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Other Bhopal Stories

"Since December 1984, I have personally witnessed how broken widows with no future, or children who were forced to become heads of their orphaned families at the age of 9, and day-labourers who lost their ‘ability to work’, all turned into strong human beings, great activists, tireless campaigners and capable organisers. This self-empowerment through collective struggle is the single greatest achievement of the people of Bhopal and their transformation from victims to victors." - Praful Bidwai, July 2004

Bhopal is not only a story of tragedy, but of heroism and hope. Read the stories of those who have fought an unyielding struggle for dignity and justice.

Rashida Bee & Champa Devi Shukla
Two gas survivors and trade unionists turned Bhopal activists who have ignited the international campaign to seek justice for disaster survivors. Since 1984 Bee has lost six family members to cancer. Shukla, who has one grandchild born with congenital deformities, lost her husband and her health. Bee and Shukla’s courage and tenacity have galvanized the grassroots in their own country and abroad. In the process, they’ve drawn low-income, illiterate women like themselves from the margins of society to the center of a closely watched showdown whose endgame is to hold Dow Chemical accountable for the gas leak and its deadly legacy. Since their campaign began with a 580 km march to New Delhi in 1989, seeking justice, Rashida and Champa have traveled the globe. Their efforts were honored with the Goldman Environmental Prize, known as the "Nobel Prize for the environment" in 2004.

Sathyu Sarangi #1
Satinath Sarangi, has been involved in the campaign for justice in Bhopal since he arrived there the day after the disaster. Sarangi is now the Managing Director of the Sambhavna Trust, which operates a clinic in Bhopal, providing free medical care to survivors using a unique combination of allopathic, Ayurvedic and yoga therapies. The Sambhavna Clinic, which grows many of the herbs needed to make traditional Indian (Ayurvedic) medicines, has provided care to over 12,800 survivors in the last seven years.

Sathyu Sarangi #2
Satinath Sarangi, has been involved in the campaign for justice in Bhopal since he arrived there the day after the disaster. Sarangi is now the Managing Director of the Sambhavna Trust, which operates a clinic in Bhopal, providing free medical care to survivors using a unique combination of allopathic, Ayurvedic and yoga therapies. The Sambhavna Clinic, which grows many of the herbs needed to make traditional Indian (Ayurvedic) medicines, has provided care to over 12,800 survivors in the last seven years.

Sathyu Sarangi #3
Satinath Sarangi, has been involved in the campaign for justice in Bhopal since he arrived there the day after the disaster. Sarangi is now the Managing Director of the Sambhavna Trust, which operates a clinic in Bhopal, providing free medical care to survivors using a unique combination of allopathic, Ayurvedic and yoga therapies. The Sambhavna Clinic, which grows many of the herbs needed to make traditional Indian (Ayurvedic) medicines, has provided care to over 12,800 survivors in the last seven years.

Medical Crime
A final revealing article written by Sathyu Sarangi, Managing Director of the Sambhavna Clinic, about the many medical shortcomings and research failings that have plagued constructive efforts to rehabilitate the people of Bhopal.

Rajan Sharma
Rajan is the attorney representing the Bhopal survivors in their US lawsuit against Union Carbide.

Tim Edwards
“I leave Brighton, UK for Bhopal on July 1st 1999, arriving in Bhopal on the fifteenth anniversary date. The bicycle trek is some 6000 + miles: each mile equals a day spent living with the aftermath of that terrible night and over a hundred people poisoned, every quarter mile from Brighton to central India represents another innocent person murdered by the gas. The journey takes me through at least twelve countries and will involve stops to raise money and awareness along the way."

Ryan Bodanyi
Ryan is the Student Coordinator of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, and visited Bhopal in January, 2004.

Mohan Lal Varma
M.L. Varma, the worker believed to be Carbide’s sabotage suspect, tells his story of the night of the gas disaster and of the factory’s internal politics.

Bhopal, Sitting at the Edge of a Volcano… (1982)
Rajkumar Keswani, a journalist concerned about the state of the factory, wrote a series of articles in the Rapat Weekly, begging the city to take notice of the dangers the Carbide factory posed. He concludes “For now Bhopal sleeps, till the next morning and possibly to never get up some morning.”

The Peoples' Movement in Bhopal (1994)
Longtime Bhopal activist Satinath Sarangi describes the early evolution of people's movements in Bhopal. From Righting Corporate Wrongs, testimony presented to the Permanant People's Tribunal, London, Autumn 1994.

Sambhavna Clinic
In this article, written in 2005, Arvind Rajogopal interviews many of those who work at the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, and reflects on what he learns.

Yogi Aggarwal
Yogi Aggarwal travelled to Bhopal again 15 years after the gas tragedy that has killed over 20,000 people so far.

Sean Zager
Though I had only finished my first year of medical school, I was surprised at how much I could offer as a volunteer at Sambhavna, whether in terms of medical assistance, computer or community research, or manual labor in the medicinal garden.

Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre
In my neurology ward I look after 30 patients whereas it should be 6 patients to 1 nurse. Due to this we are not able to provide quality care to the patients, because we are not only overworked, but severely understaffed. It is the gas victims who suffer because we cannot ignore the private patients as we have been told by our supervisor. The quality of care being given to gas victims gets compromised.

Depositions #1
The depositions of seven prosecution witnesses, including T.R. Chouhan and Mohan Lal Varma, taken in Bhopal in January of 2000 in the ongoing criminal case.

Depositions #2
The depositions of four prosecution witnesses, taken in Bhopal in March of 2000 in the ongoing criminal case.


Medical Crime
By Satinath Sarangi, Managing Director of the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal.

On the midnight of 24 June 1985, a colleague and I were at the Jana Swasthya Kendra, a clinic that gave sodium thiosulphate injections to people from the communities closest to the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. The kendra was supported by four local organizations of survivors and workers. Run by volunteer-doctors from Calcutta, Bombay and other parts of the country, the kendra also monitored the effect of this drug on the many symptoms the exposed people suffered. In just 20 days of its running, the kendra had administered more injections than all government hospitals had done in the past six months.

As mangers, we stayed at the clinic at night to get it running by early morning. On this particular night, a dozen armed policemen entered the clinic, forced us into two separate jeeps and took us away to separate police stations where we were locked up till morning and sent to jail the next day. Several of the volunteer-doctors and activist survivors were also arrested and jailed. The charges cooked up against us were those of attempting to murder government officials and committing other serious offences. As we found out a few days later, after sending us away, the rest of the posse took away over 1200 medical folders that contained records of the beneficial effect of sodium thiosulphate injections. These records were never returned.

Sodium thiosulphate injection was literally a life and death issue in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. Dr Max Daunderer from Germany and local forensic specialist Dr Heeresh Chandra both found that the drug when administered intravenously led to excretion of increased levels of thiocyanate in urine. Double blind clinical trials carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research from 1985 to 1987 confirmed the efficacy of this drug in relieving exposure induced symptoms and causing detoxification of the body. (1)

Ten days after the disaster, Union Carbide Corporation’s medical director first supported mass administration of thiosulphate and in another telex message three days later forbade it. Soon after, Union Carbide’s ally in the state bureaucracy, Director of Health Services, Dr M.N. Nagu sent a circular to all doctors in the city warning them that they would be held responsible for any untoward consequences of thiosulphate administration. In the prevailing situation of medical uncertainty this circular effectively stopped any administration of thiosulphate. Interestingly, given that no adverse impact of administration of thiosulphate was reported in literature, the circular had no medical basis.

In April 1991, my friend T.R. Chouhan, a former MIC plant operator in Union Carbide’s Bhopal factory, and I met with Joseph Geoghen, then Vice President of Union Carbide Corporation, USA in his corporate office in New York city. Earlier, in 1989, the Chairman and CEO of Union Carbide, Robert Kennedy had extended an invitation to the group of three Bhopal survivors whom I had accompanied on a campaign tour. In ’89 Carbide had got all four of us housed in Houston county jail on charges of criminal trespass. In ’91, we decided to talk about Carbide’s toxic trespass into the bodies of the people of Bhopal.

