In praise of …Abdul Jabbar
Posted July 18, 2011on:
The following editorial comment appeared in the Guardian, London, on July 18, 2011 under the heading ‘In praise of …Abdul Jabbar’:
The most effective campaigner for the victims of the worst industrial accident in world history
Early in his insightful new book on contemporary India, The Beautiful and The Damned, Siddhartha Deb meets a determinedly unassuming man. Abdul Jabbar is “short, pudgy, with … thick glasses”, with a “surprisingly truculent” manner. Yet the author comes to realise his subject is “a local demigod”. For Jabbar is perhaps the most effective campaigner for the victims of the worst industrial accident in world history. In December 1984, more than 27 tons of deadly gas leaked from the Union Carbide plant into the city of Bhopal, killing an estimated 22,000 people and leaving over 150,000 severely disabled. For such a huge tragedy, the settlement has been tiny: the American multinational long ago paid £282m (or around £2,000 for each victim) in compensation, and only last summer was anyone convicted for the disaster – eight local employees, one of whom had already died. Jabbar’s own house was only 2km from the factory, and he spent that first night taking family and neighbours to hospital. Soon after, he set up Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, the first victim-campaign group. Today, “Jabbar bhai” still fights for compensation for the poor, and runs vocational classes for widows and others. The personal cost has been great: one broken marriage and a struggle to pay bills, while the Bhopal leak damaged both his eyes and his lungs. Yet he continues to show an unassuming nobility, tending to victims rather than MPs or press, and giving his all to an often-forgotten fight.
See also: A life dedicated to Bhopal survivors