Gandhi’s Nightmare: Bhopal and the Need for a Mindful Jurisprudence (N. A. Patel, K. Petlakh)


Nehal A. Patel and Ksenia Petlakh


mindful, legal theory, non-western, Gandhi, jurisprudence, transnational, international, human rights, environment, corporation, industrial


For decades, activists and academics have been lamenting the disparate impact of global environmental decay on populations less endowed with legal resources. However, the implicit biases of legal theory itself remain unchallenged even when global resource disparities are addressed. Little attention has been given in transnational jurisprudence to how the thought sub structures of modern legal theory contain dispositions that advantage privileged interests and hamper transnational environmental justice efforts.

How can transnational jurisprudence change to become more mindful of the environmental impacts disproportionately experienced by the disempowered, and what conception of global society shall the law embody such that it earns the voluntary submission of the people? We explore these questions with a speculation on how Gandhi’s thought applies to transnational environmental jurisprudence. Gandhi’s thought contains four components that contain the necessary ingredients to evaluate the dominant frames that debilitate global environmental justice efforts. First, Gandhi presented his own construction of the individual’s relationship to the physical and social environments. Second, Gandhi’s thought defines the relationships between societies in a way that is free of Western assumptions of global governance. Third, his thought contains a critique of industrialization and presents a powerful alternative. Fourth, his thought contains a reconstruction of the purpose and function of law and legal systems for a world in which “progress” includes social equality and environmental protection. Comprehensively, Gandhi’s thought reinvigorates a decayed relationship between global environmental justice and transnational environmental jurisprudence by simultaneously redefining the human-environment relationship, legal theory, and dominant Western assumptions of the relationships between nations.

We directly apply Gandhi’s thought to the case law that resulted from the Bhopal chemical disaster, which is widely considered the worst industrial disaster in world history. Applying Gandhi’s thought to the Bhopal cases is useful for two reasons. First, the Bhopal cases contain several core legal doctrines that appear regularly in transnational cases. Second, there is a profound power imbalance between the civilians and the corporation that highlights the case’s relevance to global environmental justice. Through our analysis of the legal principles and the parties’ arguments in this case law, we illustrate our conception of a mindful jurisprudence of the transnational environment.


N. A. Patel and K. Petlakh, Gandhi’s Nightmare: Bhopal and the Need for a Mindful Jurisprudence (2014) Vol. 30, Harvard Journal on Racial & Ethnic Justice


Gandhi’s Nightmare: Bhopal and the Need for a Mindful Jurisprudence