Goeghen met us with two lawyers who vetted each statement he made. They whispered their advice into his ears from either side as we insisted on recording our discussion on tape. I described the deteriorating health condition of the survivors. I told him how doctors were unable to treat people and no medicines seem to be working for the exposure related illnesses. We pointed out that what doctors in Bhopal needed was information about the health effects of the leaked gases. This would help in developing treatment protocols and in identifying specific areas of research, we pleaded. This wouldn’t even cost money, we assured him.

I mentioned the names of the different laboratories where Union Carbide had carried out tests with Methyl Isocyanate, the major component of the leaked gases. Goeghen did not seem to recognize any of them. In particular I mentioned the research carried out at Carnegie Mellon Institute in Pittsburgh where the corporation had documented the effect of MIC on living systems in the 1960s and ’70s. Goeghen refused to get into specifics. He told us we could get Material Safety Data Sheets published by official agencies on MIC and other chemicals. We informed him that we had already looked them up and did not find the information we needed.

Goeghen insisted that all information with Union Carbide had been passed to the Indian government. Chouhan pointed out that at the very least Union Carbide could disclose the medical records of the workers who were subjected to routine examinations in the factory but whose results were withheld from them. Goeghen would not reply to that. He indicated he was pressed for time. One of his lawyers had a flight to catch.

In May 2001, about three months after Union Carbide merged with Dow, as part of our negotiations I presented a brief note titled ‘Two humanitarian things the Dow Chemical Company, USA can immediately do to help survivors of Bhopal, India’ to the Managing Director of Dow India in Bombay. The first was to release the unpublished medical information. In November 2001, the Managing Director wrote that they were sending us an inventory of published medical research and that not only had they not found any unpublished research, they were unable to locate anyone in the ‘UCC organization’ who knew of such research.

In November 1991 about a dozen of us carried out a survey in three gas affected communities to find how the health damages suffered by people had been assessed by the medico-legal authorities. (2) We found that the procedure of injury evaluation formulated by the state government’s Directorate of Claims grossly underestimated the range and degree of injuries caused by toxic exposure. We found that only 10% of the claimants in the most severely affected community had been given the Pulmonary Function Test. Only 18% had their eyes tested. While ICMR studies were reporting gas-exposed women having an abortion rate five times that of unexposed women, even five years after the disaster, (3) only 11% of women claimants had been examined by a gynaecologist.

Leaving room for procedural errors in an exercise of such large magnitude, the number of claimants from the 36 municipal wards matched well with the number of residents. Yet the results of categorization of claimants were completely at variance with the epidemiological research on the exposed population. While ICMR found that immediately after the disaster 99% of the population had breathlessness, 86% had eye problems and 92% had loss of appetite, (4) the Directorate’s medical evaluation reported that 42% of the claimants had suffered no injury at all.

52% of the claimants, the Directorate declared, had only temporary injury. This while ICMR researchers were finding that ‘one to three months post-exposure, a majority of the already affected population continued to suffer from breathlessness, cough, chest pain etc....’ According to the Directorate only two persons from the two most severely affected municipal wards had suffered injury in the most severe category. In fact, the results were so scandalous that the authorities in charge of fixing compensation decided that those categorized as having not suffered any injury at all would be considered at par with those who were considered to have suffered temporary injury.

In September-October 2002, I was part of another survey in Jai Prakash Nagar, a settlement right opposite the Union Carbide factory. (5) In this house-to-house survey we found that 91% claimants in this area that bore the worst brunt of the toxic attack had received only Rs 25000 as compensation and most received their compensation eight to ten years after they registered their complaint.

What role did medical professionals play in sustaining an irrational and unscientific system designed to downplay the damages caused to a majority of the people?

On 16 July 1988, Dr N.R. Bhandari, a Professor of Paediatrics, presented the findings of his team’s study on children born to exposed mothers after the disaster before the Scientific Advisory Committee. (6) As compared to children of unexposed mothers, these children were found to have delayed physical and mental development and lower values for anthropometric parameters such as height and mid-arm circumference. According to the minutes of the meeting, Dr. Bhandari and his team’s work was appreciated by senior scientists and he was asked to continue the study till the children were 14. The 16 May 1989 meeting of the Project Advisory Committee recommended the continuation of the study and further recommended that the children’s sexual development and immunological functions be also studied. The same committee in September 1990 reiterated that the children must be studied till they attain puberty. (7) Despite the positive and significant findings regarding teratogenic effect of the toxic exposure, and in the face of opposition by the Principal Investigator of the study, it was wound up in June 1991 following directions from the Indian Council of Medical Research headquarters.

Ten years later in May 2001, I was part of a team that carried out anthropometric measurements of teenagers born to exposed mothers. We found that compared to age-matched teenagers whose mothers were unexposed, male children born to exposed mothers were shorter, thinner, lighter and had smaller cranial and mid-arm circumference. The study was published in an international medical journal. (8)

Why was the study that showed injuries in the next generation of survivors prematurely terminated?

In June 1990, with help from a group of young doctors we interviewed 500 gas-affected patients in two government hospitals and collated information from their medical prescriptions. (9) We found that 53% of the patients had been prescribed medicines that were banned in several countries and were considered fit for banning by the Indian government. 40% of the medicines prescribed were irrational and hazardous. In 1994, Drs Rajiv Bhatia and Gianni Tognoni of the International Medical Commission on Bhopal, a 15 member international team of voluntary medical professionals, found irresponsible and indiscriminate use of antibiotics and corticosteroids among the gas exposed population. (10)

In October 1996, we collected data on most sold medicines from 50 drug stores in the gas-affected area. We also recorded the medicines listed on prescriptions brought by 200 customers to 25 of these shops. We found that among the most sold 391 medicines, 46% were harmful, hazardous or useless and that 52% of the drug market was controlled by multinational pharmaceutical corporations. One out of every three prescriptions by a qualified medical practitioner was found to be irrational. (11)

From June to November 1998, we collected information on the treatment given at one of the community clinics run by the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust from 474 gas affected patients and their health books. Analysis of the data showed that drugs prescribed were not targeted to the organ system damage but towards short-term symptomatic relief. Data also showed the use of high potency systemic corticosteroids that may increase susceptibility to tuberculosis.

In 1997, we began documenting the beneficial effects of simple yoga postures and a few pranayama breathing exercises on people with respiratory disorders caused by their exposure to Union Carbide’s gases.

The participants were initially trained in the exercises for 15 days by two yoga therapists at the clinic who also monitored the condition of their lungs through spirometry and physical examination for six months. The study reported significant and sustained improvement in lung function parameters for all participants. Half of the people in the study could do away with the bronchodilators they had been so dependent upon ever since the disaster.

After the study was published, in 1998, (12) the two yoga therapists sent reprints of the paper to senior officials of the state government’s Bhopal gas tragedy relief and rehabilitation department and the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust. In the covering note, the Sambhavna therapists sought their opinion on the paper and on introducing yoga and pranayama in the hospitals and clinics run by them. When they did not receive any reply for one month, they sent reminders. The government official sent appreciation for the paper and regretted that yoga could not be introduced in government hospitals because it was not possible to find so many instructors. At a stretch, this could have been accepted in any other city but Bhopal has a surfeit of yoga instructors, thanks to the efforts of Dr K.M. Ganguly who has helped train thousands of instructors.

