Today at the dharna site, our vigil continued, damp as the afternoon air. I spoke to Abdul Rafi, fondly known to everyone as Mamu, about his story. He has been with the struggle for the full 26 years, and was 13 when the gas disaster hit in 1984. He lived with his mother, and worked to make ends meet as a laborer, including washing bottles for a while at the Union Carbide factory. At this stage of his narrative some disagreement erupted as to whether he could have possibly been employed at that age at a factory that nominally employed only adults.
On the night of the disaster, Mamu said that he was lying down and like everyone else he thought that chillies were being burnt. He tried to sleep but woke up after a while with his limbs in pain. When he went outside to see what was happening he saw people running against the wind and joined them, running past dead bodies. A woman tried to entrust her baby to Mamu, another woman was running while carrying a baby goat. Finally Mamu stopped by a tap and washed his face and found that this gave him some relief so he urged everyone else to do this as well. Some people were in such pain they jumped recklessly into the lake, but as it turned out those who could swim survived better than the rest because of the relief the water provided from gas exposure. To this day, his eyes hurt, he coughs, and worse of all he says he suffers from ‘ghabarahat’ – fears. For most, this mix of physical and psychological problems is devastating. It is for medical care, for poison-free water, for justice, that this struggle continues