NonGovernmental Politics: Bhopal: Unending Disaster, Enduring Resistance

In this article, Hanna discusses the multiple effects of a disaster at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India. In December 1989, due to poor construction and safety measures, a tank of toxic material burst and spread over the slums surrounding the city, killing 7,000- 10,000 people and disabling thousands more. In addition to this initial disaster, chemical contamination continues to spread from waste pits around the plant. The government placed the poor citizens around the site under parens patriae, preventing them from advocating for themselves legally. In spite of this suggestion of responsibility, the government and company reached insufficient settlements with the survivors, and advocated for better health care and occupational accommodations until 2003. This conflict highlights the connections between state and corporation as well as the state’s ambiguity towards responsibility for its poor citizens.

The response to this situation has been a remarkable show of independent groups. Numerous NGOs have interpreted the disaster within their own specialty; for example, Greenpeace seeks restoration purely on an environmental basis. Many citizen groups have sprung up in protest; frequently women’s groups, these societies maintain government support of occupational alternative for disabled women. They also stage mass protests to raise awareness and to intimidate officials into supporting favorable legislation.

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