In the shadow of death

PAROMITA PAIN, The Hindu, Young World, November 23, 2007
December 3 is the 15th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak. What can you do for those people who are still suffering the aftermath of the disaster?
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Photo: PTI. Long after the disaster: The agony continues.
Another Children’s Day — another day of fun for some and living with collapsed lungs and stunted growth for others. For the youth in Bhopal, the nightmare from the gas that escaped so many years ago isn’t over. Ask Meera and she will tell you what it’s like to be 25 and have the strength and figure of a 12-year-old.
Talking to school students in the city, Meera (25) and Sarita from Bhopal, drew attention to the dreadful Bhopal gas leak that happened on the night of December 3, 1984, and whose polluting effects not just killed but also destroyed the lives of the young and old alike. Meera was three when it happened and just remembers her mother frantically grabbing her, covering her mouth with a blanket and fleeing into the night. She woke up to a bleak morning. Today she can’t work for too long or too hard. Exhausted easily, she can’t do much to support her family members who are themselves ailing.
Sarita (14) who lives in Prem Nagar in Bhopal, says the water in her area still smells foul. It coats the vessels it is collected in with deposit that’s difficult to wash off. She wasn’t even born when the disaster occurred but the aftermath is probably as bitter. Muskan was born in 2005 in Jawahar Lal Nehru Hospital, Bhopal. Her father is a porter and earns about Rs.1,200 per month. They live in Blue Moon colony, Bhopal for the last 14 years. She didn’t cry when she was born. When she was two months old her body temperature used to remain abnormally high. Now, aged two, she is a certified mentally challenged. This is due to air pollutants so dangerous that it has affected children born long after the pollutants were released.
Suffering continues
Twelve-year-old Shubham is the son of gas-affected parents. Unable to speak, he would love to go to school but he cannot get admission in a mainstream school as his mother does not earn enough to admit him in a special school.
When Akash was born his eyes were stuck together. He could not open them. When the relatives tried to open his eyes, they got swollen. As he grew up one eye opened a little, so that he can see partially.
The gas leak has contaminated the groundwater and people who can’t afford bottled water are forced to drink it. They are aware of the risks of using polluted water, but they have no option.
Telling the city students their stories, believe Sarita and Meera , will help draw more young people into the movement for justice. Students of Kumar Rani Meena Muthiah H.S.S asked why would a youth movement make a difference? Sarita says governments listen to young people as they are the citizens of the future.
The Olcott students had some very interesting questions. “Why doesn’t Sarita move to another location?”, they asked.
Sarita says, “It is not just about me moving away somewhere safer. The whole area is poisoned. The solution lies in clearing away the waste and not in shifting people. Union Carbide and Dow must pay for the clean up and the removal of the waste and should take the waste back to the U.S. and dispose it safely so that no one even there is affected.”
December 3 is the 15th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak. Do your bit for people who are suffering for no fault of theirs. Read up on the disaster.
Understand why it’s still counted among the world’s worst industrial disasters. As a company it had a history of burst pipelines and other minor issues that did auger for bigger problems later on.
Besides a company dealing with chemicals had no business to be in the middle of a city anyway. Draw up posters. Talk about it during the school assembly. Make those in the lower classes aware about what happened. The victims are yet to get justice. This December make their fight your responsibility too.

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