December 2 1984 is a date that whole of India can never forget. It is on the night of December 2 that the gas leaked from Union Carbide Plant. It is the worst industrial disaster that the world has ever seen. Over 500000 people got exposed to the gas. There is no unanimity on number of dead, it could be between 2500 that the authorities say or 15000 as independent observers say. The world has never witnessed an industrial tragedy of this magnitude
And it’s been 25 years and the case drags on. In these 25 years much has happened. India has seen 5 different Prime Ministers, the state of MP has seen six different chief ministers, the case has dragged on, and the victims wait for relief and compensation. 25 years is a long time
Now I am not building the argument about the case. Everything that has happened till now on the case has been wrong and unjust. Let’s leave it at that just for a while. Let’s look at what has changed in India in last 25 years. Let’s look at India through this prism.
The India of 1984 was a very different India. It was an angry India, and it was an unsure India. Our economy had just started to find its groove; the wave of growth had just started to build. We were not the confident optimistic nation that we have started to become now. May be it was this lack of confidence and lack of trust in ourselves that we let Warren Anderson leave India. May be this was the reason the amount of compensation sought from Union Carbide was paltry.
The country was aghast at what had happened then. The students in colleges protested, the civil society raised its voice, the news papers kept at it and piled on pressure, but eventually the issue faded from active consciousness of the nation. The society in those days had no way of keeping the whole issue alive for a long period of time.
Now, in 2010 when the final judgment on the case has been pronounced the country is nothing like what it was in 1984. India now is a much more assured country in its own right. We are sure of ourselves and brimming with confidence. We are optimistic of our future and know we will make tomorrow brighter. The economy has transformed dramatically, we are a service economy now. In 1984 we looked at World Bank and IMF and they dictated our economic policy. In 2010 the world is looking at India to drive them out of the clutches of recession.
The changes are deeper than macroeconomic in nature. The media is far more widespread. The access to media has gone up many folds. In 1984 we took to streets to protest. The protests were seen as a law and order problem more than the reflection of ground reality. Today the anger and disappointment has been empowered by social media. The protest are no longer on a few streets, it’s everywhere. The protest are no longer restricted to a few people, they involve a much wider audience. The protests then were spontaneous reactions that die down as anger subsides. The protests now can be sustained drive a deeper change. The media today is powered by social media and together they are a potent force, a force that can truly change the fate of victims of Bhopal
And that is the real issue. The tragedy of Bhopal cannot be reversed. But it should not remain a tragedy that affects a small set of people. If we as consumers can use our power to drive changes in brands, communication and social culture than the power should be put to proper use. The true test of social media is here. If we can together drive a change, social media will truly come to life, or else it will remain one of those things that are fashionable to know, but is of little value.
Bhopal and the tragedy should be a turning point in the history of social media. Will it stand up to the test?
Published at http://www.mediaworldbuzz.com