In February 1985, a team of four doctors observed that women who had been pregnant at the time of the disaster had reported spontaneous abortions, stillbirths and menstrual disturbances. (13) Clinic-based information generated by independent physicians in February-March 1985 indicated large number of menstrual and gynaecological disorders. (14) Another study initiated by a survivors’ organization showed that 50% of the women who were clinically examined had persistent gynaecological symptoms with excessive vaginal secretion [leucorrhoea] being the commonest symptom. (15) In the same month, a study carried out by an independent team showed that among women in the age group of 15-45 years there was a significant alteration in the menstrual cycle, excessive bleeding during menstruation, and dysmenorrhoea. (16)

From March 1985, when data indicated the presence of exposure induced gynaecological diseases, persistent attempts were made by survivors’ organizations and their supporters to include the gynaecological impact of toxic exposure in the proposed research to be carried out by the Indian Council of Medical Research. However, these attempts were unsuccessful and none among the 24 research projects identified by the ICMR concerned themselves with documenting the gynaecological impact of the disaster unless it was related to fertility.

In the June 1999 issue of Meri Saheli, a Hindi monthly magazine, a copywriter trying to raise funds for the Sambhavna Clinic published an advertisement on the health situation in Bhopal. The ad focused on the continuing gynaecological impact five years after the disaster. Earlier in February the same year, the copywriter had visited gas affected communities and interviewed teenage women. The publication of the advertisement in a local newspaper was followed by threats of police action and worse. The Chief Medical Officer announced to the media that he would lodge a criminal complaint against me for spreading alarm. (17) The Principal Secretary of the Department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation of the state government told another newspaper that he had asked officials to explore legal possibilities.

In July 2001, the state government proposed the setting up of an Institute of Life Sciences at Bhopal at an estimated cost of Rs 200 crore. The proposal sent to the Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, the nodal ministry for issues concerning the disaster in Bhopal, stated that the institute was ‘mainly to study the deleterious effects of MIC which were seen in humans, plants and animals (following the gas tragedy of December 1984) with a view to finding genetic solutions.’ (18) ‘The proposed Institute of Life Sciences,’ the proposal went on to say, ‘would be an excellent Centre to provide the infrastructure and manpower to find the genetic solution to reduce the sufferings using the various modern day molecular biology and biodiversity techniques such as RFLP, RAPD, PCR, DNA fingerprinting and gene therapy.’

Commenting on the state government’s proposal, Dr P.M. Bhargava founder Director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, wrote, ‘It is clear that whosoever has written the note has virtually no understanding of modern molecular biology, including genetics. Scientific jargon has been used in the note without understanding what the terms mean and merely to lend some credibility to the idea of setting up a Institute of Life Sciences amongst those who have no idea of modern biology or even the problems of the Bhopal gas tragedy victims. To try to set up such an institute with the money that was meant to be a compensation to the gas tragedy victims for all the pain, suffering and loss inflicted on them is nothing short of an arrogant and dishonest attempt to hoodwink and divert the funds that were not meant for the purpose for which they are being attempted to be diverted. Indeed, no genetic solutions are required to take care of the present problems of the gas tragedy victims.’

In April 1990, after several people living in the vicinity of the abandoned factory had complained about the foul smell and taste of the water in their hand pumps, we sent samples of ground water and soil from the vicinity of the Union Carbide factory to the Citizen’s Environmental Laboratory in Boston, USA. The test reports showed the presence of chemicals that damage the lungs, kidneys, liver and produce cancer. These reports were presented at Union Carbide’s annual general meeting the same month.

Reports of tests carried out by the state government’s Public Health Engineering Department in 1991 and 1996 confirmed severe contamination of ground water in several communities adjacent to the factory. In 1999, Greenpeace scientists tested 22 samples of groundwater from in and around the factory site. They found heavy concentrations of chlorinated benzenes, carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethene and other chemicals that cause various cancers and damage the liver, kidneys, brain, immune system and other organs. In 2003/2004 samples from 13 locations tested by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board showed the presence of lindane, benzene hexachloride and other hazardous chemicals.

Despite the alarming test reports from government agencies from 1990 to 2003, the government continued to deny the contamination of ground water. The minister of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation, who ironically was a medical professional himself, announced to the media that the ground water was safe to drink. Another minister drank a glass of the hand pump water before media persons, a la Norman Borlaug, in a bid to make the denial stronger.

Meanwhile, studies by Sambhavna showed high prevalence of severe anaemia, known to be caused by ingestion of trichlorobenzene, that is known to be present in ample amounts in the community hand pump, among the resident population. That every second person in the community was suffering from symptoms such as abdominal pain, skin disorders, giddiness, chest pain, headache and fever. That among the teenage females in the age group of 13 to 15, 43% had not begun their periods.

Most of October 2004, I was down with a stomach infection. A stool examination showed plenty of bacteria, so I took a five-day course of an antibacterial that did me no good and left me weaker. I took a seven-day course of another antibiotic but my condition further deteriorated. A culture sensitivity test reported that the strain of bacteria I was infected with was resistant to 18 out of 20 antibiotics it was tested against. Included among the 18 were what are known in doctor’s parlance as second and third generation antibiotics and the two that were effective had rather unpleasant side-effects. So I switched over to Ayurveda, and it worked wonders. My next test reported no bacteria and I regained my strength within a week of drinking half a cup of foul tasting decoction twice a day.

The story had a happy ending but I couldn’t help contemplating (and one of the joys of a stomach infection is the time and quiet it provides for contemplation) on whether what I had wasn’t the tip of a serious public health problem of resistant bacteria. I thought of the thousands of people in the city who were taking a range of antibiotics, most for insufficient number of days (in the government hospitals prescribing antibiotics for two days is routine). Given the realities of civic facilities, drainage systems and public water supply in Bhopal, it is likely that different resistant strains of bacteria find their way into the water people drink. This opens up a whole can of worms regarding the end of cycle consequences of the consumption of vast quantities of medicines by a large population.

So there you go. I have told a few of my favourite stories (and even managed to sneak in my excuse for the awful delay in sending them in). I guess, I am now expected to make my point, elaborate on the meaning of the stories, draw upon their interconnectedness and present a framework that holds them together. That would however, be straying away from why I really wanted to tell these stories.

Why I really began telling these stories was to move you, dear reader, to action. Twenty years is much too long and we have had a lot of words. No more interpretations, no more words – the point is to stop the medical disaster in Bhopal.

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Ryan Bodanyi
Ryan Bodanyi visited Bhopal in January of 2004, shortly after the 19th anniversary of the disaster. His account of the trip can be found below. Ryan can be reached at this email.

I arrived in Bhopal on the 13th, on the first day of the three-day Dow Accountability Meeting. More than 30 people were there from all over the world, all gathered together to develop a unified campaign against Dow Chemical. Many of us were associated with the Bhopal campaign, but there were also people there working on Dow's production of dangerous pesticides and its global "chemical trespass" into the bodies of men, women, and children all over the world. There was also someone there from mid-Michigan, another Dow-affected community which is being poisoned, thanks to Dow, by massive dioxin contamination. There's a group of 180 people there who are suing Dow because the property value of their homes has plummeted (funny how no one wants to live on contaminated land) and their health is in question. The fight there, if not as protracted as that in Bhopal, is getting to be as nasty. It was really inspiring to see these two Dow-affected communities come together, share their own stories about the struggles that they're waging, and sort out how they can work together in the campaign against Dow. Sadly, there was no one from Vietnam at the meeting, but there was a delegation from Vietnam that attended the World Social Forum and spoke about the appalling devastation that Dow's Agent Orange has wrought there. Two to three million people are suffering from Agent Orange-related health effects, including 650,000 children. An association of Agent Orange-affected people was just formed on January 10 to campaign for the victims, and the Dow Accountability Campaign is going to be working with them over the coming year to increase the pressure on Dow to end its legacy of contamination around the world.

Ryan (in the blue t-shirt) with friends in Bhopal

A lot of the people at the meeting told me how much they appreciated the work that the students were doing for the campaign, and the survivors themselves presented me with a moving statement of support. I think that everyone in the campaign understands the unique strengths that students can bring to bear in this campaign, and believes that student organizing for Bhopal is going to play a major role in forcing the company to act.

