A Little More Teaching
Year 2002, my chemistry teacher spelled the word ‘phosgene’. He was a stickler for how the word phosgene had to be pronounced: Fos-gsheen… ‘Study about phosgene. There is not one question paper that does not ask about it. Very important question!’ Why? Bhopal Gas Tragedy (BGT). From the storage facility of a company called Union Carbide Ltd. in Bhopal, toxins escaped and killed an estimated 20,000 people. Phosgene is believed to be a toxin that leaked with Methyl Isocyanate, the primary killer. The gravity of the disaster didn’t stick to me because it happened before I was born. I then believed that it was a disaster that we have moved on from and the consequences accepted.
The beginning of June this year saw newspapers and media talking about th0se alleged in the BGT case. I was surprised that justice lingered this long. Today, I was reading an article on how unjust the sentences were. 7 were convicted and sentenced to 2 years of imprisonment and fined a lakh rupees each, for the death of 20,000 people. The accusation was ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’, a few years back. But conviction was on ‘a rash and negligent act’ from those alleged. Even if they were convicted of the former, the sentences would have been called unjust, owing to the delay in justice. For justice to seem reasonable the system has to evolve a lot. Filling holes in the process, making people aware of law, making them more responsible with knowledge from past events and observations. The judgement for BGT observed the following:
The tragedy was caused by the synergy of the very worst of American and Indian cultures. An American corporation cynically used a Third world country to escape from the increasingly strict safety standards imposed at home. Safety procedures were minimal and neither the American owners nor the local management seemed to regard them as necessary. When disaster struck, there was no disaster plan that could be set into action. Prompt action by the local authorities could have saved many, if not most, of the victims. The immediate response was marred by callous indifference.
Callous indifference! I like that phrase. Callous indifference is more of a personality than a crime. I remember an old German movie called ‘M’ which was released in 1931. The movie is about a serial killer who alleges his alter ego for the crimes he committed. People want him punished ruthlessly, whereas their legal system has provisions for treatment of a psychopath criminal and letting him live. The climactic scene has a mother crying for her lost child, accepting the judicial dilemma. Her words, ‘This won’t bring back our children. We too, should keep a closer watch on our children’, end the movie. We have a similar situation here.
Callous indifferences, or in our own language ‘Chalega’ will continue to happen. When the terrorists attacked us again and again, when our so called ‘ill-fated’ aeroplane skidded off the runways, when our rockets failed, we only had people that blamed each other for the callous indifference. Is there a treatment for this? I believe we have a preventive measure atleast and that vests in our teachers; Teachers who can inject ideas into the students’ blood that reminds them of ‘glory of the deed’ each time their hearts beat. By teachers I mean people who are supposed to guides us.
I believe, unfortunately, we only have few teachers who inspire us, who talk about the glory of good work, who points us to the past where good work was done, who make us realize that work is not about the pieces of paper we get in return. Had a few employees at Union carbide been inspired ones, who kept their vision beyond the barrel of toxins that lay before them, who realized living and letting live is more important than progress, the disaster might not have happened. Had our teachers talked a bit more about the tragedy, rather than the chemical structure of phosgene, we would have had a little more integrity at work. Our present teachers were themselves not inspired by theirs. So we can’t blame. Though we need teachers that teach us history beyond the dates of events and the names of kings.
I don’t mean that we are uninspired people. We are inspired. But we are inspired only at a later stage, after we start working for a multi national company, one that emphasises on its vision statements, that teach their employees individuality, integrity and a sense of glory. As a nation we are not taught yet. It is time for us to get the last pieces of inspiration, an iota of the sense of glory that we can find and start working, teaching our progeny true education.
Why do I think that the major cause for these disasters lay in our teaching? Because each time I did some extra work, averted accidents for someone else, made a job easier for my colleague, I remembered certain statements my old teachers made. One worth mentioning is what my physics teacher in Higher Secondary School taught us in addition to what she was supposed to teach. Of all that she lectured, I only remember this sentence, ‘Your attitude decides your altitude.’ I realize its importance now.