Animal’s People, Indra Sinha, 2007
A work of fiction set in an Indian city twenty years after the worst industrial accident in human history. The central narrator, a disfigured boy who walks on all fours because his back was damaged in the explosion, dictates his story into a tape recorder left him by a “Jarnalis” (journalist). The boy was orphaned by the blast and was raised by a French nun who lost all language except her own childhood French and who awaits the “Apokalis” with anticipation. The boy, who is known only as animal, is her only interpreter in the city. Central characters are a young girl who’s famous classical singing father has lost his voice in the incident, that Animal is in love with, the middle aged activist who has been fighting a losing battle against the “Amrika Kampani” who’s plant blew up and whose executives refuse to accept that Indian courts have any jurisdiction over them, and a mysterious Amrika woman doctor who opens a free clinic to help the sick and damaged of the city. Unknown Chemicals from the Kampani’s plant have now poisoned the ground water of the city.
When the activist finally gets a judge to order that all Kampani property in India will be seized unless the Kampani appears in court, the games begin. Four Amrika lawyers come to city to bribe the politicians into an out of court deal (no honest Indian goes into politics), the activist and friends start a waterless hunger strike, riots begin, the judge is removed, and the nun awaits the great Apokalis.
Well written and a reminder that Union Carbide was never brought to justice in the Bhopal chemical pesticide incident after 1984.
The author has spent the last fifteen years helping to raise money for the victims of the disaster. He has written this novel to help us remember. For an account of the real Bhopal incident see Bhopal Disaster. Safer but more costly chemicals could have been used in the plant; maintenance was non existent; and the plant had stopped production but the chemicals were left in large corroding tanks at the time of the incident in 1984. Union Carbide was required to pay only $350 million (the insurance limit) plus interest and only after a long court battle. An estimated 200,000 people were killed or injured in the incident and more than a million lawsuits were filed. A typical award was $20 which meant that much of the insurance money was never distributed by the Indian government. When Union Carbide decided to sell its share in the joint company, the Indian government in 1998 required the company to open and operate a hospital for eight years to treat victims. Dow Chemical, who now owns Union Carbide, maintains a bizarre theory that the plant was sabotaged and denies any responsibility for the incident. They even maintain a permanent web site denying their responsibility for the incident.