Overall, I think that there are a couple of really promising opportunities for the coming year. The first is the formation of the Dow Accountability Campaign, which is already pulling together an incredibly diverse group of organizations and communities to fight against Dow's contamination of people and communities. This growing network of people all over the world has got to worry Dow, and as we work together in the campaign we'll be able to put a tremendous amount of pressure on the company, not just to resolve Bhopal, but all of their toxic legacies all over the world as well.

The second is the fact that this year's anniversary in December will be the 20th anniversary. That nice, round number is going to mean that a lot of people are going to be paying attention to Bhopal--not only the media, but legislators, professors, students, shareholders, NGOs, the UN, labor groups, the company itself, and regular people the world over. It's a tremendous opportunity to heighten public awareness about Bhopal, garner media attention for the campaign, and increase the pressure on the company through a number of avenues that we wouldn't have had or been able to use as effectively otherwise. Basically, it's crunch time, and if we harness our strengths and use them effectively over the coming year, we'll be able to make huge strides towards winning justice for the people of Bhopal.

While I was in Bhopal I also had the chance to visit the abandoned Union Carbide factory. It felt strange to walk through the factory grounds, which have now been overrun by undergrowth and brush. The guards that let us in were very helpful, and led us on a guided tour of the many chemical horrors strewn throughout the factory. One of them, according to Sathyu, lost a close relative in the gas disaster. For many years there were no guards protecting the factory site, and bands of brigands started coming in to scavenge contaminated metal for sale elsewhere. Children were also roaming free over the factory site, which is one of the few areas of open space around. They played games and went exploring, ignoring the warnings of their parents because the forbidden is always attractive. Then, six years ago, Sathyu and some supporters chained themselves to the top of one of the tall towers and demanded that the government provide security for the site. Sathyu says that their action won results faster than any other action they've carried out--it only took one and a half hours. Children still play just outside the factory grounds--we saw a friendly group of them on our tour--and although they still sneak into the factory there's at least some chance of keeping them away from the chemicals.

I walked through huge warehouses filled with thousands of leaking sacks and the sickly-sweet smell of chemical poison. Mostly the waste was Sevin, rotted from the rains and the passage of twenty years, but one of the warehouse corners was stuffed with sacks of DDT, the smell of which overrode everything else in the nostrils. The floors of a few of the warehouses, open to the elements, were dotted with cow paddies, and teenage graffiti scrawled across the walls. Loose pesticide crunched underfoot. The control room floor was strewn with dirty papers; broken glass mixed with dust and grit on the floor. A dilapidated plastic model of the factory stood on one table, closely matching the real one in its disintegration. "SAFETY IS EVERYONE'S BUSINESS" stared solemnly at us from between the dials, and a rusty metal panel leaning against the wall notified us of the emergency evacuation procedures.

The tank that had spewn so much poison twenty years ago rested heavily on its side, looking much like a beached submarine. Its thick sides were overrun with undergrowth, and the holes at the top stared vacantly into open space. It lay several meters away from the others, blown out of its original concrete sarcophagus by the force of the reaction twenty years ago.

The plant itself was a mass of rusted piping and shredded white insulation. It was eerie to walk through the plant, much like visiting the grave of a sunken battleship. Huge tanks still stood, woven together by piping and splotched with rust; one tank, left full of Sevin, had utterly disintegrated and collapsed, belching out solid cakes the pesticide.

Outside the factory, defiant graffiti covered the walls, including "Dow: Living, Poisoned Daily". The words "Hang Anderson", painted thickly in black, cast an angry backdrop to the weathered statue, made of concrete, which forms the only memorial of the Bhopal disaster. A mother, crying and clutching an infant in one arm, stumbles blindly through the gas, another child clutching her from behind. The caption beneath reads "No Hiroshima, No Bhopal: We Want to Live".

The visit was a very sobering experience. It's astonishing to think that Dow and Union Carbide could so thoroughly wash their hands of any responsibility for such a momentous environmental and human health disaster. I met many of the victims and listed to their stories; I heard the wrenching, body-rattling cough of a gas victim. I visited the Sambhavna Clinic and saw the people patiently queued outside. The day that we arrived in Bhopal a man died from his gas exposure. He had been turned away from the Bhopal Memorial Trust hospital (funded by Union Carbide) because, in his near-death state, he couldn't produce the card that certified him as a genuine gas victim.

For many people, the Sambhavna clinic is their only source of medical treatment. The 21 staff members of the Sambhavna clinic (among whom nearly half are survivors themselves) include five physicians, two yoga and two Panchakarma therapists and five community health workers who carry out health surveys and health education in the communities affected by the gas. The current facility is tightly squeezed, housing an examination room, a laboratory, a yoga room, a pharmacy, a gynecological clinic, and several offices. The clinic combines Allopathic and ayurvedic medicine with yoga therapy, an integrative approach that differs from the methods of treatment that have been used by the other medical centers in Bhopal, which rely on steroids, antibiotics, and psychotropic drugs to provide mostly temporary, symptomatic relief. It's common to find people in Bhopal who say they've taken more than five or ten kilograms of Allopathic pills, which only provide them with temporary relief or none at all. There's also evidence that the indiscriminate prescription of symptomatic drugs is compounding injuries caused by the disaster.

The Sambhavna clinic will soon move to a new facility, which should be built this year. The plot right now is an open field, but only a few months ago it was the community waste dump. After the clinic secured the rights to the property, laborers had to work for several weeks to cart all the trash away by hand. Behind the site for the new clinic is an organic community garden, which is already growing medicinal and ayurvedic herbs for use in the clinic. It was so refreshing to see that patch of green and all the work that's being put into it. The garden is the brainchild of Terry Allan, a lifelong organic farmer that moved to Bhopal to help get it started. She's been working there a year already, and hopes to have the garden off the ground and self-sufficient in another two years' time.

When we returned to the hotel to collect our bags before leaving for the World Social Forum in Bombay, a group of the women survivors were there to greet us. They gave each of us a red rose and a garland of marigolds which they draped over our shoulders. I was so moved I could hardly find the words to thank them.

170 of the women survivors traveled with us to the World Social Forum, "Second class, unreserved." That meant, ticketless. There were so many of them traveling together that the self-respecting conductors decided to leave them alone, but their ride was uncomfortable since they had no place to sleep. However they were active at the WSF, advertising for the Bhopal-related panels and events that were scheduled, one of which--the testimonial session--included a representative from Vietnam (a complete listing is available here: www.bhopal.net/article.php?pid=74). The survivors also marched through the WSF and helped organize a 400-person rally outside of Dow's Indian Headquarters in Bombay on the 19th. It was a peaceful rally outside the same headquarters last year that inspired Dow to sue the survivors for $10,000 for "loss of work" in a lawsuit that is still ongoing. This time, the security was tight, but eight representatives, including Rashida Bee and Champa Devi, were allowed into the headquarters to talk with Dow's Indian CEO. There they were offered plush seats at a mahogany table while the executive spouted the usual corporate line. They pressed him about why Dow had announced its intention to look at a "humanitarian gesture" in Bhopal but nothing had been done. He explained that, since there were a lot of different survivor organizations in Bhopal, it had been challenging for Dow to find out who to talk to about what the company could do. Rashida retorted that whenever the company wanted to sue them, it was able to find them easily enough.

In the midst of all these Bhopal events, I was drafted into a community play being performed by a troupe of gas-affected Bhopal youth. I played the role of Warren Anderson, a juicy part. The 20-minute long play was entirely in Hindi, so I didn't understand most of it, but it included a couple of songs and a line in Hindi from me: Hum Muavza De Denge, which means, "We Will Compensate You." We performed the play several times at the World Social Forum in Bombay and at the rally that we held in front of the Dow's Indian HQ. The other youth were so charming. They kept shaking my hand and asking me to say "Hum Muavza De Denge." They didn't know much English, but they did the best they could, asking me whether I had a wife and what I was reading and what my name was. They did their best to teach me some things in Hindi, but nothing really stuck except their charm. There was one little boy in particular who was too young to be a part of the play, maybe 11 or 12, but who joined in anyway on the last song and sung it so enthusiastically that I couldn't help but smile every time.

