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On The Tragedy

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This settlement has sanctioned the murders of our people as a sacrifice to corporate profits," cries out one of the characters in Anjali Deshpande's Impeachment. The statement is followed by a demand to impeach the Chief Justice of India. The book, which follows a slice-of-the-life story, offers several such unusual moments. The story starts on 14 February 1989, when the Supreme Court of India absolved chemical giant Union Carbide of any legal, criminal or moral liability towards the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy of 1984. The settlement of $417 million between the Government of India and the company is seen as a devil's pact and the story runs through the emotions of all stakeholders — activists, survivors, lawyers, non-government organisations and all the affected people.

Interspersed with adultery, infidelity and politics of power, the novel runs the reader through the different aspects of the life in the capital, New Delhi. The self-appointed subversive protagonists of the story take up the cause of the gas victims and survivors and stage demonstrations and provide the necessary legal and financial support to bring their agitation to New Delhi from Bhopal. The tapestry remains constant, but the complacency in this struggle due to each activist's personal life demotes the cause of the actual survivors. The author does a splendid job when it comes to portraying the emotions of the survivors and making some revelations which awestruck the reader. For example, Shahina, one of the survivors of the tragedy, claims that Union Carbide took away the bodies to do the postmortem to understand the effects of what she terms as an "experiment" with a larger interest of creating chemical weapons.

In another instance, a character takes a dig at the ‘mile sur mera tumhara' song and asks what happens to the besuras like him in the system — obviously hinting at the democratic system that needs to take care of ‘all' its people and not just the privileged few. The activists, Freinds-Of-Bhopal (FOB), as they call themselves, are also involved in their own internal ideological bloodbath, when one of the demonstrations goes awry and leads to stone throwing and lathi charge. ‘Love, sex and dhoka' is a theme present throughout the book; be it lesbianism or extra-marital-affairs or love-sickness — all have a place in this book. I highly doubt if the public opinion would sway drastically after reading the book, as the author does not hook the reader to her story telling abilities. The story is not centred on a single character, and the presence of too many secondary characters — each within their respective constrained ecosystems — becomes a drag and does not do justice to either the gas tragedy or to its characters. What was to be a good insight into the inner workings of the Indian legal system and the government turned out to be an ephemeral narration of self-appointed leaders of the gas victims and their daily rigmarole.