Thirty years ago, right after midnight on 2 December, 1984, an accident released 30 tonnes of highly poisonous methyl isocyanate gas in the air from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal. Nearly 600000 people were affected by the deadly gas that night, burning their eyes, blinding them, suffocating them, choking them, and making them foam through their mouths. Many also died that night and some still live, although barely, to tell the tale of their nightmare.
According to the government, the toxic gas took the lives of 3,200 in the immediate aftermath of that unfortunate night. However, an estimate death toll over the years from the effect of gas is said to be 15,000. Termed as “the world’s worst industrial disaster”, Bhopal still reels under the effect of the gas with thousands living with severe health conditions, aggravated over the years, from the exposure of the deadly gas.
I was at the site two years ago for a volunteering programme with Sambhavna Clinic to assist the gas-victims in Bhopal. Sambhavna clinic is run by activists and provides free aid and medication to the patients still struggling to battle the aftereffects of the gas. Looking at the numerous patients, one could see that even after all these years the city still wriggles under the effect of the venomous gas. There has hardly been much relief for people living there in a still contaminated city.
The Union Carbide plant, which took the lives of thousands, still stands there in all its rustic “glory”, abandoned, untouched but still echoing the horror it spread in the city. The soil and groundwater around the factory has been deemed contaminated. There are still potentially harmful chemicals lying around the premises but the government doesn’t seem to care now. After all, it’s been years, it’s old and forgotten now.
It’s been three decades and yet the third generation children in Bhopal are being born with congenital disorders. The gas has done more damage than anyone would have imagined and still the perpetrators are out there free. The prime accused of the disaster, the chief of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson was never brought to justice. The government of India failed to provide justice to the survivors of the gas tragedy; it could not extradite the absconding Warren who had been hiding in the United States of America all these years. Warren died this year in September and along with him the hopes of justice the survivors were seeking for died as well.
However, they still look to the government with beseeching eyes because the paltry compensation does not do justice to the lives they have lost. They can barely manage to live with their faltering health; they still look to see the “killer Carbide” put to justice which has now taken the garb of Dow Chemicals in India. There can no greater compensation for them than justice.
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