Pesticides and Poverty: The smoldering legacy of Bhopal

Volume #1, Issue #4


Of what use is memory? The Union Carbide explosion in Bhopal still lingers, 36 years later
by Lital Khaikin

On Bhopal, Memory and Theatre
Interview with Rahul Varma and Rohan Kulkarni

Additional content in PDF and print edition.

This edition of The Sparkplug commemorates the legacy of the tragic gas explosion that shook Bhopal on December 2, 1984, and critiques the role of neocolonial development by corrupt governments and corporate cronies.

Featured in this issue is an interview with Montreal-based playwright and theatrical director Rahul Varma, who wrote the events into a play called Bhopal (premiered in 2001), as well as Toronto-based academic and theatre critic Rohan Kulkarni.

With industrial disasters like Bhopal, their memories too often, too quickly, disappear in the years of legal challenges, promises for environmental remediation and paltry pay-offs to the victims by the corporations (if they pay at all). The conversation included in this issue takes Varma’s play Bhopal as a point of departure for the conversation it stoked within Canada’s cultural milieu on the legacy of the Union Carbide explosion in India.

The Bhopal tragedy had an important role in awakening the world to the urgency of industrial pollution in the 80s. As global media surged and connected international communities with anti-corporate and anti-globalization movements, corporations revealed growing insecurity with the energetic pursuit of investigative journalists. A telling quote by Ashok Kaleklar and Arthur D. Little, from a 1988 report on the Bhopal explosion, states: “In recent years, the news media with their surfeit of investigative reporters have become a predictable presence at the site of an incident.” This “surfeit” proved to be a massive inconvenience for their employer.

Today, as much as we are awash with mass media that churns out headlines by the micro-second, we have never been in such a forgetful period of history. We’ve become dependent on algorithms to tell us what to care about and remember, and take for granted that today’s history is indeed being recorded, and not overwritten or deleted. A hundred years from now, where will our memory and our lessons be stored, and how will they be revisited, if at all? For the memory of Bhopal, as for the continuity of the industrial disaster’s legacy, enterprising recorders of history may borrow the words of Arthur D. Little himself – the founder of the consulting firm that was eventually hired by Union Carbide: “Other people’s troubles are our business”.