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The Story Of a Bhopal Survivor

Remembering Bhopal

Fifteen years ago I woke up in the middle of the night crying and coughing. One by one, all the other members in our household got up too with tears streaming down their eyes and something burning their throats. The adults tried to figure out what the unusual smell in the air was but gave up. They closed all the windows and we all went back to sleep.

Of course, I do not remember this incident at all, I was seven months old at the time, but much later, I found out the details. My family and I had been visiting my aunt in Bhopal, India. On the night of December 2, 1984, the Union Carbide Factory at Bhopal sprung a gas leak. Tons of Methyl Iso Cyanate (MIC), hydrogen cyanide, and other lethal gases were released into the air. My parents have told me numerous times about how fortunate we were that the wind had changed direction before much of the gas reached our house. However, there were many who were not as lucky as us.

Official figures stated 1,600 people died in the immediate aftermath of the leak. Realistic figures, which include the many impoverished roadside dwellers with no actual address, are closer to above 8,000. In addition, long term effects of the gases have increased the death toll to over 16,000, with many more still suffering from sicknesses most likely to result in early death. Adequate treatment has not been available for many of the living victims.

In a recent trip to Bhopal, about a year ago, I met a man named Satinath Sarangi (Sathyu). Although he had graduated from college as a metallurgical engineer, he immediately came to help the people in Bhopal after hearing on the radio of the gas leak. Now he has given up his engineering profession and is a trustee of the Sambhavna Trust, an organization dedicated to helping victims of the gas disaster through research and treatment. He has no regrets.

In addition to providing a variety of treatments for the victims, including both standard medical treatment and alternative methods like ayurveda and yoga, the Sambhavna Trust also helps to simply remember the tragedy of the gas leak. The accident had been caused, or at least helped, by carelessness. Union Carbide’s factory siren had not gone off; the people had no idea of the danger of the gas until it was upon them, destroying their lungs and other internal organs. Officials at the factory also failed to act quickly, failing to prevent further disaster. It would be careless now, on the fifteenth anniversary of this tragic event, not to remember what happened. In the case of the Bhopal gas leak, it would be best to learn from our mistake.

Sumeet Ajmani

Seabury Hall ’01

102-17 Kaui Place

Kula, HI 96790

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