“law and order” rather than “order and law”?a nation that cannot uphold its law cannot preserve its order


CEO, Nicholas Curtis.Pathological liar 
“We have perfectly good permission (from the government) to store it onsite, forever,” said its CEO, Nicholas Curtis.

A nation that cannot uphold its law cannot preserve its order. When Anderson was smuggled out to safety, the authority of state abandoned the responsibility of state. Excuses, evasions and lies have shifted over 26 years; this central truth has not.

It is odd that the government should have chosen law and order as its final alibi after some exhausting self-laceration in its search for a credible explanation for the escape of Union Carbide’s Warren Anderson on December 7, 1984.

Why do we say “law and order” rather than “order and law”? Simple. Law comes before order. Law defines the nature of order. Law is the difference between civilization and chaos. Law is evolutionary: the edicts of tribes, chiefs and dynasties lifted human societies from scattered peril to structured coexistence. The laws of democracy have vaulted us to the acme of social cohesion, for they eliminated arbitrary diktat and introduced collective will. The divine right of kings is dead; it has been reborn as the secular right of an elected Parliament.

A nation that cannot uphold its law cannot preserve its order. When Anderson was smuggled out to safety, the authority of state abandoned the responsibility of state. Excuses, evasions and lies have shifted over 26 years; this central truth has not.

Unsurprisingly, Anderson sneered at the establishment that knelt before him; contempt is the umbilical chord of the colonial, or neo-colonial, relationship. The crux of the Bhopal tragedy is summed up in a few sentences uttered by Anderson as he was escorted out of India on December 7, 1984: “House arrest or no house arrest, or bail or no bail, I am free to go home…There is a law of the United States… India, bye bye, thank you.”

‘House or no house arrest’: he could not care a damn about those funny-looking policemen (in lathis and khaki shorts?) who had dared to arrest a pillar of the American corporate establishment. ‘Bail or no bail’: what was a rotten piece of paper signed in an Indian court worth to a lord of Wall Street? Not even the decency of silence. Anderson was publicly, even proudly, contemptuous of those who did not have the courage to interrupt his freedom for a mere industrial disaster in which a few thousand semi-slave Indians had been gassed to death within hours and thousands more would die over years.

‘There is a law in the United States’: Anderson had twigged on to a basic truth that the law is a malleable reality for those who are “well-connected” in India. How could Anderson have respect for India’s law when those entrusted with its sanctity had defiled it? Anderson laughed at Indian law, and jeered at the Indian state. Compare this with the fact that his company was scared witless at the prospect of an American trial. Carbide fought hard, and successfully, with predictable help from a comprador Indian establishment, to shift the trial from America to India. Their subsequent collusion with Indian courts touched Supreme heights.

British Petroleum knew the perils of entanglement with American justice and shelled out within six weeks of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Big Oil (which is far bigger than Big Chemical) has been forced to put aside $20 billion for the repair of the environment after an ecological disaster that has not killed a single innocent human being. Technically, BP need not have paid more than $75 million. The first demand on Carbide, 26 years ago was for $15 billion. It has paid the equivalent of just one billion dollars (at today’s prices) for the death of nearly 20,000 people and the horrific maiming of over 100,000.

Barack Obama slipped on a bit of oil himself when the spill began. He thought playing to the gallery would subdue the clamour, while BP contained the damage. He upped the ante (it became an environmental 9/11) even while his National Guard helped BP by hiding affected bird-life from media cameras. Obama began to taunt the British in British Petroleum, perhaps because he found it easier to attack a nation than a multinational; but public opinion was not to be mollified by rhetoric.

BP paid America out of fear, not because of a demand order from its conscience. Carbide had nothing to fear, and never possessed a conscience. QED. BP will not pay a dividend this year. Carbide paid a dividend even after Bhopal.

‘India, bye bye, thank you’: those famous last Anderson words. Bye bye; this is a divorce, not a separation. There might be some alimony in it, but don’t start shopping until the cheque is in the bank.

