Bhopal and tradition of Pseudo-outrage in Indian media

Looks like Indian media will continue harping on Bhopal-disaster for next couple of days till they will find a new story on which they can start a shouting match again. After watching  for almost half an hour on IBN, around 15 minute on  and another half an hour on Times now, here is what I learnt

  • Warren Anderson, CEO of  union  carbide in 1984,  now lives in some wealthy suburbs of USA.
  • Indian government has failed to trace Mr. Anderson in last 25 year but smart reporters from  channel X (where X depend upon the channel being watched) found his house in 10 minute.
  • The verdict was very very wrong (it was so obvious to everyone). Basically, everyone is so busy being angry that no one bother to explain what is wrong legally with the judgement.
  • According to some Mr. Arnab  (I must confess I am not a regular watcher of news channels) host on Times now,  Indian public is so outraged by this judgement that we should immediately stop discussion on Nuclear liability bill. With my low intellect and close to zero direct  knowledge of what happened in 1984,  it was quite difficult for me to understand the link he was trying to establish.   I tried hard to understand his point of view and this is what I roughly understood:  Union Carbide  = bad  American company which  did not  gave up all its income and did not put all its employ in jail after 1984 = USA bad nation which protect its commercial interest and insist on fair trial (not by media)  for its own citizen in problem  abroad =  bad imperial power = hidden promoter of nuclear liability bill = case closed we should not have a bill.
  • It is our national duty to put  Mr. Anderson behind bar in India.
  • Arjun Singh was involved in helping Anderson  in such a way that he managed to  escape  trial in Indian court.

I see that everyone is very very angry.  I am trying to understand reason for such a delay anger.  Seriously speaking this whole episode is a reminder of hollowness of Indian media and danger created by it.  Unfortunate part is bloggers from academia are also just following Indian media. Here are a few example:

  • Read Here in new age media

And so, yet again, a ‘resurgent India’ fails its most deprived, its most dispossessed and impoverished citizens.

  • Or read here from a relatively sensible author in times of india

My blood boiled further today when I heard Barack Obama frivolously wanting to know “whose ass to kick” over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico – where there are no casualties yet. You bet Swamiji, if he were alive today, would have liked to kick Barack’s.

In my opinion it is too late by now to bother about criminal investigation of the 1984 events.   However,  what I find here very shallow and even dangerous is the way public opinion is manipulated by media in current situation. Here are few question from my side to media

  • Where were you in last 25 years? Is this really a news to you that Arjun Singh (read Rajiv Gandhi) helped remove the heat from Union carbide? In fact even now very few are questioning stance of gandhi family on this.   In 1984 I personally was too young to remember anything. However, I do remeber the periodic drama enacted by media and activist on this.  Every time something will happen (for example current scene or compensation decision) media and activist  wiill create a small drama.  After a month or two something else will happen and everyone will forget this drama.
  • Actually, what is the issue that everyone is angry this  time?   Is that court acted on existing laws? Why people are blaming  courts? Are they suppose to create law for us? Last I heard, this job was still with parliament.
  • What exactly  was role of Anderson  in this whole episode.   No one in current debate has actually tried to show any criminal compliance from his side.    Is it really clear  that he was  personally knowledgeable about the whole episode?   After reading tons of  article in Indian media, I am still not so sure  that anyone has any proof of direct involvement of management of parent company of Union carbide Indian.  They can be easily blamed for criminal negligence for which our own laws are archaic.
  • Why  Indian media  is  so obsessed with  finding a fall guy in this case.  I don’t know what can be achieved by trying to prosecute a 90+ person.  Is it the case that people are feeling more offended that he is an american and company is in USA.  I see lot of ” I told you americans are so bad” going on in this case.  No such outrage was shown even recently  when Delhi University showed  much bigger (in potential)negligence in handling radioactive material.    Is it pure anti-americanism at its best or our usual tendency to try to find a fall guy in every situation?
  • Let us be realstic and accept that being vindictive on a 90+ year old man, whose direct crime is also not so clear, won’t serve any purpose now. Won’t it be better if we try to learn something from this tragedy?  As far as I know, many place where people teaches iy industrial safety in chemical engineering they use  1984 as a lesson to teach students what not to do when working in a chemical plant. I am from a generation who studied chemical engineering well after 1984 and at least I do not recall any one teaching us to take safety issues seriously anywhere during  my education.  Only person, I know who has taken educational value of 1984 seriously is one of my friend and collaborator at NTU, Singapore Dr. Arvind Rajendran.  He uses the movies and documentaries of 1984  to teach chemical engineering student what kind of thing can happen if they do not take their job seriously.   At least, accidence at Delhi University shows that in many Indian universities even professors working in these areas do not take safety issues very seriously.
  • Should not Indian media use outrage over  both 1984 and current Delhi episode to  increase safety standard in India.   Else, we will be looking for another Anderson very soon.

Personally,  I am very much against   blame game and holier than thou attitude shown in Indian media after each and every incidence.  Every tragedy is also an opportunity to correct our chaotic system.  In  blame games played in India causality  is very often larger big picture. Here are a few  example including 1984 issue:

  • The truth is that  many of Indian chemical plant are running on god’s mercy and it is shear luck that 1984 do not happen every day. However, no one is bothered about improving that situation. In quest for Anderson no one is remembering that situation is no better than 1984.  Is it the  case that  people are less bothered about them because many of such plant belong to Indian owners or govt of India itself.
  • A few year back their was big drama about exploitation of poor Indians in Kerala by imperial American multinational company coke.  An intersting finding during that time which generated  very little passion was the fact that pesticide content in Indian water is too high.  In everyone zeal to talk about bad americans water issue was completely forgotten. Coke or no coke fact is Indian ground water is still polluted but who cares!
  • In Ruchika’s case,  her school easily removed her from school. However, no corrective action was taken on that. Won’t it be better if arbitrary expulsion from schools are discussed more seriously.  Ruchika was tortured because our system permit such arbitrary powers to authorities.   Our outraged should be more pointed and help resolve such issues. But discussing such some long term corrections such as restricting school power etc will not be sexy enough for Indian media.

One Response to “Bhopal and tradition of Pseudo-outrage in Indian media”

  1. Saikishan Says:

    Perfectly agree with your views presented in this article !

    “being vindictive on a 90+ year old man, whose direct crime is also not so clear, won’t serve any purpose now. Won’t it be better if we try to learn something from this tragedy?” – I felt the same

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