New Clippings – 1991-1996: The Medical Crisis Continues

New Clippings – 1991-1996: The Medical Crisis Continues

1991

EXPOSURE TO MIC CAN CAUSE CANCER: DR PATEL

from National Mail

18/3/91. Dr. Patel reveals that the exposure to MIC gas is a potential danger that could lead to cancer. He said that cancer takes at least 15 to 20 years to take root. In Bhopal the incident of throat, tongue, lungs and cervix cancer was the highest in the country.

THEIR FIGHT FOR JUSTICE HAS NO END

from the Statesman

1/7/91. Women activists demonstrated outside the Supreme Court in New Delhi, demanding proper medical care so they can at least do their daily work. A doctor testified to the inefficacy of the medical facilities. It is reported that the ICMR guidelines for treating these victims are not being followed. Doctors did not come to the hospitals and those who come at all are severely overworked and have to see 400 to 500 patients in two hours. They carry out cursory examination and treat the first ailment they discovered. Also, medicines prescribed by the ICMR are not being used. Pressure from large medicine companies to use drugs that are substandard prevent the hospitals from using drugs that are cheap and effective. Of the six lakh people who had applied for medical examination, three lakh remain without one.

GAS VICTIMS SUFER FROM SERIOUS DISEASES

from Free Press

16/12/91. The story claims the gas victims residing in the affected areas were suffering from serious ailments like jaundice, gall bladder stones and blood vomiting. At the same time the hospitals meant for the treatment of gas victims were plagued with unhygienic conditions, chaos and menace of the anti-social elements.

1992

CHEMICAL ‘TAXI’ SPREAD BHOPAL TOXIN

from the Hindu

12/2/92. Chemists in U.S. have proposed a new theory to explain the terrible symptoms that still afflict survivors of the gas disaster. However, they say that if the theory is true it will still not be of any assistance to the survivors because the damage they suffered is irreparable. The lungs of many people who survived became permanently scarred, but what puzzled doctors was the diversity of unexplained symptoms in other organs. Which range from the eyes, heart, bones, muscles and gastrointestinal tract. Thousands have impaired immune systems, and many report reproductive problems while spontaneous abortions remain high.

1993

CONDITION OF GAS-HIT WORSE DURING PRESIDENT’S RULE

from the Free Press

21/6/93. Regarding the mismanagement and corruption prevalent in the gas hospitals attention of the government had fallen on deaf ears. Despite reminders to the government the situation remained the same. Victims were being deprived of medicines and other essential treatment at the hospitals meant for the victims. The hospitals had no treatment for TB and patients were being forced to buy medicines from the market at high price.

1994

HEALTH CARE OF GAS VICTIMS INADEQUATE

from Times of India

22/1/94. The International Medical Commission on Bhopal has observed that the health care system for the Bhopal gas tragedy victims has been inadequate. There is no system of proper follow-up and the treatment has been generally symptomatic. The IMCB condemned the Union Carbide not only for its responsibility for the deadly gas leak, but also for its behavior later.

BHOPAL HEALTH CARE INADEQUATE

from the Hindustan Times

25/1/94. The International Medical Commission says that Bhopal’s hospital-oriented delivery of health care was inappropriate for the chronic nature of problems. The Commission found that most of the data collected by the ICMR and others on the Bhopal experience were not freely available. It recommended an urgent review and full dissemination of such data and further information should be collected, and should include an evaluation of the current and long-term effects on women and children.

PROTEST AGAINST IRREGULARITIES IN HOSPITALS FOR GAS-AFFECTED

from Free Press

6/5/94. Activists held a rally to protest the alleged irregularities in the hospitals. They alleged that facilities were only available to those who pay extra fees to the doctors and visit the doctors at their clinics. They also drew attention to the non-availability of doctors at the hospitals during duty hours. They alleged that the government had turned a blind eye towards the woes of the victims.

BHOPAL STRUCK BY WAVE OF ‘CHEMICAL AIDS’

from the Observer (London)

20/11/94. Ten years after the disaster the daily live of the survivors is still dictated by the tragedy. Hundreds of people suffering from the effects of acute gas poisoning queue daily at the government hospitals. Their symptoms include breathing problems, streaming eyes, ulcers, unstoppable menstrual bleeding, tuberculosis caused by the poison-induced collapse of their immune systems. Survivor’s groups claim the numbers of people coming forward with long-term, gas-induced symptoms have risen substantially in recent years.

DISASTER’S CHILDREN CONDEMNED TO CARRY LIFELONG SCARS

from Business Standard

30/11/94. The story is about the situation in Bhopal a decade later. Victims don’t know what is rotting inside them; they cough, are out of breath easily and eyes burn. Although the complaints of people in queues outside the hospitals continue to increase, government agencies like ICMR have shut down 20 of the 22 gas-related investigations. It also says potentially the most dangerous long-term impact is that of psychological impairment, especially in children. It is also possible that genetic disorders and cancers may manifest themselves later.

10 YEARS LATER, CANCER LOOMS OVER SURVIVORS OF BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY

from Asian Age

1/12/94. Cancer is now the latest threat stalking survivors of the gas disaster. A team appointed by ICMR was still studying the long-term effects of MIC. They said the cancerous effects of the gas would take much longer to unravel.

BHOPAL – THE COVER-UP CONTINUES

from Times of India Sunday Review

4/12/94. The reporter claims that ten years later, medical research into the gas tragedy is shockingly inadequate. There is hardly any authoritative scientific work on the consequences of exposure to MIC. Union Carbide toxicologists may have the best information on MIC but they are treating it like a trade secret. Union Carbide insisted the effects of MIC were short-term only, and limited to the lungs and eyes. But this was patently false.

