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Bhopal tragedy in school texts

Bhopal, Jan. 6: Survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy may not have got justice and fair compensation but the story of their struggle has found a place in textbooks.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), which publishes textbooks for CBSE school students from Class I to XII, has devoted considerable space to the tragedy in its social science textbook for Class VIII.

Unit ten of the textbook dealing with “law and social justice” shows how “cheap labour” drove a multinational company to the Madhya Pradesh capital and how the world’s worst industrial disaster took place on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984, because of gross negligence and compromise with the safety norms.

The illustrations on pages 124 and 125 highlight the people’s movement for justice.

Rachna Dhingra, a business strategy studies graduate from Michigan University, now part of an international campaign for justice in Bhopal, said she and other NGOs had been asking the Centre to include the gas tragedy in the school curriculum for past several years.

Abdul Jabbar, convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan, said: “The younger generation knows little about the enormity of the tragedy. Hopefully, the chapter will sensitise every kid and prepare them for environmental protection.”

Jabbar said while the state and Union governments have often been indifferent to the plight of gas victims and survivors, the NCERT authors have been candid. On page 126, the book compares Union Carbide’s safety norms in its Bhopal and Virginia based factories.

“At Virginia (USA) computerised warning and monitoring systems were in place whereas the UC plant in Bhopal relied on manual gauges and the human senses to detect gas leak. At the Virginia plant, emergency evacuation plans were in place but those were non-existent in Bhopal.”

At another place, it wonders why Bhopal victims received only Rs 1 lakh as compensation while a travel agency had to pay tourists Rs 8 lakh each for missing their date with Disneyland and shopping in Paris. “Why did the victims of the gas tragedy get so little for a lifetime of misery and pain,” it asks.

Author Arvind Sardhana, who is a member of the NCERT’s textbook development committee, said the idea of including Bhopal gas came when it was decided at the policy level that subjects dealing with civics would offer critical and informed choice instead of attempting to make students “loyal citizens”.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Sardhana said he along with Sukanya Bose and others chose the Bhopal gas incident to highlight the government’s role in protecting the environment and workers’ rights.

In June 2010, a local court in Bhopal sentenced seven executives of the Union Carbide, including its former chairperson Keshab Mahindra, under Sections 304-A (causing death by negligence), 336, 337 and 338 (gross negligence) of the IPC ordering two years’ imprisonment.

The men are currently out on bail. Following a public outrage, the Union government announced an additional compensation of Rs 750 crore for the victims.

So far, relatives of the dead have received Rs 1 lakh, those grievously injured Rs 50,000 and rest of the gas survivors Rs 25,000 each.

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