Beyond Netflix’s “The Railway Men”: UW Law’s Digital Collection Explores the Aftermath of the Bhopal Tragedy

Image of The Railway Men movie posterThe recent release of Netflix’s “The Railway Men,” a series centered on the 1984 gas leak at the American-owned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India has reignited global interest in one of the most devastating industrial accidents in history. The lethal gas killed several thousands immediately and many more in the succeeding weeks and months. The series narrates the efforts of railway workers and others who played a crucial role in rescue operations during this crisis.

The UW Law School Digital Repository collection, Bhopal: Law, Accidents, and Disasters in India explores the aftermath of this tragedy. The collection was compiled over many years by UW Law Professor Emeritus Marc Galanter, who was actively involved in the legal proceedings that followed the disaster. As one of the largest collections of materials about the aftermath of the disaster, it is particularly noteworthy for its detailed documentation of the legal challenges and proceedings. It includes thousandes of court documents, newspaper articles, and more.  An interactive timeline illustrates when events happened and highlights their chronological relation to each other.

After over twenty five years of litigation in both the U.S. and India, seven executives and senior employees of Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary were convicted of causing death by negligence, sentenced to two years in prison and released on bail pending appeal. No American executive from UCC was ever prosecuted anywhere. An appeal by the prosecution to re-open the case in order to impose harsher sentences was rejected by the Supreme Court of India in May 2011. Disputes about liability for the clean-up of dangerous chemicals in Bhopal continue to this day.