1995

GAS VICTIMS TO HOLD DEMONSTRATON

from National Mail

29/8/95. Hundreds of gas victims will demonstrate to protest against the inadequate health facilities and present a memorandum to the Chief Minister regarding their long-pending demands. They claim the government has not been able to provide proper treatment for the victims. Rs. six crore were alleged to have been spent on medical stores but it was yet to benefit the victims. Medicines were stolen and sold in the black market but no action had been taken to stop this.

17 GAS AFFECTED REPORT DAILY

from National Mail

18/10/95. A decade after the disaster 17 victims were being admitted daily to more than a dozen hospitals in Bhopal whereas the number of outdoor patients per day had swelled to 4000. Gas relief and rehabilitation minister admitted that the hospitals constructed by the government for the gas victims lack various medical facilities.

GAS VICTIMS STILL FIGHT DISEASES

from the Times of India

2/12/95. One-fourth of the gas victims are chronically ill, with diseases of the respiratory, gastro-intestinal, reproductive, musculoskeletal, neurological and other systems. Corneal opacity and early-age cataract are common, and exposure to the gases has made the people vulnerable to secondary infections and the incidence of tuberculosis is at least four times higher than in an unexposed population. A study by the ICMR says that 10 to 15 people continue to die of exposure-related causes every month in Bhopal.

MASSIVE COVER UP OPERATIONS STILL CONTINUING

from National Mail

3/12/95. Massive cover-up operations are still continuing on behalf of the government, with nobody in position to say how long the people will continue to suffer. The outcome of some of the studies by ICMR, were still being kept secret for some mysterious reasons.

1996

DOCTORS STILL LACK DATA ON BHOPAL CRISIS

from National Mail

6/12/96. Twelve years later doctors lack information on everything from the number of casualties following the disaster to the chemical composition of the gas. More than 50,000 are still suffering according to ICMR and most of them are not being treated any differently than the general population. There was no special recognition on the part of the doctors that the ailments were gas related and have a special protocol for treatment. As a consequence many Bhopalis suffer from the after-effects of the gas leak but are prescribed the same treatments as patients who are suffering from normal ailments.

BHOPAL LIVES

from the Village Voice

3/12/96. This story is about the release of the report from the International Medical Commission, twelve years after the disaster. The commission found that up to 50,000 survivors were suffering from partial or total disability. In addition to the widely recognized lung and eye injuries, the report details medical conditions that have never been identified before, such as neurotoxicological effects and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

BHOPAL VICTIMS STILL HAVE NIGHTMARES

from Times of India

16/12/96. The survivors of the gas disaster are suffering from long-term neurotoxicology according to the International Medical Commission. Also, there is a stigma in being a gas victim. Women told the commission about miscarriages, inability to lift loads, breathlessness, poor vision, red and white discharge, bleeding from the nose and children with weakness, blotches on the skin and other malformations, and medicines are not effective beyond a few days.

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“Bhopal Lives” – Personal Accounts of the Disaster and its Aftermath

Next Tuesday, December 3, the International Medical Commission-Bhopal (IMCB) will release its final report on the current medical, social, and economic status of the survivors of the Union Carbide disaster, a leak of toxic gas that claimed around 10,000 lives in Bhopal, India, 12 years ago.

The report, the culmination of a three-year study by a group of doctors affiliated with prestigious institutions in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, is the first comprehensive, peer-reviewed study of the chronic effects of the disaster that has been released publicly.
The commission found that up to 50,000 survivors are suffering from partial or total permanent disability as a consequence of the gas disaster. In addition to the widely recognized lung and eye injuries, its report details medical conditions that have never been identified before, such as neurotoxicological effects (damage to the brain and central nervous system). They affect short-term memory, balance, and motor skills-they affect the survivors’ ability to hold jobs, their children’s ability to read and write.

The study documents, for the first time, post-traumatic stress syndrome in the survivors. “People were buried alive,” says Dr. Rosalie Bertell, one of the commissioners. “Some of them actually were in a pile of bodies to be burned, and came to-you can imagine the nightmares and panic attacks after that”. According to earlier studies done by the Indian Council of Medical Research, descendants up to the third generation of survivors may sustain genetic damage leading to cancer and abnormalities in offspring. The new findings were not available to the Supreme Court of India when it imposed a settlement for damages in 1989, which the commission found to be “decidedly inadequate.” The report, therefore, should provide new grounds to reopen the case.

BHOPAL HAS JOINED THE roster of internationally recognized symbol-placesalong with Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Chernobyl-whose very names have become synonymous with the tragedies that have taken place within their precincts. Mention the word Bhopal to a person outside India, and they won’t think of a graceful city on the hills above two lakes with some of the most glorious Muslim architecture in India. They will think about what happened on the night of December 2 and the early morning of December 3, 1984, when an accident at a chemical plant owned by Union Carbide of Danbury, Connecticut, led to history’s worst industrial disaster.

There is a pornography of images of disaster in the Third World-famine, floods, war, earthquakes. Quick television interviews with the victims reinforce those images. And, as with all pornography, the net effect is this: the affected people lose their individuality, their humanity, and we, the viewers, who have no idea about their lives, begin to distance ourselves from them. As it is, they all look so foreign to us: all these brown or black people, poor things. A lot has been written about the bare facts of the Bhopal disaster: how it might have happened, how many died, how many were injured. This article, the first of twc parts, examines what has rarely been portrayed: the complexity of people’s individual response. to an enduring disaster.

