16 June 2012

BHOPAL GAS LEAK 1984 - Art & Deal Issue 48 vol.8

Bhopal Gas Leak 1984 is synonymous with politics, propaganda, corruption, blame and suffering and is rarely connected to Art. 

In my early 20’s then, living so far away and removed from India when this catastrophic event came over the news. I remember being terribly shocked at the staggering number of the dead and injured watching the images across the screen of the television. It seemed so unbelievable that something so horrific could happen, but it did happen and now 27 years on I am in India and I am confronted with my memories of those events and my thoughts of the many people that have had their lives changed forever with coming into contact with the latest works of Art by Sayed Irshad Ali.

In these works we are reminded of the suffering, the pain and the anguish of not just the victims, but all concerned at every level of involvement and of the investigations for its duration of the past 27 years with finality and a conclusion still only a fantasy.
The body of this series of works is in printed form along with a video, giving strong historical reference to the use of propaganda.

Irshad began this work with a 10x20 feet billboard displayed in New Market (Roshanpura) Bhopal, also distributing 1 lakh pamphlets to homes via newspapers and distribution in the streets and pasting 1,000 posters throughout the city. In this work he has proposed, questioned and directed three issues at us, Bhopal gas leak in 1984, BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico early 2010 and the removal of Dow Chemicals as sponsor of 2012 Olympic Games. 

Here he is undoubtedly asking us to compare the demands of the US Government on BP to act responsibly with the clean-up of the oil spill that took place, which had a huge environmental impact in and around the Gulf of Mexico with the gas leak of 1984 in Bhopal, India, where in excess of 25,000 human lives were tragically lost and hundreds of thousands more left suffering a life time of unspeakable illnesses. He is asking us to compare and think of the differences in compensation and the time frames involved with both of these catastrophic events as well as asking us to compare the value of the environment with humanity itself. 
One could argue that future generations of humanity will be left homeless, so therefore we must have a much higher value for the environments in which we depend upon for survival and with the sea encompassing the land, it is vital it remains healthy to feed us its fish.
But Dow Chemicals involvement and association in this work I had to ask myself to really think of how it is linked with the two tragedies. 
It would initially appear that Dow Chemicals only crime would be that it purchased Union Carbide Corporation in 2001 and therefore linked to the Bhopal incident of 1984 and in turn be linked to the oil spill in its comparisons of enduring responsibilities of the legal and moral liabilities extending from disasters such as these two events with human and environmental impacts to consider. So we need to further question Dow Chemicals as an entity that impacts human and environmental elements with its day to day business of manufacturing chemicals.
Did you know that Dow Chemicals has an average of 5 accidents a day which places both the environment and human life at risk?

Irshad on the surface of this billboard has made the statement “REMOVE DOW CHEMICALS FROM OLYMPICS 2012”. It could be seen in a propagandist way in which he uses a skull in place of the letter “O” in DOW, this in itself, a symbol to demonstrate Dow Chemicals not so innocent past. He is also questioning what apart from the gift of money to be a sponsor of these Olympic Games is Dow Chemicals up to. 
Well we know that that gift of money, as sponsor, is to clean up the business image of the second largest global chemical company and we also know that chemical companies are manufacturing very dangerous and lethal killing agents as part of their overall business activities.
So again another question, why do they need to clean up their image as corporate identity and is Dow Chemicals using propaganda itself in this act of sponsorship with linking their activities of manufacturing lethal killing agents to the image of healthy sports men and women?

Here we are brought into the body of works by Irshad covering further the above issues of connectivity and all sorts of obligations and expectations. For here it is in the work titled ‘Dilema - 27 years in the making’ that Irshad has shown further these connections and reasons for objection.

Dow Chemicals is referenced with their connections to human sufferings resulting in death as well as destruction of environments as we know with their manufacturing of the infamous chemical, Agent Orange, as used by the US Department of Defense in their defoliation program during the Vietnam War, which continues to impact on the environment and on human health to this very day. 
The reputations and history of Union Carbide Corporation, Union Carbide India Limited and Eveready Industries India Limited is the inheritance of Dow Chemicals and the Indian Government would appear to still be holding to ransom Dow Chemicals with this legacy by the continued legal actions within the Indian Supreme Courts. We now have to question for how long is an entity liable in the monetary and moral senses, even though it may have been transformed by name changes and ownership as in this case.
Back in 1998 the Madhya Pradesh State Government claimed all legal obligation and responsibilities to clean-up the site of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak and yet 27 years after this event people worldwide are in awe of the lax attitude of the local governance as victims are still living with a contaminated environment. Clearly the MP State Government has little or no concern of the well-being of either human suffering or of the environment with which it is and remains legally responsible and liable for. Reminders of the tragic loss of in excess of 25,000 lives and of those still living with unspeakable injuries from their experiences of breathing burning toxic fumes of gases that were allowed to escape and invade 22 wards of the city of Bhopal are still visible not only at the former factory site but within the faces of the people and this government must be held to account for their inaction here.

The Central Government of India has in 1989 dropped all criminal charges relating to blame of this incident and in exchange accepted US$470 million as full compensation. The Welfare Commission as the determining or managing body for funds to be paid to victims have earned huge interest on this fund of monies being held and there does not seem to be an open access of information in relation to the distribution of funds as compensation paid. There are varying reports as to the number of dead, the number of injured persons as claimants for compensation and of money issues, which raises the issue and suspicions of corruption due to the inconsistencies of those reports. Politics in India is seen to be the most corrupt anywhere in the world and the level of corruption appears to be so entrenched and wide spread, this corruption filters down to the man in the street in such a way that no-one seems to be free of its effects. When we think of the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal we automatically question ourselves of the ways in which corruption could appear, questions of the claims themselves with people wanting to become victims by moving into the affected areas giving rise to almost half of the total claims being rejected. This is by no means the only way in which ordinary people have been deceptive and the mind is overworked to think of the level of deceptions that may have achieved success in corrupt activities of the higher levels of society and authorities surrounding this case. 

Then the NGO’s appear on the scene with their contributions to delaying the clean-up of the site and we also have to ask why the State and National Governments are allowing the NGO’s to govern the Government.
One can assume that the NGO’s are earning a large extent of their incomes from continued guilt being applied to all levels of governments and communities in their pretence to be offering care to victims.

Irshad with relative ease and dexterity has given us an insight into all of this political discourse for us to ask and to evaluate the sequence of events of culpability, responsibility, liability and of morality of not only chemical companies but of their customers and how they in turn use these lethal killing agents and to question the roles of Governments and of organizations which believe they can control Governments. We are allowed to consider human existence as secondary to nature and he has asked us to use our common sense in this documentary style work, the 27 years of historical facts and events depicting the 1984 Bhopal gas leak, the billboard with its comparisons and demand of removal of Dow Chemicals as sponsor of the 2012 Olympic Games and the photographs and video of his visit to Bhopal and ties it all together. It has become so much easier to understand this tragedy and in pinpointing those responsible for making the correct determinations now to bring about the necessary changes in Bhopal for a clean-up to be effective and looking positively for the survival of human existence there.

VIDEO LINK     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcWsmS_0WXo&feature=youtu.be

text by Geoffrey B. Mason Dip Arts (Fine Arts), B.V.A. (Sydney)    auntyolivers@yahoo.com.au