Exposure: Portrait of a Corporate Crime

Feature story - 13 August, 2002
This moving exhibition offers a unique photographic insight into the human and environmental tragedy that has engulfed the Indian city of Bhopal since December 1984, when an explosion at Union Carbide's pesticide plant released lethal gases into the city, causing the world's worst industrial disaster.

Skulls discarded after research at the Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal. Medical experts believe that the gas inhaled by the people of Bhopal may have affected the brain.

Union Carbide responded by abandoning the contaminated plant, paying the survivors inadequate compensation and refusing to accept liability for the disaster. The exhibition documents both the immediate aftermath of the explosion and the ongoing struggle of survivors determined to secure justice from the chemical giant even though they have lost their families, economic security and health.

This moving collection shows what happens when companies such as Union Carbide - now merged into Dow - are not held accountable for the disasters and pollution they cause. It gives a voice to the people whose lives have been torn apart by a corporate crime.

The world renowned photographer, Raghu Rai, arrived in Bhopal hours after the gas leak to find chaos as the dead were being buried and cremated and the hospitals overflowing with thousands of patients. Rai realised he was witnessing a disaster of unprecedented proportions and the start of a long nightmare for the gas exposed survivors.

'What I saw was to change my life. It was an unprecedented scene of chaos. What startled me most was the silence of death. Thousands of people had already died, thousands more than died in the 11 September attack on the World Trade Centre. I vowed then and there to continue my work, to do all I could to show the world what happens to people when corporations are not held liable for their operations, when they are allowed to cut costs and safety standards when they operate abroad.' said Raghu Rai.

To date, 20,000 have died from gas exposure and the effects are now extending into the next generation. 150,000 of the survivors are chronically ill and communities are drinking contaminated groundwater because Dow has still not cleaned up the dangerous chemicals Union Carbide left behind.

Tara Bai, a Bhopal survivor who went on hunger strike for 19 days in July to protest the move by the Indian government to reduce charges against former Union Carbide boss Warren Anderson said: "I remember the night of the gas leak as though it were yesterday. I lost my child and could not conceive since. To see the culprits of this disaster being let off by a shameless government is too much to bear. They seem to treat the world's worst industrial disaster as though it had been a car crash."

Dow claims "protecting people and the environment is part of everything we do and every decision we make." In reality it seems that because the disaster happened in India the company thinks it can get away without cleaning up the mess and properly compensating survivors. Dow claims to be "in discussions" with Bhopal activists. After almost 18 years, what this exhibition clearly shows, is that the people of Bhopal really need action not mere words.