20 years
The Bhopal Memory Project

classroom | teaching bhopal

Bhopal.  Dead center in the middle of India, the controversy over the behavior of an American multi-national continues to this day.  How did the disaster happen, who did it effect, who is responsible?  The answers to seemingly basic questions about the nature of the tragedy are answered very differently by the corporation, the governments of India and the United States, and the survivor, activist and scientific communities.   

Twenty years later, the issues raised by the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster need revisiting. "Bhopal" became a symbol of the inadequacy of international regulatory and judicial systems to resolve industrial disaster and to litigate against multi-national corporate actors. It illustrates their nearly comprehensive failure, as well as inequalities in standards of human rights, environmental protection and health.

Bhopal is not simply a regrettable footnote in the history of the environmental movement: it is a catastrophic example of the way that industrial disasters continue, change and expand.  Discussion about Bhopal is often characterized by diffusion, frustration and polarization as a result from the unrelenting need on the ground, and the denial and stoicism in the face of suffering in courtrooms and boardrooms from New Delhi to New York.

We hope therefore to help foster thinking about Bhopal twenty years later that is more than retrospective - innovative and productive analysis of the forces that have strung this event along into the present. What are the empirical realities, structural failings and underpinning paradigms on all sides that continue to obstruct justice, relief, resolution and a brighter future for Bhopal (and other parallel communities around the world)? 

New ideas, solutions and awareness about the repercussions and implications of the tragedy are still needed. 


The Bhopal Memory project springs from an interdisciplinary seminar that was taught by professor Thomas Keenan at Bard College in the spring of 2004. This course was designed to stimulate interests in and research about the Bhopal gas disaster in the year leading up to the 20th anniversary.

Though the course was taught in the human rights department of the social sciences, it brought together students from a variety of disciplines and tried to encourage them to take on new ideas and questions about the disaster and it's continuing implications. See below the syllabus for a recent seminar on the Bhopal disaster.  For student work generated in this course see the student projects section.

Bard College Human Rights Program Spring 2003 Syllabus

HRP 405, Bhopal

Mon 6:45–9:00, Olin 101
Thomas Keenan
x7387, keenan@bard.edu
3rd floor, Blithewood Gatehouse, Weds 10:00–12:00 and by appt.

This intensive seminar will take the Bhopal disaster (a gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in India in December 1984 which killed perhaps 8,000 people and permanently injured tens of thousands more) as a case study in human rights research. Working together with documentary filmmakers and others investigating the story, we will examine the aftermath of the event through a variety of questions. Why, and in what ways, is Bhopal "still" with us? Why does "Bhopal" remain a powerful metaphor—and an active legal, ethical, and political issue—twenty years after the event? What happens when an issue of health and the environment is recast as a matter of human rights? Likewise, what sort of tensions, and possibilities, surface in the encounter between problems of globalization and corporate responsibility and the language of human rights? What role is there in cases like this for extra-legal processes such as truth commissions, and how might they be evaluated? How have trans-national advocacy networks and campaigns changed the status of Bhopal? And what is at stake when we study, research, write about, or make films about disasters like this one? We will read and watch a variety of original and secondary material, work on creative and research projects, meet with advocates and experts, and reflect on the meanings and effects of Bhopal after twenty years.


M 02.02              Introduction

M 02.09    

Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal (Warner Books 2002)

M 02.16    

reading: Five Past Midnight continued

M 02.23    


Sambhavna Trust, "Testimonies"


Amrita Basu, "Interview with Jabbar Khan," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 26: 1-2, Jan.-June 1994


Satinath Sarangi, "Crimes of Bhopal: Holding Corporations Accountable," Samar 16: Fall/Winter, 2003 


"We all live in Bhopal," from Fifth Estate (1985)



Gary Cohen, "Bhopal and the age of Globalization," Global Policy Forum, Nov 1999


Indira Singh, "Bhopal Hunger Strike," ZNet Asia (July 10, 2002)


Dow Chemical Company, " Holding nature sacred," Around Dow (Special Commemorative Issue), 2000: 35-43


Statement of The Dow Chemical Company Regarding the Bhopal Tragedy, 2003


Michael D. Parker (President and CEO, Dow Chemical Company), "An Open Letter to All Employees, on the Tragedy in Bhopal, India 18 Years Ago," 28 Nov 2002


Nishant Ranjan, Satinath Sarangi,  et al., "Methyl Isocyante Exposure and Growth Patterns of Adolescents in Bhopal," JAMA 290: 14, 8 October 2003, 1856-7


National Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, "Bhopal Survivors Upset Over Presidential Visit to Union Carbide Hospital" (Press Statement), September 5, 2002


Yogesh Vajpeyi, "Bhopal gas victims to get free medicare," The Indian Express, December 27, 2001



Ruth Stringer and Paul Johnston, "Technical guidelines for cleanup at the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) site in Bhopal, Madya Pradesh, India," Greenpeace Research  Laboratories Technical Note 09/2002, October 2002


"A quick tour of the major discoveries" (Union Carbide documents)


M 03.01    

screening: Chemical Valley, Out of Control, No Promise, Bhopal the 2nd Tragedy.

M 03.08    

guest: Mimi Doretti/Argentine Anthropological Forensic Team

T 03.09             

screening: The Heart Becomes Quiet

M 03.15    

dossier 2

M 03.22    

reading: Brian Mooney, The Bhopal Diaster: Discourse and Narrative in the Ethnography of an Event (PhD diss., Anthropology, U Michigan 2002)

spring break

M 04.05    

guest: Kim Fortun

reading: Kim Fortun, Advocacy After Bhopal (University of Chicago Press 2001)

M 04.12

guest: Ward Morehouse

reading: Upendra Baxi

• "Human Rights: between suffering and markets" (ms.)

•  "Operation 'Enduring Freedom': Towards a New International Law and Order," Law, Social Justice & Global Development 2, 2001

• "Random Reflections on the [Im]possibility of Human Rights Education" (web)

•  "Voices of Suffering and the Future of Human Rights," Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems 8, Fall 1998 .

M 04.19    

M 04.26    

guest: Brian Mooney

reading: Jamie Cassels, The Uncertain Promise of Law (Toronto Pr 1993), ch 2-4 and conclusion

Veena Das, "Suffering, Legitimacy and Healing [14pgs]" in Critical events: An anthropological, Perspective on Contemporary In... Oxford Univ. Press, Delhi 1995: 136--174.

Mark Galanter, "When Legal Worlds Collide," Journal of Legal Education 36 : 292-310.

Arvind Rajagopal, "And the Poor get Gassed," Berkely Journal of Sociology 32, 1987 : 128-152.

M 05.03    

guest: Sathyu Sarangi

M 05.10    

M 05.17    

Foucault, from History of Sexuality vol. 1

Agamben, from Homo Sacer Life Exposed

Basu, Amrita, "Bhopal Revisited: The View from Below," Bulletin of concerned Asian Scholars Vol. 26, nos. 1-2 (jan-Jun, 1994)


Out of Control


Bhopal: The Second Tragedy

Bhopal Express

The Heart Becomes Quiet http://www.maplelake.mb.ca/thbq.html

Setting the Record Straight

No Promise for Tomorrow

Chemical Valley

Hunting for Anderson


An educational initiative of the Human Rights Project at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

The Bhopal Memory Project Bard Human Rights Project