There is much that is interesting about Bhopal. The period between 1890 and 1926, for example, when it was ruled by a succession of Begums, or its sobriquet of ‘city of lakes’.
If Benaras is known for its exquisite silks, Bhopal was famous for its zari work. All that changed on the intervening night of December 2-3, 1984.
Fans of the 1975 screen classic, Sholay, may still associate the city with the character of Surma Bhopali – today, the city has a restaurant named after him – but in the collective consciousness, Bhopal has come to be associated inextricably with the gas tragedy.
Thirty years on, the incident continues to cause agony, both physical and emotional, to victims. It has also divided the city in two. In the more recently-built quarters, the shadow of 1984 has almost dissipated. Here, there is no pain blazing in the eyes long after the tears have dried; you do not hear the repeated refrain of ‘khatam ho gaya’ uttered in a voice that has lost its grief in the struggle to survive, to take care of the ones that remain. In every house in the bylanes around the ruins of the Union Carbide India Ltd. (UCIL) plant, you hear of parents, spouses and children who died, khatam ho gaye, either in the days or months that followed the disaster, or of lingering health issues in the years since.
“My mother died that night. She choked in her sleep. My father and I survived but we continue to suffer from breathing trouble, failing vision and weakness,” says Sunita (35). When Union Carbide came to Bhopal in 1969, all that we knew was that it was a plant that was making pesticide. Local MLAs belonging to the Communist parties had always opposed the setting up of the plant within the city. But then prime minister Indira Gandhi said that the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal would give a boost to the Green Revolution in the country,” recalls Abdul Jabbar, who has been fighting for the rights of victims since immediately after the event. Jabbar himself lost his parents and brother in the disaster.