Accusation is the easy exit route from Bhopal. Introspection will take us back to the beginning. Betrayal is impossible without trust. We did not trust Carbide to be honest. We trusted our political class, and it continues to search for new and inventive ways to betray us again.

The German firm that made thalidomide has issued its first apology in 50 years to the thousands born disabled as a result of the drug’s use, drawing stinging criticism from advocates for some survivors.

Grunenthal’s chief executive Harald Stock said in a speech on Friday his firm was “very sorry” for its silence towards the victims of the drug, which was sold to pregnant women to cure morning sickness in the 1950s and early 1960s.

An estimated 10,000 children worldwide were born with defects — including missing limbs — after their mothers took thalidomide, which was sold in nearly 50 countries before being pulled from the market in 1961.

In a translated copy of the German text published on Grunenthal’s website, Stock said he wanted to express his company’s “sincere regrets” and “deep sympathy” to all those affected, “their mothers and their families”,

“We ask that you regard our long silence as a sign of the shock that your fate has caused us,” he said in the speech.

“We also apologize for the fact that we have not found the way to you from person to person for almost 50 years. Instead, we have been silent and we are very sorry for that.”

Stock delivered the speech at the inauguration of a special memorial to thalidomide victims in Stolberg, western Germany, where the company is based.

He said that the drug “was taken by many women who had no reason to imagine that it could seriously harm their unborn children”.

The apology was rejected as insufficient by the charity Thalidomide Agency UK, which represents people affected by the drug in Britain.

Freddie Astbury, the charity’s head consultant, said the company needed to “put their money where their mouth is” rather than simply express regret.

Astbury, who was born in Chester in 1959 without arms or legs after his mother took the drug, said: “If they are serious about admitting they are at fault and regret what happened they need to start helping those of us who were affected financially.”

Stock said his firm was taking steps to help the victims of the drug’s use.

“We have learned how important it is that we engage in an open dialogue with those affected and to talk and to listen to them,” he said.

Lawyers for Australian survivors of the drug Saturday described the belated apology from the firm which developed and marketed the drug as “pathetic” and “insulting”.

“The apology issued by Grunenthal to thalidomide survivors is pathetic: it is too little, too late and riddled with further deceit,” lawyers for Australian survivor Lynette Rowe said in a statement.

“To suggest that its long silence before today ought to be put down to ‘silent shock’ on its part is insulting nonsense.

“For 50 years Grunenthal has been engaged in a calculated corporate strategy to avoid the moral, legal and financial consequences of its reckless and negligent actions of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Rowe’s lawyers, from Gordon Legal and Slater & Gordon, said it would have been better for Grunenthal to release its private records to the world, including those it recently handed over in a class action led by the Australian woman.

Court papers used in the case brought by Rowe, who was born without arms or legs after her mother took thalidomide, allege that the German makers of the drug were warned of birth defects some two years before it was withdrawn.

Rowe’s lawyers said Saturday the case against Grunenthal, which has denied wrongdoing and vowed to “fully defend” any legal action, was on hold after she reached a multi-million dollar settlement with another firm that had distributed the drug.

But they said lawsuits recently commenced in Australia would be followed up in many other countries.

A Japanese supporting group for Thalidomide victims also said an apology was not good enough.

“An apology is a matter of course,” said Tsugumichi Sato, director-general of “Sakigake” Thalidomide Welfare Centre, in Japan, one of the major countries victimised of the drug disaster after Germany and Britain.

“The number of victims would have been smaller if the company had stopped its sales earlier,” Sato said. “We are closely watching what responsibility the company will take on top of apologies.”

Trust me: if thousands of politicians, or their cousins, the nouveau riche, had died on that apocalyptic night in Bhopal, Anderson would still be in an Indian prison, rather than in America, protected by his company, and the company that his company keeps. But only the poor died in Bhopal. We treat our poor as dispensable chattel whose death is meaningless in the economic calculus, since there is no shortage of supply. Bhopal is class war.

