Sunil Kumar


Sunil was twelve years old when Carbide's poisons entered the house where he and his family were sleeping. The following account of what happened to him is taken from an announcement issued by the Bhopal Medical Appeal on the tenth anniversary, 3rd December 1994:

Sunil was 12, a carpenter's son. He lived with his parents and seven brothers and sisters in Jayaprakashnagar, the shanty-town nearest to Union Carbide's pesticide factory.

As the clock on Bhopal's distant railway station struck 1am on 3rd December 1984, the family woke in their small house, with their mouths and throats burning and their eyes stinging. Outside there was commotion. People were screaming.

Guessing something had gone badly wrong at the pesticide plant, Sunil's father told his family to run for their lives.

Sunil saw his mother pick up hiw two year old brother Kunkun (Sanjay), the baby of the family, and remembers his dad taking two of the younger children by the hand. The family ran outside to find a panic-stricken crowd stampeding through the narrow, dimly-lit alley.

The force of the human torrent wrenched the children's hands from their parents' grasp. The family was whirled apart. Sunil heard his mother calling their names, then she was gone.

The toxic cloud was so dense and searing that people were reduced to near blindness. As they gasped for breath, its effects grew ever more suffocating. The gases burned the tissues of their eyes and lungs and attacked their nervous systems.

People lost control of their bodies. Urine and faeces ran down their legs. Some began vomiting uncontrollably, were wracked with seizures and fell dead. Others, as the deadly gases ravaged their lungs, began to choke, and drowned in their own bloody body fluids.

Those who found themselves still living fled away from Union Carbide's factory.

People had no way of knowing it, but they would have been safer running towards the factory, out of the wind-borne poison cloud.

Nobody told them. The factory's emergency siren was switched off. There had been so many smal leaks - it used to go off too often.

Not until the gas was upon them, filling their mouths and lungs, did people know of their danger.

Union Carbide's plant manager was woken at 1.30am as the gas was still pouring out over the stricken neighbourhoods. But the company issued no warning until 3am - more than two hours after the gases had started escaping.

By 4.30am the manager was in his office telling a reporter from the Navbharat Times that his safety measures were the best in the country. The reporter was struck by the way he sat with his chair tilted back and his hands clasped behind his head.

Another Carbide official told the Free Press Journal, "Nothing has happened. Can't you see us alive?" Barely one hundred yards away, dead bodies lay on the ground outside the plant.

Dawn broke over streets littered with corpses. Not all deaths were recorded. A tribe of gypsies camped by the station was totally wiped out. Not of them survived. Their deaths went uncounted.

In the days after the leak 7,000 shrouds were sold in Bhopal. [But numberless bodies had been dumped in jungles and rivers by the army. The Narmada was swollen with corpses which piled in logjams against its bridges.]

But Union Carbide said that reports of its victims deaths were greatly exaggerated (December 1 1985, The Times, London) It said that the leak had killed only 1.408 people.

The company also complained that if only people had kept calm and not run away, they would probably have survived. [But Carbide had never told local people how to behave in an emergency, nor even warned them that deadly poisons were being brewed just across the road from where twenty thousand lived.]

The doctors at Bhopal's hospitals, besieged by dying people, did not know how to treat them. Nobody knew what had leaked. The doctors called Union Carbide's medical officer, who said the gas was methyl isocyanate. It was not a poison, he told them, but an irritant like tear gas. In fact the deadly brew of gases contained about twenty four highly toxic including hydrogen cyanide. [MIC is in fact 500 times more toxic than cyanide.]

Sunil woke in terrible pain to find himself in Hoshangabad. His body had been brought there by a truck. It was ten days before he could return to search for his family. To his joy he found Kunkun. Clasped tightly to his mother's body as she ran, the two year old had survived. But their mother and father were dead. Of the other children, only ten year old Mamta was still alive.

[Sunil learned of his parents and siblings' deaths by looking at the posters stuck all over the city bearing the faces of the dead. Having nowhere else to go, he returned to the family home, deserted and left exactly as it was on the moment his family fled. He brought his little brother and sister to live with him and worked long hours to get money to look after them.]

Ten years later the three surviving children still live together. All are weak, constantly tired and often in severe pain. They are racked by coughing bouts and giddy spells.

In one night of terror, half a million people suffered permanent damage to their lungs, eyes, kidneys, livers, blood, digestion, nerves, muscles, bones and immune systems.

Today Sunil suffers from depression and has bouts of mental turmoil. He worked hard to get his sister Mamta married and has devoted himself to the care of his younger brother Sanjay, with whom he lives in the Widow's Colony. He cannot bear to be in a crowded place, and still has nightmares about "that night".