It was a moving experience for me to meet the people who've been fighting for justice for so long, and to see those who were devastated by the disaster. I left Bhopal more committed to the campaign than I've ever been, angry at the injustice that I saw but also inspired by the enthusiasm and the hope of the people who've been fighting for so long. I only hope that, in the course of this account, I've been able to pass a little of their inspiration along to all of you!!

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Mohan Lal Varma
M.L. Varma, the worker believed to be Carbide’s sabotage suspect, tells his story of the night of the gas disaster and of the factory’s internal politics. Source: by M.L.Varma, from T.R. Chouhan, et al., Bhopal: The Inside Story, New York: The Apex Press and Mapusa, Goa: The Other India Press, 1994, revised edition, 2004.

M. L. Varma. Age 37
(Carbide Worker Token No 4557)
Industry Inspector, Government of Madhya Pradesh
(Originally hired for alpha-naphthol plant)

I joined Union Carbide on 28 March 1977 as part of the second batch for the alpha-napthol plant. I had six months of classroom training and no training on the job. During the on-the-job training period they used us for precommissioning and start up of the napthol plant. I continued working in the napthol plant but the plant was not running successfully. There were plans for large-scale modifications, for which they shut down the plant. In this period most of the operators of the napthol plant were transferred to the formulation plant. As there was no qualified operator jobs, we worked as packers and in other labor class jobs. We came back to the napthol plant when it restarted, but it still did not function properly. They decided to permanently close down the alpha-napthol plant, so all the operating staff became jobless. They launched a voluntary retirement scheme and about 30 workers resigned. Those of us who remained were sent for theoretical training for the MIC plant. After training, we took exams for selection as an MIC unit Operator. I was selected.

About September 1983, I was sent to the MICunit for on-the-job training. There they told me that I must learn about the MIC plant from my fellow workers. When the plant was running, it was difficult to take on-the-job training, but somehow I began learning about the MIC process. My demands for assistance were always refused. In this period I was asked to take charge when regular operator was absent from duty. I refused to take charge under these conditions; they had not confirmed me as a regular operator for the MIC plant. I had decided not to take charge until after confirmation because I wanted to be sufficiently trained and I wanted the financial benefits. For these reasons, management refused to confirm me. They said there were no vacancies.
They gave me an oral warning about the job refusal but never gave it in writing since they were aware that I was not confirmed as a regular operator. However there were workers given confirmations who joined UCIL after me and who were less qualified. These persons never resisted management using them in positions for which they were not qualified. For almost a year I refused to take charge as an operator because I was not yet confirmed. Then, in November 1984, MICplant manager S. P. Choudhry told me that if I did not follow all orders, I would be transferred to other units. I told him that I was not refusing any job for which I was confirmed. I would perform any job for which I was needed if I was trained properly and was receiving proper financial benefits. I told Choudhry that if they were to transfer me due to false charges of job refusal, I wanted it in writing so that I could proceed with a legal response.

After a few days, S. P. Choudhry took an oral test from me about the MICplant process and said that if I passed the test I would be confirmed. I took the test and was able to give a correct reply to every question. Nonetheless, I was given a failure on the test and told I was not fit for the MIC plant. Then they told me that I would be transferred to the Sevin plant. They mentioned the transfer in their daily notes but did not give me any letter. I argued that a daily note is not sufficient for transfer purposes, or that I required a letter. Nor did they mention the transfer on the notice board.

Even though on the basis of the oral test they said that I was not capable as an MIC plant operator, they had tried months before to force me to take charge in the MIC plant unit when I was not confirmed. The transfer was S. P. Choudhry's way of taking revenge for my not obeying him in the past. Although they announced my transfer on 26 November, I continued to come to the MIC unit. I also began to personally report to the MIC plant superintendent and to the production assistant. This continued until the night of the gas leak. During the week, no action was taken against me for not reporting to the Sevin plant. I went to the MIC unit and sat there because there was no work for me.

On 2 December 1984 I was on night shift. I punched my card around 10:50 and reported to the production assistant of the MIC plant. About 11:15 P.M., I was sitting in the MIC control room along with my fellow workers. Then I went to the tea room at the 200-ton refrigeration unit. Generally, when we are free MlC operators sit in this room. The window of the tea room toward the MIC unit was open. Around 11:30, we felt MIC irritation so we came out from the room to locate the source of the leak. We saw that some water was dropping from the MIC plant structure. Near that water the MIC was in greater concentration. As we came toward the vent gas scrubber side we felt high MIC concentration. We reported the MIC leak to production assistant S. Qurashi. The plant superintendent was also sitting there in the control room. They replied that the MIC plant is down and thus there is no chance of leak. They did not take our report seriously, saying “Koi baht nahin appan chay ke bad dhekhenge” (“Okay, no problem, we’ll see after tea").

In the meantime, the tea boy came to the control room and we took tea. Then the plant superintendent went to smoke a cigarette near the security gate, as it is not allowed on the plant premises. Now the time was around 12:30. With the supervisor, we went to the MIC. The operator, Khampariya, was ordered to spray water on the leaking point. The supervisor was not able to trace out the source of the leak. Around 12:50 the leak became vigorous and started coming out from, the vent gas scrubber atmospheric line. I was standing in front of the control room when the siren started. After a few minutes, the plant superintendent came back to the MIC unit. As he met me, he asked, "What happened?" I told him MIC was pouring from the top of the vent gas scrubber.

Because of the siren, the emergency squad came to the MICunit. They tried to control the leak by massive water spraying. I also helped them until the conditions in the area became unbearable. Then along with other workers I left the MIC unit area in the opposite wind direction. The MIC production assistant also fled. When the plant superintendent came back from smoking, he ordered that the loud siren be stopped. This was around 1:00 A.M. Around 2:00 A.M. when we learned that the toxic release was affecting the communities outside the plant, we argued with the plant superintendent to restart the loud siren. He refused saying it would serve no purpose, but we insisted until he switched it on again. Around 2:15, the gas leak stopped so we returned to the MIC unit and discovered that the MIC production assistant was missing. After some time, we learned that he was lying near the boundary wall. Some workers brought him to the dispensary.
Around 3:00 A.M. I saw many people from outside coming for medical help. Many were in dying condition. A managerial staff member, Roy Choudhry, and others were denying help to these people from outside. We argued with the dispensary staff, telling them that we must provide any help possible since they were affected by a leak from our factory. Finally they began to administer basic first aid. When I came to know that the area in which my family was living was also affected, I rushed home. This was around 5:00 A.M. Outside the plant, I saw how badly the gas had affected people.

I first came to know that UCC was claiming the leak had been caused by sabotage through the newspaper. First they blamed a Sikh terrorist, then a “disgruntled worker.” They never mentioned any name of a worker, but gave a detailed description of one who was disgruntled due to being transferred to the Sevin plant but who remained “illegally" in the MICunit. Immediately, I knew that they were trying to frame me, even though the description did not fully fit. I think this description came after UCC management people and lawyers interviewed ex-workers.
I also gave an interview about my experiences that night. They asked me about my past history with Union Carbide so I told them about my problems regarding confirmation. Then they used this information against me to construct their sabotage theory.

Beyond UCC lies suggesting that I am to blame, there are other reasons why the sabotage theory is clearly incorrect: it is not possible for any worker to put water directly into the MICtank, as it is a very dangerous job. Further, everyone knows that a MIC and water reaction is very dangerous, not just spoiling the contents of the tank. So, it may be sabotage that caused the leak but not by any worker. If the leak was caused by sabotage, the culprit is the management who was responsible for overseeing the safety of the MIC plant. The leak was a result of continuous negligence, unsafe handling and a poor warning system.

