found guilty and be held to the consequences of that under our system. I don’t hear Mr. Parekh or his ilk speak up when a normal person faces a trial for some violation of law. In effect, he is suggesting a double standard in how we enforce the laws of our land. I am sorry Mr. Parekh, that may have worked the last 26 years. It won’t anymore. We cannot allow this double standard on respect for law to continue anymore. This is the only way our system of law can send a message to other lawbreakers. Break the law and you will be punished. Regardless of whether you are friends of a financial icon or not.
We owe that to the thousands of shattered families of Bhopal.