A History of the Medical Disaster, Viewed Through Newspaper Clippings

News Clippings – 1984-1990: The Unfolding Medical Disaster

New Clippings – 1991-1996: The Medical Crisis Continues

News Clippings – 1997-2004: The Medical Crisis Continues

List of Medical Headlines 1984-2004

Introduction

This chronicle of the ongoing medical disaster in Bhopal is taken from newspaper clippings from local, national and some international newspapers, kept at the Sambhavna Trust Documentation Center. The newspaper articles date from December 1984 until December 2004, and portray the twenty years of struggle for medical care for gas survivors. All the headlines of stories on medical issues are listed and from each year three to five stories have been summarized to give an idea of what was being reported throughout the two decades that have passed since the gas disaster.

What is striking is that the same stories appear year after year with the same complaints and the same issues. Every year there are stories about the relief work being insufficient and that survivors are not getting any better, there are stories about the treatment of symptoms instead of a long-term treatment and the unknown long-term affect of MIC and lack of research. There are also stories about random or casual prescribing of drugs, some of them potentially harmful. These, among other issues, continue to be reported throughout the years. From over 500 headlines there are only a couple of stories that praise the medical response. Other reports are unanimous in their complaints.

Raghu Rai took this picture on the morning after the disaster.
Note the young woman in the black shawl.

What is striking is that the same stories appear year after year with the same complaints and the same issues. Every year there are stories about the relief work being insufficient and that survivors are not getting any better, there are stories about the treatment of symptoms instead of a long-term treatment and the unknown long-term affect of MIC and lack of research. There are also stories about random or casual prescribing of drugs, some of them potentially harmful. These, among other issues, continue to be reported throughout the years. From over 500 headlines there are only a couple of stories that praise the medical response. Other reports are unanimous in their complaints.

Rallies against the tragedy are reported in the early years and in 1986 there are numerous reports about the government’s harassment and persecution of relief workers and volunteers. There are stories about arrests and police intolerance against any legitimate questioning of the relief work provided by the government. Two men were arrested and accused of illegal trespassing after recording a meeting of Indian Council of Medical Research with local doctors to discuss the mode of treatment for the gas victims. The stories about the early protests focus on rehabilitation and compensation and mostly take place outside the courts. In the early nineties women activists begin demanding proper medical care and they shed their veil to claim their rights. In the mid-nineties the focus of the demonstrations has shifted, the reports are about women and children protesting, and more emphasis is put on the continuing health problem, the inadequate treatment at the gas hospitals, as well as lack of research and long-term treatment.

Following the 10th anniversary, there is more focus in newspapers on the medical disaster and the condition of the gas affected people than before. A decade has gone by and the survivors have still not received proper medical care. Reports claim that ten years later medical research into the gas tragedy is shockingly inadequate and there is hardly any authoritative scientific work on the consequences of exposure to MIC. Also, in 1994 several stories are written about the arrival of the International Medical Commission, and they condemn Union Carbide not only for its responsibility for the deadly gas leak but also for its behavior later.

Stories about toxic water being found around the Union Carbide factory appear fairly early on and as the years go by more stories about victims drinking contaminated water are published. Reports claim that several toxic chemicals and cancer causing agents have been found in water samples and this poses a serious health threat to gas survivors who are forced to drink contaminated and poisonous water.

In the later years, new issues — the high incidence of gynecological disorders and that exposure to MIC may cause cancer — receive more attention. Women also bring to attention that despite high incidence of menstrual disorders among gas affected women, the government hospitals have neither gynecologists nor effective treatment for the range of menstrual problems and there are no facilities for proper screening and treatment of cervical cancer despite scores of women dying of this disease. Also, there are stories about genetic disorders and mental health. More stress is on awareness and there are news items about seminars and medical camps being held in the late nineties. News about the Sambhavna Trust Clinic and its plans for long term projects for the welfare of the gas survivors are frequent.

In 2002 Raghu returned to Bhopal and photographed the same
woman again. She is still ill, the Carbide factory is still killing.

During the years leading up to the 20th anniversary there is more general news about the long term impact, and the usual stories on how people are still suffering and survivors are being denied treatment. Survivors demonstrate and demand a comprehensive health care plan to ensure proper treatment. They claim the situation is no better, if not actually worse, than the day after the disaster. Greenpeace organises a protest urging Dow Chemical and the Indian government to stop the medical disaster. Amnesty International also gets involved and faults the government of India for failing to fight for the rights of survivors. In 2004, the 20th anniversary year, many articles are written about Bhopal. These articles claim that the situation has not improved despite all the protests, requests and even legal action.

The history of the medical disaster can be read in these newspaper clips. Over the twenty years, journalists reporting on the medical issues have generally been sympathetic towards the gas victims and their claims. They have continued to report on the mismanagement and corruption in government gas hospitals, and on the lack of medical treatment for gas survivors and their struggle in the fight for adequate medical care — a fight that is still going on and can still be read in newspaper articles published to this day.

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