Night without end

PRADEEP CHOUREY, BHOPAL CENTRAL CHRONICLE, DECEMBER 2, 2OO6

Dr Pradeep Chourey recalls the Union Carbide MIC gas leak. At the time of tragedy he was a senior Resident in Hamidia hospital, residing in a college hostel.

Yes! Exactly 22 years have passed, in the tick of a second, since that gory incident, one of the first and worst of its kind in the world since the world war. The MIC tragedy will enter its 23rd year without much relief to the sufferers.
I still remember the night of 2nd and 3rd December 1984. It was during the final year of my residency, I was in the E-Block hostel. On that night I was awakened by some discomfort of unknown origin. Something was wrong! There was a sudden increase of noise outside. Boys were shouting, awakening one and all. It’s a gas leak, probably phosgene, one boy shouted.
Oh my God! I thought of myself. The whole episode of ICCU rushed to mind, how a Union Carbide employee was admitted with phosgene exposure, how he had breathed his last pleading with us to save him, but nothing could be done. Would we suffer the same fate?
Then common sense prevailed. Boys started covering their noses with wet cloths, but the scene was one of utter chaos. We ran to the emergency room and it was there that we learned the real gravity of the situation. News started pouring from all quarters about the leak of some gas from Union Carbide. Nobody was sure which gas. And then the tragedy struck!
Bodies started pouring in, I repeat pouring in; a tide of humanity, suffering at the hands of the wealthy who thought of the people of the third world as guinea pigs; there were children, old, young, women, men, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, people fair and dark, big and small, death was impartial.
Next day there were heaps of bodies, and normal human respect for the dead had also vanished. Bodies were thrown one on top of each other, such was the load of corpses. Room after room, then the morgue, all were strewn with the bodies of the dead.
Meanwhile the nightmare had begun for the treating doctors. Each department was full, corridors, passages and even the roads inside the hospital campus were full of patients, weeping and crying in agony. Word had spread fast about the gas being MIC but there was no instruction from Union Carbide regarding treatment. Symptoms were clear, dyspnea, respiratory obstruction requiring tracheotomy, burning of eyes, chemical conjunctivitis and retrosternal burning and vomiting. The story was very clear, those who ran for cover in the open suffered more, while those who chose to remain indoors were relatively less injured.
The next few days were the same for everyone. Confusion and more confusion. Politicians started flocking in, so too journalists from all over the globe. Then came the visit of the grief struck Prime Minister who himself had suffered at the hands of destiny. Suddenly we realised that the body count had gone down!
There were many stories relating to the sudden disappearance of the dead. Claims and counterclaims abounded. But anyone who was actually in Bhopal was sure that the death count had to be more than 20,000.
The sad part is that there was and still is a trail of suffering left behind. There were abortions, birth defects, laryngeal disorders, allergic rhinitis, and a sudden spurt in malignancies, COPD tuberculosis, mental breakdowns, depression, fast developing cataracts, conjunctivitis and severe gastrointentinal disorders.
They are still continuing.
Most of the worst-hit sufferers are no more. There are stories of heroics during the tragedy. There are unsung heroes and also of the brokers of health who have made millions out of this tragedy, but the real culprit is still at large. America, which boasts of human rights, has still not brought to justice the people in the States who were responsible.

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