23 years on, Bhopal lives through its worst memories

Statesman News Service, December 3, 2007
BHOPAL, Dec 3: Twenty three years ago to the day, a gas leak from the Union Carbide plant here killed instantly 1,700 people a lethal anniversary that may have taken on the overtones of a ritual but is a raw reminder for its nearly six lakh survivors.
The world’s worst industrial disaster took place when tones of poisonous Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the pesticide manufacturing plant in the intervening night of 2-3 December, 1984. Around 25,000 people died over the years due to the after-effects of the gas.
With each passing day, the toll continues to rise as a staggering six lakh people still continue to suffer from varied diseases affecting the respiratory, digestive and reproductive systems. Thousands of children born after the tragedy suffer from various deformities.
Take Raeesa Bee, who was pregnant when the tragedy took place. Her baby was aborted and another child born to her after four years is physically stunted. The damage to her inside is still a bane for her as she continues to suffer respiratory and digestive disorders.
Recalling the incident, she said: “We were woken from our deep sleep by suffocation. We felt somebody in the house had fried a large amount of chillies. In order to clear the air, I rushed to the window and opened it,” she said. And that act proved more dangerous for Raeesa and her family as the lethal gas rushed inside. “I fainted and next day, found myself at the hospital,” she said.
“My son Adil is 19 years old but looks like a four-year-old kid. Had the tragedy not taken place he would have been like any other youngster enjoying life,” she said.
Around Rs two lakh have been spent on Adil’s treatment but his condition remains same. “We had to pay the money from our own pocket. We received no help from the governments-either state or central,” said Raeesa. But Raeesa and Adil are only two examples of the six lakh suffering from trauma for the last 23 years.
For Mr Abdul Jabbar, a crusader for the gas victims there is another serious thing which apart from financial assistance to the victims has been overlooked.
“Some time after the tragedy, a team of doctors was formed at the Centre’s behest to study the ill-effects of the gas on the victims. Had the study been completed the victims would have got specific treatment. But the study was suddenly stopped and no reasons were given, said Mr Jabbar. “Now the gas victims are being treated like any common patient,” he said. Mr Jabbar has been relentlessly fighting for the rights of the victims for the last 23 years and he feels that it will take many more years before the victims get justice. “But by then thousands of victims will die,” he said.
He strongly feels that India being a welfare state the governments should be responsible for the victims. “But the government have not done anything satisfactory till date,” he said.

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