A STATEMENT BY SHEHZADI BEE, 49, FOUR TIMES VICTIMISED
I am a victim of Union Carbide’s gases, a victim of the water contamination caused by chemicals abandoned by Union Carbide in its factory, a victim of the greedy irresponsibility of Dow Chemical and a victim of the indifference of the politicians who rule our poor country
In 1984 I lived in Qazi Camp, next to Berasia Road. That particular night I was at home with my family watching a film at midnight.
Suddenly it smelled like burnt chilli peppers and we started coughing and our eyes were watering. We opened the doors and no one could tell us what the problem was – everyone was just running. We asked the landlord what was going on and he told us he didn’t know. There were trucks driving by and we just jumped on one and went to Laal Ghaati. We had four children. I was holding one and my husband was holding another. Two got lost in the crowd. At first I thought they were following us but once we were on the truck I asked my husband where they were and we realized that my six-year-old girl Shehnaaz and my four-year-old son Javed were not with us. I thought we would never see them again. I was crying. People tried to comfort me. They suggested that I look for them in the mosque.
We found the children in the mosque the next day. They were in very bad shape – their eyes were swollen, they were vomiting, and they had diarrhoea. Javed was in the Shehnaaz’s lap. My other children are named Gulnaz and Munazir. My daughter Gulnaz had a serious eye problem from the gas and had to be operated upon. It took her two and half months to recover. Even now, she can’t see too well. Shehnaaz also has many problems, like shortness of breath, indigestion, and a burning sensation in her eyes. But these problems are common to all gas victims. Munazir also has had tuberculosis for the last seven years.
My son Javed has bone cancer right now. He is only 26 years old. My husband developed tuberculosis. My health is very bad, too. I have leprosy. Because of the gas I have eye problems. I used to sew before the gas leak. That was my work. Now I still cannot see well enough to even see the needle and thread well enough to sew. Now I live in Blue Moon Colony. The water there is contaminated from Union Carbide’s poisons and my whole family has been hurt by it.
Before the gas leak, my husband could earn about 100 rupees a day pushing loaded carts. But his lungs are affected, and any strenuous activity is painful and he is unable to do demanding physical labour. Now he earns barely 25 rupees.
I used to sew and make biris. But because of my failing eyesight, I’m unable to even thread a needle or roll beedis.
We have got no justice. Not from the Government or from anybody else. None of the Governments – Congress Party, BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] – nobody has helped or even listened to us. We cannot change this. But we can put pressure on the Government. The Government must be made to understand that Bhopalis are Indians too, and they should get their rights.
Where I live now – for the last 16 years in Blue Moon Colony – the water and soil is contaminated because of the company. So we thought and decided with others that our lives are lost, everyday we are dying. But we thought that we should at least save the future generations. Even now in those 16 colonies, people are forced to drink contaminated water. The children are in such a sorrowful plight – some don’t have lips, some have bloated heads, some don’t have palates.
That is why, to save our children’s lives, we set off on a padayatra on the 20th of February to meet the Prime Minister in Delhi.Covering 800 km in 33 days, we reached Delhi on 25 March.
My thoughts were only that no matter how long the distance is, or what difficulties we may have to face, I’d do this for my children, and I will communicate to the Government what our demands are.
En route, in many places, we found the hospitality overwhelming.
People asked us if we wanted medicines. In some places, people cooked with their own hands and fed us. They even requested us to stay a little longer. But we had a mission and we had to break their hearts and leave.
There were more than 50 people on the padayatra. Some were supporters, including foreigners. Those people, too, walked with us. We were all together – hindus and muslims. There was no feeling of difference. We all felt we were from the same family.
It was difficult. We had blisters and pain in our bones. Gulab Bhai, the poor thing, her legs ache. But others gave her courage and helped her, and brought her along with us.
I have never gone on an indefinite fast. I have gone for one day only in 2001. But for the struggle, I have the courage and strength to ensure that we will return only after our demands are fulfilled. Twenty days, 25 days or 30 days – we will not return to Bhopal until our demands are met. Either we’ll return with our demands fulfilled, or our corpses will return to Bhopal.
OTHER NEWS FROM THE JANTAR MANTAR PAVEMENT
The Government of India announced that it has allocated an additional Rs. 50 crores in compensation for the survivors of the Bhopal disaster. The amount has been sanctioned in fulfillment of a Supreme Court order directing the Government to make up for the shortfall arising out of foreign exchange rate variations on the interest accrued to the balance of compensation.
Rabbi Sher Gill, the famous Indian pop singer and peace Activist, came to visit the Bhopalis in the early evening. He sat down with the group, who first sang him a couple of Bhopal songs, and then he sang his own compositions and sufi songs by Bulle Shah. He regaled us with Bulla Main Jaanan Na Kaun – “I don’t know who I am.” In the tradition of mystics, the song goes on to say “Not a muslim, not a Hindu. I’m neither this, nor that.”