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Bhopal, Sitting at the Edge of a Volcano… (1982)
Rajkumar Keswani, a journalist concerned about the state of the factory, wrote a series of articles in the Rapat Weekly, begging the city to take notice of the dangers the Carbide factory posed. He concludes “For now Bhopal sleeps, till the next morning and possibly to never get up some morning.” Source: Sambhavna Documentation Center, translated from Hindi, 2005.

Issue 2 year 5 Bhopal Friday 1 October 1982 60 Paise

Bhopal a pile of dead humans in one to one and half hour.

Wake up people of Bhopal sitting at the edge of a volcano. No savior will save you from this foreign death. Those who used to talk about our rights have pawned their voice and those who could relieve us from this misery are themselves in chains in golden cages that were made for parrots.

Union Carbide’s Phosgene storage tank laughs at the fate of Bhopal and Bhopal is lost in Nero’s flute.

Union Carbide established the demon MIC plant in 1980 after obtaining its license in 1977 and it has played with many lives since then. Some time back 24 people were hanging between life and death due to Phosgene leak and after suffering for several months are back fighting death to earn their bread.

In 1967 – 68 when Union Carbide was established, the site of the factory was outside the municipal limits. The area later was brought within the municipal limits and in 1975 the then Administrator of the Municipal Corporation Mr. Mahesh Neelkanth Buch served a notice on Carbide asking them to relocate their factory outside the municipal limits. Before Mr. Buch could take any steps, because of the strong ‘fate line’ of Carbide he was transferred and the matter was buried and at the same time as per a deal, the General Manager of Carbide at the time Mr. C S Ram donated a sum of 25 thousand Rupees to build the Vardhaman Park. Thus the notice was sent to the freezer.

This matter dates back to 1977 when the erection of the MICplant began and to 1980 when the plant started operations. Prior to this, this chemical used to come from the corporation’s plant in the USA.

Accidents began in the plant from the time it started. Many accidents were covered up. On December 26, 1981 Mohammed Ashraf was killed due to leakage of Phosgene gas while he was working in the Carbon Monoxide plant. This situation continued and in January ‘82, Phosgene leaked once again during the visit of the President of the Agricultural Products Division of Union Carbide from USA that led to acute sickness of 24 persons who had to be hospitalized and for many months the workers suffered.

Right after they got out of the hospital the workers went back to their fight with death.

In our last issue we had informed about the threat posed by this factory to the entire city and the hazards for the workers. Phosgene gas that was used by Hitler in his gas chambers and that is used for the production of Methyl Isocyanate is stored in a tank in this factory and if that leaks or explodes it will take one to one and half hour for the death of the entire population of this city.

The dangers of Phosgene are described in the Phosgene Unit Operating Manual of Union Carbide that has been written by M/s P K Behl, S P Chowdhary, C R Aiyar and S Khanna and reviewed by Mr. K D Ballal.

The four feet wide six and half feet long Phosgene Storage Tank built with steel contains 460 gallons of gas at one time. According to experts, it is quite possible that the gas is corroding the tank from inside and there is no way to know. The city will perish for sure and there is no power that can save the people of this city.

The above Manual states that this gas dissolves in air in a few seconds and ordinary people can not recognize this. It smells of fresh cut hay.

While this threat on human lives continues to loom over us our leaders, officials, our government and other people choose to be silent. But the silence has its reason. Union Carbide pays for this silence.

According to reliable sources Union Carbide has made a room of their Guest House in Shyamla Hills available to the Chief Minister on a permanent basis where he carries out his personal affairs. Usually he arrives there between 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock but he goes there at different hours too. Under such circumstances what has Carbide to fear?

There is an opposition party called Bharatiya Janata Party, whose leaders do not tire of talking of morality and principles but keep quiet when this matter comes to the fore. The reason is selfishness. In Union Carbide the Bharatiya Janata Party’s worker’s organization – Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh is sitting in the lap of the management and the Party too is heavily benefited by the company. This has also come from the mouths of their responsible officials and what else could be the reason for silence on this matter?

There is one hospital in this city – Hamidia Hospital. The senior doctors of this hospital are like the moon and the stars to reach whom you need an Apollo or lunar Module. Those with Apollos reach them and thousands and thousands of patients can only see them in the manner prescribed by Yashoda* – in their reflection in a water filled pot and die in the hope of seeing them. For these moons and stars Carbide not only has the Apollo it recently gifted two imported machines to this hospital. Given this why won’t they choose to be silent?

This is an awful conspiracy against humanity. People who are busy with their own affairs are unmindful. Those who know, remain silent. Death is creeping in. For now Bhopal sleeps, till the next morning and possibly to never get up some morning.

Published by Rajkumar Keswani, Printed at Bhoomika Printers, Hawamahal Road, Bhopal. Editor, Rajkumar Keswani Telephone 76156

* Yashoda : mother of Krishna, who advised the 16000 consorts of her son (the ‘divine lover’) to satisfy themselves with his reflection in their waterpots. (note and article translation, 2005, Satinath Sarangi)

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The Peoples' Movement in Bhopal (1994)
Longtime Bhopal activist Satinath Sarangi describes the early evolution of people's movements in Bhopal.

The collective response of the survivors over the last ten years appears to have gone through three distinct phases - spontaneous protests in the immediate aftermath; organization under middle class leaders for the following two years; and finally the formation of survivor led organizations.

Spontaneous Protests
Spontaneous protests started with an angry march and a gathering of over one thousand survivors at the factory gates of the Union Carbide on the morning of the disaster. They had hardly any information on who was running the factory and how, and even less on its hazardous nature. When the marchers reached the factory a decision was taken to burn it down. The factory officials in panic spread a rumor that the gases had started leaking again. In confusion, the crowd fled away from the factory in an re-enactment of the previous night's mass panic. Spontaneous collective protests, mostly leaderless, continued in different communities without any overall inter-community organization. In small groups, survivors demonstrated at government offices calling for medical care, monetary assistance and immediate hanging of the killers of Bhopal whose names, and particularly that of the chairman of the corporation, were widely known within the first three days.

With the declaration of Operation Faith - the neutralization of the remaining toxic chemicals - there was once again widespread fear and chaos from December 10, 1984. Over 400,000 survivors left Bhopal in less than two days. Small numbers opted to stay at the government relief camps set up in new Bhopal. The camps provided a place for the survivors from different communities to come together and protest against the near-absence of government efforts to provide relief and care. Hundreds of people marched to the governor's residence on December 16 and then again two days later. A small number of Bhopal activists played a role in facilitating collective decisions and action. By the end of the month these activists were to arrogate more powers to themselves and initiate the second phase of the movement in Bhopal in which spontaneous protests found encouragement only on rare occasions.

Organized Response
Within the first week of the disaster, about thirty individuals with varying leftist persuasions met in two groups to found two organizations - Nagarik Rahat Aur Punarvas Committee (NRPC) and the Zahreeli Gas Kand Sangharsh Morcha (ZGKSM or Morcha for short) with distinct agendas. Though a few locals were involved in the founding of the organizations, out of town and new-Bhopal activists played a dominant role in outlining the respective “politics” of the organizations. For NPRC, provision of relief and rehabilitation was to be the main issue. The Morcha, or more correctly its leaders, stressed the need for a political organization of the survivors that would take up issues of justice, access to scientific information, medical care, and legal intervention. Though there was reason and space for both organizations to co-exist and support each other's work, internecine conflicts started brewing from their inception.