The Night of the Gas

In May 1982, a Union Carbide inspection team from the Danbury headquarters visited the Bhopal plant and found 61 safety and maintenance problems, 30 of them major. A series of gas leaks had already resulted in the death of one factory worker and injuries to several others. Five months before the night of the accident, vital refrigeration and cooling systems had been shut down. Around the same time, the maintenance crew was reduced from six to two workers as part of a cost-cutting drive. Local lawyers and journalists had been warning Union Carbide for months that the plant could be dangerous to its neighbors. The company responded that such fears were “absolutely baseless”

In the early morning hours of December 3, 1984, water entered under still-disputed circumstances an underground storage tank containing 90,000 pounds of methyl isocyanate, a highly toxic chemical used to make pesticides. This set off the following reaction: CH3 NCO + H20 CH3 NH2 + C02

Forty-one tons of methyl isocyanate along with a stew of other highly toxic gases possibly including hydrogen cyanide boiled over and burst through the tank at a temperature of over 200 degrees Celsius and at a rate of over 40,000 pounds an hours This was the birth of what the scientists later named “Bhopal Toxic Gas” The gas rose from the plant, then sedately, unhurriedly, floated out over the sleeping city.

Bhopalis have very personal relationships with “the gas” Accounts of that night-again, when in Bhopal someone says “that night,” they mean the night of December 2-3, 1984describe how the gas was going toward Jahangirabad or Hamidia Road; how it hovered a few feet above the ground at some places or how it hugged the wet farm earth in others; how it killed buffalo and pigs but spared chickens and mosquitoes; how it made all the leaves of a peepul tree turn black and how it had a particular hunger for the tulsi plant; how it would travel down one side of a road but not the other, like rain falling a few feet from you while you’re standing in the sunshine. People know the gas like a member of their family-they know its smell, its color, its favorite foods, its predilections. One thing everybody remembers is the smell of chilies burning. Chilies are normally burned to ward off the evil eye, when, for example, a child is sick. People woke up and thought: it must be a powerful evil eye that’s being driven away, the stink is so strong.

As people ran with their families, they saw their children falling beside them, and often had to choose which ones they would carry on their shoulders and save. This image comes up again and again in the dreams of the survivors: in the stampede, the sight of a hundred people walking over the body of their child.

Iftekhar Begum went out on the morning after the gas to help bury the Muslim dead. There were so many that she could not see the ground-she had to stand on the corpses to wash them. As she stood on the bodies, she noticed that manv of the dead women had flowers in their hair. The gas had come on a Sunday, a night when people had dressed up to go out to a film or to someone’s house for dinner. The women had, as is common all over India, braided their hair with jasmine or mogra-small, fragrant flowers.

When Iftekhar Begum came back from the graveyard, all her fingertips were bleeding, she had sewn so many shrouds.

Arun’s Story

What would you do if you woke up one night when you were 13 years old and by the morning, seven of the 10 members of your immediate family were dead? How would your life change?

When I first meet the young man I will call Arun, to whom this happened, he is busy writing a wedding invitation card. Not his own. Not anybody’s, in fact; there will only be one copy of this invitation, and it will be shown to the judge in the gas victims’ claims court. There is a Muslim woman with him. She was allotted 50,000 rupees ($1429) in compensation for her injuries, which the government has kept in a fixed-deposit bank account to prevent her from spending it all at once. To withdraw funds from her account, she has to demonstrate to the judge that she has some compelling need, like the wedding of a daughter. Arun is wise to the inscrutable ways of the authorities; for a consideration, he will help her get her money out. So he sits next to me making up this invitation to a wedding that will never be.

Arun’s fee for writing up the affidavit and printing up one copy of the wedding card at a printing press (which costs him 100 rupees, or $3) is 3000 rupees ($86). This, he points out, is less than what a lawyer would charge, which is 10 per cent, or 5000 rupees ($143). “The lawyers hate me, he crows.

The gas victim Arun loves his life. He wakes up at noon, massages himself with mustard oil, and spends the afternoon sitting on the newly constructed balcony of his house, chatting with friends. In the evenings, he drinks, or goes to the Hotel International and asks to see the “special menu,” which consists of several pages of pictures of the women they have for sale upstairs. On an occasional Sunday, he’ll get partridges, which he kills with his own hands, cooks, and shares with his friends, who seem to be in awe of him. Three or four times a month, he goes to the claims courts on behalf of someone, and that’s enough money for him, mostly.

Arun first learned of the deaths of his parents and five siblings when he saw their photos stuck up on the wall by the side of the road. Till then people would tell him but he didn’t believe them. Looking at the pictures the government had put up to alert survivors, Arun did not cry. Arun claims he has never once cried. “There were so many corpses. Who will you cry over? After a while, the heart becomes quiet”
On the night of the gas, Arun fell in love. As Arun and his family ran, as one by one his parents, brothers, sisters dropped to the ground or got separated from him, Arun felt someone holding his hand and leading him. On they ran, through the chaotic streets.
That was the beginning of Arun’s first love. The girl holding his hand lived in his neighborhood, and later on, she fed him and took care of him.

That girl was the first of his neighbors to adopt Arun and take care of him, but she was by no means the last. There were other families in the slum, his extended family in Lucknow, a rickshaw driver and his wife, and finally, the activ ist Satinath Sarangi, known with much love as “Sathyu” among the survivors. Arun moved into Sathvu’s house and became a poster child of the activist movement; his story was widely used, and he was recruited by all manner of groups, including the youth wing of the Communist Party of India, the state’s major political parties, and almost all of the activist groups working on Bhopal. Arun became a kind of traveling victim, going on tours to talk about the tragedy that had devastated his family, not only all over India but also, twice, to the United States. He was a natural. “At the age of 15 I learned to give such good answers that the journalists loved me,” he recalls gleefully. On one of his trips to the U.S., Arun and a couple of the other survivors, while attempting to distribute literature in the Houston hotel where the annual meeting of Carbide’s shareholders was being held, were arrested by the police and spent 10 hours in jail. An was impressed by the fact that the American jail was air-conditioned.

