Special Report

“Bhopal 84”: Why speak of a crime that occurred 36 yrs ago, half way across the world

Journalists explain what motivated the production of a documentary being released by Brasil de Fato this week

Translated by: Ítalo Piva

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo |
Ruins of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India - Julian Nyča

"Slow and silent disasters like Bhopal happen every day, in various parts of the world." It was with these words that Indian activist Rachna Dhingra, explained to us why she dedicates her life to reporting on a crime that occurred 36 years ago.

In the early hours of December 3rd, 1984, more than 27 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide factory in the city of Bhopal, central India. The documentary Bhopal 84, which will be released on the anniversary of the crime by Brasil de Fato, revives the memory of that episode and sheds light on its consequences.

The company responsible for the spill, U.S based Union Carbide, did not follow the same security protocols in India, that it did in its West Virginia plant. They preferred to save money instead.

About 8,000 people died in the hours after the spill. The number of people affected increases daily, approaching 600 thousand - the last official figure from the Indian government from 2006, recognizes 558 thousand victims.

The damage is perpetuated not only because the land and ground soil have been contaminated, but because children whose fathers and mothers inhaled the toxic gas, are six times more likely to be born with genetic malformation.

Did stinginess end up being costly? Not for the company, which paid negligible damages and never guaranteed any compensation to the victims.

Since 2002, Union Carbide has been owned by Dow Chemical, another US-based giant in the sector. It also does not claim responsibility for the damages in Bhopal, nor does it collaborate with research to diagnose and minimize the ongoing impacts of the disaster.

Rachna Dhingra does not conform. As she lived in the United States before joining the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, she sees – and describes – with striking clarity, the environmental racism that permeates the practices of multinationals.

The other interviewees bring details about the moment when the gas leaked, and are living proof of how the crime continues to this day. Having witnessed the spill itself or not, all Bhopal workers today drink the same water – which we also drank for a few days – and are affected in different ways.


We were in the city weeks before the first coronavirus case in India was confirmed, thanks to a partnership with two Indian news platforms - Newsclick and Peoples Dispatch. We traveled the 770 km that separate the capital New Delhi from Bhopal, in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

The first shocking thing, was to understand how the city deals with the memory of the 1984 crime. Bhopal has a statue in honor of the victims and a small museum, where we recorded some of the images for the documentary. Both spaces are in poor condition.

It is difficult to find a resident who knows where the museum is - many have never heard of its existence. An app driver, who took us to the ruins of the Union Carbide factory, had vague information about the leak, had no idea of the scale of the crime, was unaware of the company responsible and even got lost en route to the plant.

This gradual process of erasing the memory of the event, reinforces the urgency to talk about the topic. The documentary has its relevance, especially for those who live outside of India, but there are several other initiatives. The most important is the International Day for the Fight Against Pesticides, observed on December 3rd, precisely to honor the Bhopal victims.

Not staying silent about this crime is a commitment for those who struggle against capitalism and imperialism. That tragedy and everything that followed demonstrate, for those who have not yet realized, the lack of sustainability of the current economic model - which will not be reversed through “green capitalism”, but by breaking with a system that has profit as its absolute purpose.

Despite technical limitations, cultural and language barriers, we hope to contribute to keeping this flame burning and taking this story forward.

Brazil and India have a lot to learn from each other. Just as we set out to look at Bhopal, certainly stories like those of Brumadinho and Mariana, cities in the state of Minas Gerais, in the southeastern region of Brazil, would encourage Indians to reflect on their own reality. Journalism has a lot to offer.

The more we know what happens in the countries of the global South, understanding our similarities and differences, the closer we are to building a joint resistance to imperialism. Bhopal 84 is a grain of sand, produced by several hands with affection and class awareness, dedicated to everyone who does not allow stories like this to be voiced.

Edited by: Vivian Fernandes