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The story that cried out to be told.,
This review is from: Five Past Midnight in Bhopal (Hardcover)
Dominique Lapiere and Xavier Moro follow in the tradition of Dominique's "City of Joy" with this skilful telling a story which was in great danger of being simply forgotten. The Bhopal gas tragedy and its aftermath are the greatest ever scandal of the corporate world: a chronicle of staggering negligence crowned by a giant American corporation's utter indifference for the suffering of its victims. Dominique and Xavier show how Union Carbide ignored advice not to build a pesticides plant handling deadly poisons in the middle of a densely populated city, how its sales miscalculations and subsequent attempts to force its Indian subsidiary to cut costs led directly to the tragedy in which tens of thousands died in the most horrifying circumstances. The book brings to life for us the bastees (slum neighbourhoods) of Bhopal near which the factory was built, their vibrant life and many of their characters: Gangaram the leper, Pulpul Singh the moneylender, little Padmini the tribal girl from Orissa whose wedding took place on what was to become known as "The Night of Gas" or simply "That Night". We are also introduced to the people who built and ran the deadly pesticides plant, and are helped to understand the complex sequence of decisions and blunders which led year by year, week by week and finally, minute by minute, toward catastrophe. As a result we feel the full horror of what happened at midnight on 2 December 1984, as cocktails of deadly gases began drifting in clouds through the densely populated city lanes, killing some ten to twenty thousand immediately (many of them with eyes and mouths on fire, drowning terrified in their own body fluids), leaving behind more than half a million injured. How the hospitals of Bhopal were crowded with Carbide's refugees, thousands of poor people, some coughing up their lungs, others rendered incontinent by the poisons with faeces and urine running down their legs. You would think that such people, who were innocently leading their lives and had done nothing to deserve this hideous punishment, should by now (eighteen years after the disaster) have been handsomely compensated, and given effective medical treatment. Yet for the majority of gas victims nothing has been done. In their Epilogue Dominique and Xavier show how virtually from day one, Carbide began trying to evade responsibility for its actions. How, to exculpate itself, it invented a "sabotage" theory (a shameful piece of PR, entirely invented and several times discredited and disproved yet in which it still persists). They show how Carbide (now merged into Dow) manipulated legal systems, judges and governments with shameless cynicism and has so far managed to evade justice. Meanwhile, its half a million victims, among them some of the poorest people on the planet, have been denied proper compensation and medical care. To this day the company has never said exactly what gases leaked, and one reason for that is that it has never appeared in court (Union Carbide is officially a "fugitive from justice" in India having failed to turn up to answer charges in the Bhopal court), it has never been compelled to face questioning under oath, and the evidence related to the world's worst ever chemical disaster has to this day never been publicly heard. This book will open people's eyes to the reality of what unchecked and unaccountable corporate power means. It is a very important text. It must be read.