Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Animal's People

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Animal's People

A Novel

by Indra Sinha

Animal's People by Indra Sinha X
Animal's People by Indra Sinha
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2008, 384 pages
    Mar 2009, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Sarah Sacha Dollacker

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Beyond the Book

Print Review

Bhopal (map) is the capital of Madhya Pradesh in central India. The violent impact of the tremendous chemical leak described in Animal's People is based on the real life chemical leak in Bhopal in 1984, which is considered to be one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

On the morning of December 3, 1984 a holding tank of stored MIC (methyl isocyanate) at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, overheated and released over 40 tonnes of the noxious gas. The gas, which is heavier than air, spread throughout the city, poisoning thousands and infiltrating the water supply.

3,000 died within the first day of the leak and, according to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, around 500,000 people were exposed to the gas leaks. About 22,000 Bhopali's have died, and over 120,000 still experience serious effects from the disaster, such as breathing difficulties, cancer, blindness and gynecological problems.

Union Carbide (now part of the Dow Chemical Company) stresses that immediate action was taken to clean the area and compensate the victims for their loss, but many believe that the company has done next to nothing to respond to the massive damage they caused.

The International Medical Commission of Bhopal was established in 1993 to respond to the disaster. Almost 20 years later, in 2002, well water and groundwater tests in some areas showed mercury levels to be at "20,000 to 6 million times" higher than expected levels; with many other dangerous chemicals also present including trichloroethene, known to impair fetal development, at 50 times above the safety limits specified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Indra Sinha was born in Bombay in 1950, the son of an Indian naval officer and an English author. He attended school in India and England and read English Literature at Cambridge. He worked as an advertising copywriter for many years, during which time  he was voted one of the top ten British copywriters of all time. He has been campaigning for the people of Bhopal since 1994 when he was approached by a man who wanted help to raise funds for a free medical clinic in Bhopal. With the help of the photograph of a child's burial by Raghu Rai, Sinha created an advertisement for the Bhopal Medical Appeal, kick-starting a movement that continues to serve thousands every year. Sinha now writes full time, is married with three grown children, and lives in Southern France.

Interesting Links:

  • Indra Sinha's website including photos of the statue of the fictional Animal.
  • The extraordinarily detailed website of the fictional city of Khaufpur, created by Sinha.
  • Union Carbide have a website defending their position on Bhopal, but the URL seems somewhat unreliable - you may or may not find it at
  • The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal at
  • A comprehensive report by the BBC and video footage from December 1984.

This article was originally published in April 2008, and has been updated for the March 2009 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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