Survivor-led Organizations
Left to fend for themselves after the exodus of the middle class leaders and activists, the survivors were soon to organize themselves to continue with the struggle in Bhopal. Initially concerned with immediate problems of jobs, pensions for destitutes and regularizing of employment at rehabilitation centers, the four organizations that formed were soon to take up medical care, monetary relief, criminal liability, compensation, environmental rehabilitation and corruption by government officials as their rallying points. The organizations grew in strength and effectiveness and two of them - Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan and Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha - had over 100,000 members within the first two years of their formation.

While these organizations resembled the earlier ones in size, range of concerns and ability to pressure the government, as things turned out, their resemblance did not end there. In fact, these organizations resembled traditional Indian extended families in many of their features and their leaders had even less respect for democratic functioning. Conflicts between organizations grew as their leaders competed with each other to be the sole representative of the survivors. In contrast with organizations formed earlier, women outnumbered men several times over. Defying traditions of their respective religions and family bondage, Muslim and Hindu women survivors played an active and sustained role in the organizations. However, the two largest organizations came to be dominated by men with few scruples about usurping female power for their personal glory.

Conscious of the need for research, documentation and monitoring activities as they were, the survivors' organizations in the third phase did not have the necessary skill and training to be able to carry them out. Dissemination of information was limited to the minimum required for immediate mobilization of people around particular issues. The involvement of a large number of women presented the possibility of organizing their wide ranging production skills into income generating cooperatives. However, the organizations chose to depend upon and pressure the government into providing jobs to the Bhopal survivors. Even the closure of the sewing centers by the government in July 1992, did not prompt any initiatives for helping survivors to become self-supporting. With time the two major organizations became involved with party politics and the popular response to the disaster was almost back to the traditional politics of Bhopal.

Given these serious shortcomings, the later day survivors' organizations have had significant achievements. Much needed monetary assistance from the government, modification of the infamous settlement order, withdrawal of criminal immunity from Carbide and its officials and most government relief and rehabilitative measures have been made possible through their legal and extralegal interventions. Above all, through their continuing marches and rallies demanding justice and a better deal for the survivors, they have kept Bhopal alive in the public mind.

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Sambhavna Clinic
In this article, written in 2005, Arvind Rajogopal interviews many of those who work at the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, and reflects on what he learns.

I was trying to begin this essay for while but for some reason I was unable to; I kept postponing it. The interviews I did with people were very interesting, but I did no more than record them. I wasn't sure what I had to say about them, or I did not know how to say what I thought. I knew that as a founding person, Sathyu's influence was crucial, but I had not really interviewed him. Moreover, I knew Sathyu as a friend, and thought it was not appropriate to write about him for that reason. But this became too inconvenient. I had to discuss him too, since there is a philosophy at work in the clinic that comes partly from Sathyu, although how it takes shape is the work of many minds and hands.

To give you an example.

My first visit to the clinic was about three years ago. I was asked to speak to the staff about my research, a request made of visitors, I was told, if they came during a Tuesday committee meeting. To my surprise, the discussion that followed was a challenging one. People did not share all my assumptions, which was to be expected. But they were able to translate their doubts into a friendly verbal exchange, which is more rare. The most incisive question came from Ramesh Mishra, who officiated as chowkidar. (Later, I came to know he was more lucid and articulate than most about the clinic's work.) Two of the young women on the staff, I later learned, had also borrowed a copy of my book to read. Intellectual discussion was a custom at the clinic. This also meant that there was a channel of communication not restricted to bosses issuing orders and servants making demands. Staff could make criticisms and share their opinions with each other in the bosses' presence. Subsequent inquiry confirmed that what I had witnessed was part of the organisational culture. Empowerment was built into the clinic's functioning as a part of its routine process. It was not merely well-packaged charity, or the mantra of a year-end report.

This August, on another visit, I had just arrived at the clinic and was sitting on the bench in the corridor. Pranay came in, carrying a couriered letter for Sathyu from the Supreme Court advocate Murali. He opened the letter and read it, and told Rachna, who just then came in, and they began an animated discussion on the implications of Murali's letter. It concerned the Supreme Court's constitution of a committee supervising compensation relief. Different gas victims' organizations had taken varying initiatives on the matter, and of course, each initiative had a story to it. Pranay and Rachna discussed the letter and its implications in detail.

Two people in the clinic had opened another person's mail, and proved completely conversant with its subject. I recounted this story to Kishore Joshi, one of the clinic's lawyers, and he remarked, "This is transparency." I think he is right.

Sathyu is the point of contact in Bhopal for many organizations outside the city. It is therefore important that others can read his mail. It enhances their sense of trust in the organisation. But what I saw was not done in a spirit of surveillance. It is true that there are strict rules overseeing the clinic's functioning, carefully monitored by elected committees. But no process stipulated that workers open each other's mail.

Modern management systems demand documentation of processes to enhance an organisation's functioning and to render it replicable. But there is something different and something extra at Sambhavna Trust. Perhaps all the rules are written down somewhere. But it has become a part of the culture at the clinic to trespass on all formal boundaries. No rank, no hierarchy, no Chinese walls of secrecy and no groupism. People break rules that are not yet made (is there a stipulation so far against opening other's mail?) and keep others in the collective well-informed. Individuals in the clinic know enough about each other's duties to be able to assist them when necessary.

To disregard rank is all very well. But how do you make people commit to something that is greater than themselves?

The staff of the clinic are all friends with each other. They are committed to making other people understand what the clinic does. Several of the staff are themselves gas victims.

Jeevan Shinde used to be an autorickshaw driver. He was ferrying people around on the night of the disaster, not realizing how poisonous the gas was. Once many years later he came to drop his son off at Satyam Convent, where the boy studied. He noticed the clinic across the road, and became acquainted with it. He volunteered his services. As a gas victim himself, he was happy to help other victims. After six months, he became "permanent." A native Marathi speaker whose family has lived in Bhopal for generations, he has no identification with the state of Maharashtra. Or indeed, that of Madhya Pradesh, in which state Bhopal is the capital. Rather it is with his new environment and work. "I am in the State of Sambhavna," he says laughingly in English, "with those people who come and go here."

Diwakar is a Community Health Worker. We go to the bastis and do health surveys, he says. We give them medical advice. When we go there, we have to be with the people. We cannot keep a barrier between us. When they offer us water or tea we cannot say no. We can't keep ourselves apart from them. I ponder the implications of what he is telling me. As health workers, they are not only guests of the communities they work in, but also potentially hosts to a variety of diseases. Accepting this fact makes them quite different from other health workers in Bhopal. (Speak to doctors in any of the clinics around JP Nagar for instance, and they will tell you that gas victims are malingering for profit. What they mean of course is that they are pursuing their own profit.) To put themselves at the same level as their patients means they are open to learning from them, and are not simply administering drugs. To regard their relationship as an ethical one rather than as merely an occupational hazard means they take responsibility for what they do. What doesn't kill them would be a test of their resolve. It may make them stronger, and not just add them to the pool of victims.

He mentions a study that his group has undertaken, and Jeevan Shinde, who is also sitting at the table with us, lights up at the news. Are the results out yet, Jeevan wants to know. What do they indicate? He asks Diwakar.

I used not to talk very much, Diwakar says. That became difficult in my work, since I have to go and meet people. Now I have learned to talk. (He laughs quietly.)

Jamela Bee helps to keep the clinic clean and organised. She is shy and soft-spoken, and she laughs gently. She used to work in 4-5 households doing housework. She got attached to the pathology lab at the clinic, and now does all the cleaning work there, as well as in the rest of the clinic. She likes the way people talk to each other here, the way patients are treated. The patients can sit and wait comfortably, and are spoken to with respect, she says.

He is in charge of the committee overseeing the construction of the new clinic and community hall. He used to run an STD booth, and then moved to work at the clinic when it started eight years ago. He has a college degree but no specialisation. This is an age of specialisation, he points out. The clinic is wonderful for diverse kinds of training, but without specialisation, one is not well-placed to find another job. With a wife and a child on the way, he is in no mind to move just now, but questions of security are very much on his mind. What if the funding for the clinic fails what will happen, he asks.