But gradually, Arun went from being a victim to something of a predator. Sundry scam inevitably pop up in any community where a large amount of money enters the scene all at once, and Arun has learned how to profit from them. So, for a commission, using an efficient system of bribes paid to everyone from clerks to judges, An will extract the gas victims’ compensation money from the clutches of the government. He is also a loan shark; he advances money at exorbitant rates of interest to illiterate migrants from the countryside, actively assists them in spending it in the Bhopal bars, and beats them soundly if they cannot pay him back. He has a gang, which will assault people’s enemies for a price. He points to my knee-300 rupees ($9) for breaking that-and then to my arm-360 rupees ($10) for that.

Once, when Sathyu was remonstrating with Arun about his misdeeds, Arun responded, “Look at Warren Anderson [then Union Carbide’s chairman]. He got away with killing so many people. If he can get away, so can I: Besides, Arun sometimes puts his potential for violence to good use. Though he is Hindu, he put his life on the line during the bloody HinduMuslim riots of 1992, when he stood guard outside Muslim homes with a sword.

Every year, on the anniversary of the gas leak, the chief minister holds a big commemorative public meeting and invites a number of victims. Arun will go this year and ask him for a favor-a coveted license to sell kerosene, which he’ll divert to the black market. The chief minister, he tells me with a laugh, will never refuse such a famous orphan anything when there are so many journalists present.

Arun hates the term “gas victim” Once, in 1987, when he and other survivors were traveling to a demonstration, the train stopped at a station and the loudspeakers boomed out: “Now, all the gas victim children from Bhopal, go and play in the special waiting room” An sought out the government officer responsible for the announcement and swore: “Your mother’s cunt”

“Is it stamped on my forehead, `gas victim’?” he asks me. “Should I beg for pity, Hai Allah, help me, give me some food, I’m a gas victim?” Arun instructs his kid brother: “Ifa man thinks himself to be weak, he will be weak.” Accordingly, he insists the 12-year-old boy get up at six every morning to do calisthenics. There is a reason, Arun believes, that he himself has remained strong. “Gas? I shit gas out of my ass. You drink enough, you smoke enough, and there won’t be any gas.” To prove that he is stronger than anybody, gas-affected or not, Arun steps in front of a passing minibus and looks at me. “Shall I beat up the driver?” he asks.

But Arun also tells me, matter-offactly, that he’s been having gabrahat. This is a condition that is commonly reported by survivors, and there’s no exact English translation. All of a sudden, Arun’s heart will beat wildly, he’ll start sweating, and his mind will flood with anxiety. This lasts for about 10 minutes. Since most of the people affected by the gas lived in the poorer part of Bhopal, they were, by and large, not deemed worthy of psychiatric treatment or counseling. It’s certainly not anything the government will give Arun, or anyone, compensation for.

One night, three of us-Arun, his sidekick Ramdayal, and I-sit in the gas victims’ beer bar, a shed off the housing colony. Around us are gas victims, all of them men, drinking with the compensation money they should be spending to get treatment for their wives, education for their kids. As the evening progresses, Arun and Ramdayal are getting a lot more drunk than I am because they are drinking whisky-and-beer cocktails. Presently, they get into a theological argument: Was God present on the night of the gas?

On the night of the gas, as his family was dying, as he was falling in love, Arun lost his faith in God. “Mother’s prick, six, seven people died-where the fuck was Ganesh? If I met him, I’d beat him with shoes and chase him off, mother’s prick, sister’s prick. The gas came, Ganesh fucked my mother, then ran away. If my mother were here I wouldn’t have a history.’ I’ve never seen him so angry; he’s almost shouting, and finally he becomes completely incoherent and the gaps between the obscenities vanish and it’s all just obscenities: mother’s prick, sister’s prick. When he calms down, he says, “Only work is karma, work is the fruit” Later I realize what he’s just said, in a single sentence: Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.

The Lifting of the Veils

In the years after the poison cloud came down from the factory, the veils covering the faces of the Muslim women of Bhopal started coming off. The Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (the Bhopal Gas-Affected Women Workers’ Organization), or BGPMUS, is the most remarkable and, after all these years, the most sustained movement to have sprung up in response to the disaster. The BGPMUS grew out of a group of sewing centers formed after the event to give poor women affected by the gas a means of livelihood. As they came together into the organization, the women participated in hundreds of demonstrations, hired attorneys to fight the case against Carbide as well as the Indian government, and linked up with activist movements all over India and the world.

On any Saturday in Bhopal, you can go to the park opposite Lady Hospital and sit among an audience of several hundred women and watch all your stereotypes about traditional Indian women get shattered. I listened as a grandmother in her sixties got up and hurled abuse at the government with a vigor that Newt Gingrich would envy. She was followed by a woman in a plain sari who spoke for an hour about the role of multinationals in the third world, the wasteful expenditure of the government on sports stadiums, and the rampant corruption to be found everywhere in the country.
As the women of Bhopal got politicized after the gas, they became aware of other inequities in their lives too. Slowly, the Muslim women of the BGPMUS started coming out of the veil. They explained this to others and themselves by saying: look, we have to travel so much, give speeches, and this burkha, this long black curtain, is hot and makes our health worse.

But this was not a sudden process; great care was paid to social sensitivities. When Amida Bi wanted to give up her burkha, she asked her husband. “My husband took permission from his older brother and my parents Assent having been given all around, Amida Bi now goes all over the country without her veil, secure in the full support of her extended family.