Cynicism is never irrational. The irrational, often wrong, sometimes right, are impelled by instinct, heart or even conscience. Cynics are morality-proof. They prefer data to truth.

Delhi has set the gold standard for cynicism. It operates on four axioms: public memory is a dwarf; anger is effervescent; media can be massaged at the appropriate moment; any public crisis can be assuaged with crumbs, while the promotion of private interests continues off-screen.

Jairam Ramesh’s promise of a Green Tribunal in Bhopal is a classical instance of a crumb dipped in the pickle of hypocrisy. Where was this or any other tribunal in the last 26 years when the dead, the deformed and blind babies and the stillborn fetuses were a reminder that justice must be done? Or is this tribunal meant for the next onslaught by the dogs of chemical war upon the sleeping slums of Bhopal? Who was Veerappa Moily trying to fool when he claimed that the case against Warren Anderson had not been closed? Why doesn’t he keep the case open for a few more years, until God closes the chapter by taking Anderson away to whichever destination has been allotted to the butcher of Bhopal? A Group of Ministers has been appointed — merely to buy time until the return of amnesia.

The true Bhopal verdict was delivered within four days of the tragedy, in December 1984, not on June 7, 2010, when Anderson was smuggled out of Bhopal on a state government aircraft and then put on a plane to America. Since then we have witnessed a pretend-justice farce played out by government, police and the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. The last is most culpable, since we hold a Chief Justice of India like A M Ahmadi to higher standards of probity than we do politicians or policemen. Ahmadi got his proper thank you note after he retired.

Chief judicial magistrate Mohan Tiwari’s judgment served only one useful purpose. The sheer scale of its magnanimity towards the accused lit a fuse under the volcano of collective guilt. The lava is spewing from myriad crevices, scorching and burning many-layered masks that have hidden deceit for a generation. As memories were stoked, officials, some perhaps frustrated by the fact that their silence had not been rewarded, revealed how successive governments had intervened to slow down the judicial process and sabotage any chance of Anderson’s extradition. Union Carbide and its collaborators, including Indians of course, have sustained themselves with a lie, that it was an Indian disaster since the plant was built and run by Indians. The design is an exact replica of an American plant, and an American who was terrified of being tried in India was in charge of management.

The political establishment assumed that June 7 would be just another day in a long calendar, possibly punctuated by an occasional, futile scream. The court was fortified, and entry denied to petitioners, victims and media. My one memory of this courtroom, gleaned from television, shall be of the smug grin of an obese policemen laughing at two old women, their faces contorted by rage and frustration, who knew that the system which had stolen their lives had also cheated their children in death.

Trust me: if thousands of politicians, or their cousins, the nouveau riche, had died on that apocalyptic night in Bhopal, Anderson would still be in an Indian prison, rather than in America, protected by his company, and the company that his company keeps. But only the poor died in Bhopal. We treat our poor as dispensable chattel whose death is meaningless in the economic calculus, since there is no shortage of supply. Bhopal is class war.

Is it surprising — or not? — that while even the Obama administration jumped in with some gratuitous advice, Dr Manmohan Singh had nothing to say? Perhaps the Prime Minister would have been repetitive. In essence, the signal from Washington and Delhi is the same: forget the dead, get on with multinational life.

Barack Obama was not elected to ensure justice for the Indian victim. He is in the White House to protect American business, and defend the two-laws theory that motivates American international relations, whether in war or peace. When 11 American workers were killed in an oil rig blow-up in the Gulf of Mexico, Washington demanded $1.5 billion from BP. Nearly 20,000 dead in Bhopal, half a million affected, and the total compensation is $470 million. Do the math. Obama has promised to penalize BP for the current oil spill to the extent of many billions of dollars. Magistrate Manoj Tiwari wants only Rs 5 lakh as reparation from Carbide for mass slaughter.

When Exxon was fined $5 billion for the Alaska oil spill, nearly $40,000 was spent on the rehabilitation of every affected sea otter. The victims of Bhopal are, so far, entitled to $200 each.

Don’t do the math. It may turn you into a cynic.

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