Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Indifference: The bigger tragedy.


The iPhone 4 was launched yesterday and today it is the subject of more than one status update on FB. Considering that Apple doesn’t think India to be a big or important enough market to launch its products until much, much later, (iPad, iPad where are you? I hope your name doesn’t confuse people and make them expect to see you in a chemist store - handed over furtively and wrapped in an old newspaper), I wonder why a lot of Indians get all excited and start using their ‘connections’ to smuggle its latest. 

That is not to deny that most new Apple products are game-changing or revolutionary or some such wonderful thing. At least that’s what most tech junkies and journalists say.

On that background I am tempted to quote a couple of comments made by my friend, Mandar Paranjape, a known Apple buff:

“Apple products are still great but whenever possible I choose freedom over usability.”


And I just love the second one:


“Usually Apple loyalists are like Narayan Peth Puneites ""घ्याचं तर घ्या, नाहीतर चालते व्हा!":) (Buy it if you want, else get lost! :)

But, as always, I have gone off on a tangent. This wasn’t supposed to be about Apple-bashing.

This is about another momentous thing that happened right here, in India, the verdict on the Bhopal Gas Leak Case. (When I started writing this post yesterday, there wasn’t a single mention. By now at least two people have the anger in their updates. All is not lost.)

My first tryst with the Bhopal Gas Leak, labelled the world’s largest industrial disaster, came in the newspaper on the day after it happened. I was 16 and too young or too immature to be affected by something that happened in a small town I had only heard of. I read and I forgot.

The second one was almost seven years later when I went out to interview a Marathi writer for my first article for Free Press Journal, the wonderful newspaper that gave assignments to any guy wanting to be a journalist and actually published them if they were good. I ended up interviewing a chemical engineer who had written a novel based on his understanding of the Bhopal disaster.

The third one was when I was working as an advertising copy writer and The Brief Magazine held a competition to come up with a piece of communication about the disaster that would bring alive the tragedy of the affected people. It was judged by Indra Sinha, an advertising copy writer from the UK, one whose work for Amnesty International and London Metropolitan Police created a new standard in public awareness advertising. And someone who has been involved, hands-on, with organising health care for the Bhopal victims. You can visit his web site for Bhopal by clicking here. You can read his article in yesterday's Guardian by clicking here.
The prize for the competition was a month’s stint in a leading London advertising agency. I didn’t win it.

The copy writer-art director team who won the competition went off to London and promptly got jobs and moved on without fully claiming their prize. I wonder what poor Indra Sinha felt. But he did the civil thing: He picked up the runners-up and gave them the prize.

Twenty-five years after the tragedy, finally, the Indian courts have arrived at a verdict. Those found guilty have been sentenced to two years' imprisonment and are already out on bail. But I am surprised by the media's reaction of surprise: The charges were diluted long ago. Warren Anderson apparently had used a government aircraft to escape from Bhopal to Delhi. The government, who was the defendant in this case, had done nothing for the survivors compared to voluntary organisations in these last twenty-five years.


Like Indra Sinha writes in his article in the Guardian, “The company fined $11,000 for causing the deaths of more than 20,000 people? That's 55 cents a death. What of the quarter of a century of suffering endured by more than 100,000 sick survivors? Eleven cents apiece. As criminal damages go, never has a lower price been set on human life and health”.

That’s it: 55 cents a death and 11 cents per survivor. Doesn’t even add up to a fraction of what it takes to buy the new iPhone 4 at USD 199.


WHAT WILL DEFINITELY NOT HAPPEN
Location: Office of the Prime Minister of India.
Law Minister: Warren Anderson is responsible for 20,000 deaths and 100,000 sick people.
PM: You are kidding!
LM: No, I am not. 
PM: Nobody tells me anything! Where is he?
LM: In a house in Long Island, New York.
PM: Let's bomb his cave. I mean, house.
LM: What an idea Sardarji!

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