Her daughters, however, are another matter. Having been married out to other families, they still wear the burkha. But Amida Bi refuses to allow her own two daughters-in-law, over whom she has authority, to wear the veil at all. “I don’t think the burkha is bad, she says. “But you can also do shameful things while wearing a burkha”
Half of the Muslim women still attending the rallies have folded up their burkhas for ever.

Sajida Bano’s Story

Sajida Bano never had to use a veil until her husband died. He was the first victim of the Carbide plant: In 1981, three years before the night of the gas, Ashrat was working in the factory when a valve malfunctioned and he was splashed with liquid phosgene. He was dead within 72 hours. After that, Sajida was forced to move with her two infant sons to a bad neighborhood, where if she went out without the burkha she was harrassed. When she put it on, she felt shapeless, faceless, anonymous: she could be anyone’s mother, anyone’s sister.

In 1984, Sajida took a trip to her mother’s house in Kanpur, and happened to come back to Bhopal on the night of the gas. Her four-yearold son died in the waiting room of the train station, while his little brother held on to him. Sajida had passed out while looking for a taxi outside. The factory had killed the second of the three people Sajida loved most. She is left with her surviving son, now 14, who is sick in body and mind. For a long time, whenever he heard a train whistle, he would run outside, thinking that his brother was on that train.

Sajida Bano asked if I would carry a letter for her to “those Carbide people; whoever they are. She wrote it all in one night, without revision. She wants to eliminate distance, the food chain of activists, journalists, lawyers, and govements between her and the people in Danbury. Here, with her permission, are excerpts that I translated:

Sir
Big people like you have snatched the peace and happiness of us poor people. You are living it up in big palaces and mansions. Moving around in cars. Have you ever thought that you have wiped away the marriage marks from our foreheads, emptied our laps of children, bathed us in poison, and we are sobbing, but death doesn’t come. Like a living, walking corpse you have left us. At least tell us what our crime was, for which such a big punishment has been given. If with the strength of your money you had shot us all at once with bullets, then we wouldn’t have to die such miserable sobbing deaths.

You put your hand on your heart and think, if you are a human being: if this happened to you, how would your wife and children feel? Only this one sentence must have caused you pain.

If this vampire Union Carbide fictory would be quiet after eating my husband, if heartless people like you would have your eyes opened, then probably I would not have lost my child after the death of my husband. After my husband’s death my son would have been my support. But before he could grow you uprooted him. I don’ know myself why you have this enmity against me.

– Why have you played with my life so much? What was I, a poor helpless woman, spoiling of yours that even after taking my husband you weren’t content. You ate my child too. If you are a human being and have a human heart then tell me yourself what should be done with you people and with me. I am asking you only, tell me, what should I do?

Negative-Positive

The gas changed people’s lives in ways big and small. Harishankar Magician used to be in the negative-positive business. It was a good business. He would sit on the pavement, hold up a small glass vial, and shout, “Negative to positive!” Then, hollering all the while, he would demonstrate. “It’s very easy to put negative on paper. Take this chemical, take any negative, put it on any paper, rub it with this chemical, then put it in the sun for only 10 minutes. This is a process to make a positive from a negative.” By this time a crowd would have gathered to watch the miraculous transformation of a plain film negative into an image on a postcard. In an hour and a half, Harishankar Magician could easily earn 50, 60 rupees ($2) in this business. Then the gas came.
It killed his son and destroyed his lungs and his left leg. In the negative-positive business, he had to sit for hours. He couldn’t do that now with his game leg, and he couldn’t shout with his withered lungs. So Harishankar Magician looked for another business that didn’t require standing and shouting. Now he wanders the city, pushing a bicycle that bears a box with a hand-painted sign: “ASTROLOGY BY ELECTRONICE MINI COMPUTER MACHIN”.

Passersby, seeing the mysterious box, gather spontaneously to ask what it is. He invites them to put on the Stethoscope, which is a pair of big padded headphones attached to the Machin. Then the front panel of the Machin comes alive with flashing Disco Lights, rows of red and yellow and green colored bulbs. The Machin, Harishankar Magician tells his customers, monitors their blood pressure, then tells their fortune through the Stethoscope. The fee is two rupees (six cents). Harishankar doesn’t like this business; with this, unlike his previous trade, he thinks he is peddling a fraud. Besides, he can only do it for an hour and a half a day, and clears only about 15 rupees (43 cents).

Harishankar Magician is sad. He yearns for the negative-positive business. Once the activist Sathyu took a picture of Harishankar’s son, who was born six days before the gas came. He died three years later Harishankar and his wife have no photographs of their dead boy in their possession, and they ask Sathyu if he can find the negative of the photo he took. Then they will use the small vial of chemical to make a positive of their boy’s negative, with only 10 minutes of sunlight.

The Plague of the Lawyers

AImost immediately after the disaster, the American lawyers started corning, by the dozens. Out they stepped from the plane, blinking and squinting in the strong Bhopal light, covering their noses with handkerchiefs as they stepped gingerly through the dung-strewn lanes of the slums, glad-handing the bereaved, pointing to their papers and telling their translators to tell the victims, “MILLIONS of rupees, you understand? MILLIONS!” And so the people signed, putting their names down in Hindi, or just with their thumbprints.

In the Oriya slum, 11 years later, word spreads that a visitor from America has come, and a cluster of people come to meet me. A young man, Bhimraj, and his mother, Rukmini, approach me hesitantly, holding out a carefully preserved piece of paper. -The American government gave us this, he says. “Can you tell me what it says?”
I look at the document. It is a legal contract.

“Contract between law office of Pat Maloney, PC, of the city of San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, and Suresh.

“Client agrees to pay attorney as attorney’s fee for such representation one third (33%) of any gross recovery before action is filed, forty percent (40%) of any gross recovery after the action is filed but before the commencement of trial, and fifty percent (50%) of any gross recovery after commencement of trial.

“This contract is performable in Bexar County, Texas.”

On the night of the gas, Rukmini abandoned her three-year-old son, Raju, who was dead, and ran with her five-year-old daughter, Rajni, who died three days later. When the lawyers came, they got Rukmini’s husband, Suresh, to put his name down in Hindi on this document. They took the family’s pictures. “They didn’t even send us a copy,’ says Rukmini. That was the last the family heard from the man they believed came on behalf of “the American government.” So now they ask me, what should they do with this paper that they’ve been holding on to for II years?

“Tear it up and throw it away, I tell them. “It’s junk” They look at me, their faces blank, not understanding.

(When I returned to America, I tried to contact attorney Pat Maloney. He did not return phone calls.)

Responding to such abuses, the Indian parliament passed a law declaring itself the sole legal representative of all of the Bhopal gas victims. It sued Carbide in federal court in New York. The court held that the proper venue for the case should be in India; spectators were treated to the uniquely edifying spectacle of hearing the Indian government’s lawyers argue the inadequacy of its own legal system, countering Carbide’s lavish testaments to the excellence of the very same system. The reason was simple: everybody knew that any potential damage award given out by an Indian court would be considerably smaller than one awarded by a U.S. court. Had the victims succeeded in suing the company in its home country and winning, they would probably have bankrupted the giant corporation, much as the asbestos liability cases bankrupted the Manville Cor)oration and breast-implant litigation bankupted Dow Corning.

As it transpired, after prolonged legal wrangling, the Indian Supreme Court unilaterally, without giving the victims a chance to make their case, imposed a settlement to the amount of $470 million, with the government to make up any shortfall. The government had asked for $3 billion from Carbide. Carbide executives vere delighted; they speedily transferred the money to the government. That was in 1989. The first victim did not see the first rupee of Carbide s money until Christmas of 1992, eight years after the night of the gas. A total of 597,000 claims for compensation have been filed. As of May 1996, the government has passed rulings on only about half of them302,422-and awarded compensation for injuries to 288,000 Bhopalis. Out of the total settlement amount of $470 million plus interest since 1989, the government had, by May of 1996, only disbursed some $241 million.

The Quantification of Loss

A government psychiatrist who has done a close study of the minds of the gas victims has come to this conclusion: they don’t want to work. “You can’t get domestic help in Bhopal nowadays;’ the doctor complained to me. “If a family has five affected people who get 200 rupees $6] each [in interim relief], that’s a thousand rupees a month, so they don’t want to work”

There is a widespread belief that the people destroyed by the gas-who tended to come from the poorer sections of Bhopal-aren’t receiving deserved compensation for grievous injuries that they are legally and morally entitled to, but some sort of unearned windfall that’s made them indolent. This belief is prevalent among the rich in new Bhopal, government officials, and Carbide executives.

J. L. Ajmani is the secretary of the gasrelief department of Madhya Pradesh state, and he won’t give me an interview. Ajmani is a man of the 21st century. In his luxurious office, he has a computer, a bank of three phones, a sofa, a huge desk, and an executive chair in which he reposes under a big picture of Mahatma Gandhi. While brushing me off, he keeps tapping into his digital diary. I ask him about allegations of corruption in his department. He laughs fearlessly. “It’s been 11 years. Volumes have been written. You also write.”

Although the government isn’t releasing figures about the average amount of awards, the welfare commissioner’s office told me that the maximum compensation awarded for deaths is 150,000 rupees ($4286), except in a handful of cases. Mohammed Laique, a local lawyer who has been representing claimants from the beginning, gave me the standard rates of compensation. For most deaths, the amount awarded is 100,000 rupees ($2857). For personal injury cases, 90 per cent get 25,000 rupees, or $714 (the award bestowed on most of the survivors I spoke to directly).

Of these amounts, says Laique, “claimants lose between 15 per cent and 20 per cent at the outset in bribes. To get money out early, you pay another 10 per cent” Then there are sundry small bribes. Clerks in government offices demand anywhere from 100 to 2000 rupees ($57) to move papers, depending on the size of the awards. The payments the government has been disbursing since 1990 for interim relief (200 rupees, or $6 a month) are also deducted from the awards. This means that from an award of 25,000 rupees, the maimed survivor in September 1995 could expect to receive as little as 7600 rupees. Two hundred and seventeen dollars.

Union Carbide claims that the compensation is “more than generous by any Indian standard”Is it really? For comparison, Laique pulls out the schedule of standard compensation set by Indian Railways for railway accidents. The schedule is gruesomely specific: In case of death: 200,000 minimum ($5714).

For disability of 1 leg: 120,000 ($3429) If one or two hands are cut off: 200,000 If one or two legs are severed: 200,000 Thumb cut off: 60,000 ($1714) If four fingers cut off from one hand: 100,000 ($2857) 3 fingers cut off: 60,000 2 or 1 fingers cut off: 40,000 ($1143) Breast cut off: 180,000 ($5143) For problem with 1 eye: 80,000 ($2286) Hip joint fracture: 40,000 Minimum for bodily injury: 40,000.

“And the railways give very fast decisions, plus interest after three months,” adds Laique. During the bloody communal rioting that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, the government gave a minimum of 200,000 rupees ($5714) to the families of each person killed; these were people of the same socioeconomic status as Carbide’s victims. It’s clear that, if a Bhopali had any choice in the instrument of his death, it would be financially much more advantageous to be killed or maimed in a train wreck or at the hands of a religious fanatic than through an American multinational’s gas cloud.

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News Clippings – 1984-1990: The Unfolding Medical Disaster

News Clippings – 1984-1990: The Unfolding Medical Disaster

1984

MORE DEATHS LIKELY IN BHOPAL: US EXPERTS

from the Times of India

6/12/84. American toxicology experts believe that many more people in Bhopal may die of the secondary effects of the poisonous gas MIC. These experts say that the people who have survived so far could die as a result of ordinary respiratory infection because their lung tissues are damaged by the gas.

PEOPLE EXPOSED TO MIC MAY SUFFER NEUROLOGICAL DISORDERS

from the Patriot

9/12/84. The report is about the possibility of behavioral disorders and chronic nervous disease. According to neurotoxicologists people who were exposed to the poisonous MIC gas might suffer from neurological disorders.

GAS VICTIMS HAVING BREATHING TROUBLE, BURNING FEELING IN EYES

from the Patriot

12/12/84. General weakness, recurrent respiratory and breathing trouble, and a burning sensation in the eyes, were the most common complaints of the people who had been discharged from hospitals. At Hamidia Hospital there was no oxygen because of the rush of patients and people were asked to wash their eyes and return home.

RELIEF WORK INADEQUATE

from Economic Times

13/12/84. This report claims that the state is not able to cope with the problems the gas leak has created. There are complaints about lack of medicine and non-attendance by doctors. The affected people are using various methods to voice their resentment and protesting the non-availability of medical assistance. The reporter goes into the affected neighborhoods where almost everybody is coughing constantly, having pain and irritation in chest and experiencing lack of vision. These people are in no condition to get out of bed and are hardly eating anything. Young men are trying to get the attention of the higher authorities to get necessary and adequate medical help.

1985

DISABLING AND INCURABLE AILMENTS STILL AFFLICT THOUSANDS IN BHOPAL

from the New York Times

29/3/85. The story claims that thousands of people are suffering from incurable problems with breathing, sleeping, digesting food and performing even light physical labor. Problems in counting the injured, confusion, inefficiency and haphazard record-keeping are plaguing the medical relief system. Experts said there was random or casual prescribing of painkillers, sedatives, antacid tablets and many other drugs, some of them potentially harmful. Patients complain that the pills give them no relief and a doctor acknowledged that victims were going from one hospital or clinic to another in a desperate search for cures that did not exist. He said there were no treatments available that would improve their symptoms.

NEUROSIS AFFLICTS BHOPAL GAS VICTIMS

from Indian Express

3/16/85. Every fourth MIC patient is suffering from mental disorder. A survey by a mental health team work confirmed that delayed psychological effects are likely to occur.

POLICE DEMOLISH CLINIC, HAND RECORDS TO CARBIDE

from the Patriot

27/6/85. The police raided the clinic run by People’s Health Centre and handed over all medical records of MIC patients to Union Carbide. The clinic was set up for administering sodium thiosulphate injections to MIC patients. The People Health Centre strongly protested against the demolition of the clinic.

A YEAR LATER, HEALTH OF MANY IN BHOPAL STILL IN QUESTION

from the Observer

1/12/85. Medical studies conducted in the year since the chemical leak at the plant indicate that the chemical responsible for the accident causes serious long-term health problems. Medical experts also say that the clinical evidence compiled show that the deaths and injuries were not solely caused by MIC, instead they assert some MIC had been broken down into hydrogen cyanide before the toxic material escaped from the storage tank.

1986

MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR GAS-HIT WOMEN SOUGHT

from Free Press

6/12/86. At a press conference doctors stressed that timely medical treatment for women, particularly pregnant was essential. They said the gas seemed to have affected women the most. There were complaints of various ailments, including stoppage of child movement in wombs. Apart from still births they had also seen deformed children being born due to the effects of the gas.

LUNG DAMAGE TO GAS VICTIMS LONG-TERM

from Times of India

6/9/86. Studies prove that MIC-induced lung disease has a long-term course. Studies carried out by a team of doctors show that MIC has restricted the functioning of the lungs of the affected persons and caused secondary psychiatric abnormalities.

POINTLESS ARRESTS

from Indian Express

13/9/86. The Madhya Pradesh arrested two voluntary workers, once again demonstrating its complete intolerance towards any legitimate questioning of its relief efforts for the gas-affected victims. The two men were found taking notes and taping a meeting of government doctors which had been announced in the press and thus was not a secret or closed-door meeting.

BERGMAN, 2 OTHERS BEING ‘HARASSED’

from Times of India

17/9/86. This is one of many stories in 1986 about the government’s harassment and persecution against relief workers and volunteers opposed to Union Carbide. It’s about the framing up of three relief workers under the “absurd” charge of violation of Official Secrets Act. One of the accused cycled from England to raise money for the gas victims and decided to stay on to help children. He was now being labeled as a spy. Two others who write for a monthly newspaper “Bhopal” had been accused of “illegally trespassing” and recording the meeting of Indian Council of Medical Research with local doctors to discuss the mode of treatment for the gas victims. Thirty one relief workers from different parts of the country had been charged under various offences.

1987

OXYGEN HUNGER – MAIN CAUSE OF GAS VICTIMS’ TROUBLES

from Dainak Bhaskar

27/4/87. Scientists claim that the damaged lungs of the victims have made them respiratory cripples. Also a study on schoolchildren finds that the gas tragedy has left them suffering with a number of physiological, neurological and psychological problems. The ailments included breathlessness, uneasiness, chest pain, loss of appetite, headache, body ache, loss of muscular coordination, blood pressure, palpitation, confused thinking, loss of ambition, emotional attacks, loss of memory and working capacity, and among girls there was disturbance in the menstrual cycle.

NO SOPS FOR HAPLESS CARBIDE VICTIMS

from Dainik Bhaskar

14/8/87. The report claims that the victims of the gas leak are practically without any assistance from either the Government or Union Carbide. The doctors and lawyers who were once engaged in helping the victims find little time for them now. The Government admits delay in relief work.

PANEL FEARS PRESENCE OF TOXIC SUBSTANCES IN VICTIMS

from the Patriot

28/8/87. The Supreme Court Committee for the Bhopal gas victims apprehends the presence of toxic substances in gas-affected people. There is evidence of MIC entering the blood stream, generating antibodies and disturbing the immune system. Another alarming feature is the Pregnancy Outcome Study which has established that the spontaneous abortion rate has increased four-fold, and that the toxins present in gas-exposed women were causing damage to the fetus.

1988

BHOPAL VICTIMS STILL SUFFERING

from the Hindustan Times

30/11/88. Four years later the effects of MIC are still evident on the victims, with the fact that the death rate was shot up alarmingly. Thousands of people are still seen waiting in queues at the hospitals with symptoms like breathlessness, loss of appetite, persistent cough, pain in abdomen and considerable weaknesses. Also, what was not perceptible at first is the traumatic effect on the minds of the affected people now suffering from mental derangement, anxiety and depression.

GENERAL HEALTH DECLINES

from Madhya Pradesh Chronicle

3/12/88. The general health status of the gas victims has declined further in comparison to the last four years. A doctor claims that the MIC has now “set in” among the victims, causing a continuous deterioration in the health of severely gas hit people.

AFTER THE DISASTER

from Madhya Pradesh Chronicle

3/12/88. A study by ICMR shows that the overall infection rate in the babies who were delivered by the women who were pregnant in the areas which were badly hit due to the gas leak, has increased. A high incidence of fever, cough and cold, loose motions and acute respiratory problems was reported among the children who were born to the gas hit ladies in the post disaster period.

VITAL DRUG BEING DENIED TO BHOPAL GAS VICTIMS

from the Patriot

4/12/88. The one antidote that gave relief to 29,000 severely affected gas victims has not been administered to the rest of the estimated 60,000 acutely affected victims or to the mass of over 5 lakh people affected by the killer gases. Within a few days of the disaster the presence of deadly cyanide was found in blood samples of victims and doctors recommended the use of sodium thiosulphate injections. Most patients felt better, subsequently a Union Carbide specialist sent a fax recommending the use of sodium thiosulphate. But after some months, there were clear instructions from the MP administration directing medical institutions to stop sodium thiosulphate therapy.

RESEARCH ON MIC’S EFFECTS IS CRUCIAL FOR THE VICTIMS

from Times of India

5/12/88. The report stresses that for the thousands who are still suffering from the ill-effects of MIC any research findings that can be beneficial in devising a line of treatment must be the prime concern, as there seems to be overwhelming scientific evidence to suggest the multi-systemic involvement of MIC. They claim Union Carbide has remorselessly tried to underplay the toxic effects of MIC, saying that MIC was merely an eye and throat irritant, when it is now clear that they had access to the most comprehensive inhalation study of MIC to date much before the disaster.

1989

MIC MAY HAVE DAMAGED IMMUNE SYSTEMS

from Statesman

9/9/89. According to an immunologist’s research, some of those who survived the gas leak may have long-term damage to their immune systems, which could cause other health problems for the rest of their lives.

361 ABORTIONS, 22 STILLBORN, CARBIDE’S PARTING GIFT

from Patriot

18/9/89. Official surveys have confirmed that the lethal MIC gas had its most treacherous impact on pregnant mothers and their unborn children. Out of 2,245 women who were within three months of their pregnancy on the night of the gas disaster show that 361 women had abortions, 22 babies were born dead, 84 were premature births and 17 of the babies born alive had congenital defects.

BHOPAL OFFICIALS HINDERING DE-TOXIFYING PLAN

from Times of India

30/9/89. Doctors of a clinic run by voluntary organizations charged state government officials with trying to stop the collection of medical and chemical evidence of cyanide poisoning due to the gas leak. The doctors said in a statement that the officials were obstructing the clinic’s program of detoxifying the gas victims. The doctors appealed to the chief minister to take action against the officials who were not only adding to the suffering of the gas victims but also protecting Union Carbide.

1990

ILLNESS AFFLICTS MIC VICTIMS

from the Hindustan Times

30/1/90. According to a medical study, 70 – 80% of the gas affected population in the seriously affected areas and 40 – 50% in the mildly affected area suffer from medically diagnosed illnesses even five years after the MIC leak.

TOXIC WATER FOUND AROUND UCC PLANT

from Times of India

16/5/90. Several toxic chemicals and cancer-causing agents have been found in the water samples collected from around the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. This poses a serious risk to the people who continue to suffer and die of diseases related to their exposure to toxic gases that leaked from the plant.

UNENDING HELL FOR BHOPAL VICTIMS

from Patriot

21/11/90. Almost six years after the gas disaster life continues to be an unending purgatory for the victims. According to ICMR the tragedy continues to unfold through growing general morbidity, a rising incidence of lung, eye, gastro-intestinal, skin and neuro-psychological disorders, as well as high rates of involuntary abortions among pregnant women.

HOW KILLER MIC LIVES ON IN BHOPAL

from the Economic Times

25/11/90. Almost six years after the gas disaster survivors are still dying and the number of dead continues to go up. The deaths have been mainly due to respiratory causes. The toxicity of MIC and its long-term effects have largely issued a systemic character with several morbidities coexisting. The story explains how even the “simple injury” cases identified after the disaster are by no means simple any longer.

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