Kamal Yadav
He works in the dispensary, and also administers ECG, injections, and oxygen among other things. He has completed 8 years at the clinic in September 2004. At first there used to be only allopathy and ayurvedic treatment, he says. Two years thereafter, there was added treatment for mental health problems, gynecological problems ("gynec") and panchakarma.

At first we only administered branded medicines, Kamal says. He began to visit stockists, talking to them, as well as to visiting doctors, to find generics which he could use to replace the branded drugs. At present, all the branded medicines for which generic substitutes are available have been replaced. The average cost of medicines distributed per month is about 40,000 rupees, he estimates, about 30% of it going to Ayurvedic drugs.

To simplify matters, the clinic has devised picture-based instructions on pill-taking for those who cannot read. About 40 to 50% of those who come to the clinic cannot read, he estimates. Those above 60 tend to be illiterate, he says.

I've acquired self-confidence working here, Kamal says. Now I feel that I too can do something. I did not have this feeling before. Now I have seen that I can run a store. I can talk to people and get things done.

Kalol Datta
A computer systems expert, he has known Sathyu since 1990. They had a mutual friend who repaired computers, and gradually he came to know Sathyu. They were good friends. Then two years ago he asked if he could help with the computers here. He could do my job in the evening, and work here in the daytime. It's good to have meetings and discussions. We had five social work students coming and we discussed what work we could give them. It would not have been so good if one person had decided. Here every person had to offer their suggestions.

Sanyog Bhatt, Accountant
30 people came for a written test, in response to an ad Sambhavna published. Sanyog got 71, and the next highest was about 40. The test had accounting problems as well as practical problems of what one would do given concrete situations in the clinic. Then there was an interview but it was a formality. Sanyog has been here for about 2 months. "There is no tension here. You can get work done in this environment," he remarks.

Alka Pingale, masseuse
She used previously to work in the Yoga Naturopathy Hospital, for 4 years, with the ayurvedic physician Dr Deshpande and with Dr. Amita Gupta, who is now the pathologist at Sambhavna. She came here in 8 years ago. There is only one kind of massage, but there are several kinds of treatment, she says. The massage lasts about 10 minutes, and steam for about 2-3. If the weather is hot, they reduce the time, and if it is cold, they increase it a little. The cost of the materials they use in massage, including oils, herbs, steam, must add up to at least 10-15 rupees, she estimates.

"I like to be at the clinic more than at home," she remarks. "I always feel I should reach work quickly."

She has now been elected as the head of the day-to-day committee. If people are leaving earlier or when they show up to work late, they have to get her permission. And no, she doesn't always give it either.

"There is a lot to learn here," Alka says. "We have a good relationship with patients. First I thought the clinic was small. I didn't think it would survive long. Now I see that (she nods slowly) the work is very good."

Ramesh Mishra
From Amethi, UP. Has worked at clinic sinnce its beginning. He used to be at the STD booth with Prannay and Divakar. He used to have three jobs to make the money he now makes quite comfortably in one job. You can tell this has made a lot of difference to him.

I used to be given work like a servant do this, and keep doing it till we tell you something else. I like to work here. There is no boss-giri. Here you are given work, but you have to decide how to do it. I will think about the job and say this is how I think it should be done. Then Sathyu may say well these are the problems with doing it that way. Then I will have to think some more. So as I do the work I learn something new.

If a person has TB we have to make him understand that he can infect a lot of people in his mohalla. Uddeshya and Lakshya for us eliminate TB, and help people to help themselves. Make ourselves marginal. To remove TB, we have to think about the environment, not just the individual. This idea that he has TB, keep him separate if he has TB, others are also likely to get TB. He worked as a projectionist at Bhopal Talkies for 4 years. There is pride in the clinic, in how we do work. We treat out patients well you see how they are treated in the hospitals.

Amita Gupta, Runs Pathology Lab
Was with Alka, Dr Deshpande, Kamal between 1992 and 95. Sept 96 she came here. Here a person's responsibility is his alone. He can do all the hansi-mazaak he likes, but the work is what is important. It doesn't matter if you are an 8th class pass or a PhD. There are no formalities here, you can talk to anybody. I had an Msc when I came here, and did a PhD and also had two babies while here. 4.5 months maternity leave is available, and also 15 days paternity leave. I have learnt things pathology, and now cytology - cytology is very interesting. 15 day periods when Francois, a doctor from France, comes and teaches. Obviously it is not enough I cannot get trained in this way. Pathology lab not enough we need microbiology (to tell what kind of bacteria are in the urine, e.g.), and also endocrinnology facilities. After working in a place like this it would be very difficult to work anywhere else.

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Sean Zager
My experience as a volunteer at the Sambhavna Medical Clinic in Bhopal
3rd year medical student, University of Michigan Medical School

In July, 2003, I found myself amid the ill Bhopali survivors almost 20 years after the chemical gas leak of Union Carbide (now Dow Chemical) that killed 8000 people that night and well over 20,000 people since. I found myself also surrounded by an unparalleled group of dedicated physicians, compassionate Ayurvedic healers, human rights activists, and international volunteers who so warmly welcomed me into their family. Though I had only finished my first year of medical school, I was surprised at how much I could offer whether in terms of medical assistance, computer or community research, or manual labor in the medicinal garden. Once I was there, these efforts were the only cost I had to bare as the meals and guest house stay (at which I met such a diverse group of people with so much to share) were essentially free of charge. My volunteer efforts were only a pleasure as I slowly found ways to reach out to the community and become a part of their cause.

I look back at my time in Bhopal as the most valuable weeks of my life. While I worked hard every day to contribute to the clinic's medical care, I received so much there -- relationships, protests, models of health care that I will carry with me throughout my career. We all know that medicine is an inherently humanistic endeavor. Still, it was not until I became a volunteer at Sambhavna that I realized what could be accomplished with such an integrative system of health care and strong commitment to the preservation of human rights. It was not until I knew Bhopal that I knew what it meant to find freedom in aiding a community whose freedom has been so terribly threatened. Sambhavna translates from Hindi as 'compassion,' and I could not have learned more about compassion in medicine from any other teachers on the planet.


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Bhopal Memorial Hospital & Research Centre
In July 2005, disaffected doctors and other staff, sick of alleged financial irregularities in the management of the hospital, asked for better pay and conditions for lower paid staff and demanded that the management provide a proper responsible service to the gas victims for whose benefit the hospital is supposed to exist. The management's response was to summarily close the hospital and expel the doctors and other staff from the premises. Already three patients are known to have died as a direct result of the interruption of their treatment. On July 5, 2005, seven employees of BMHRC began a hunger fast, and these are their stories.

Staff Nurses: Pushpa Mariana (F), Mukesh Kumar (M)
I (Pushpa) have been working at BMHT since October 2003 as a senior nurse. In one month I work 8 night duties for 12 hours and the remaining days of the month the duty is for 6 hours. In ICU there are 3 nurses to 1 patient whereas it should be 1 nurse to 1 patient. In my neurology ward I look after 30 patients whereas it should be 6 patients to 1 nurse. Due to this we are not able to provide quality care to the patients, because we are not only overworked, but severely understaffed. It is the gas victims who suffer because we cannot ignore the private patients as we have been told by our supervisor. The quality of care being given to gas victims gets compromised. There is no orientation given to us regarding the Bhopal Gas Tragedy or problems that victims suffer from. Our wards are also not fixed, and we are moved from one ward to another as needed whether we have experience in handling patients in that specific ward. If a patient has to undergo a CT scan then a private patient will be given a appointment right away, but a gas victim will have to wait. Pushpa has had to pay for Thermometer, Torch and Scissors, which went missing during her shift.

The starting pay for staff nurse is Rs 3000 and Rs. 5000 if you have more than 3 years of experience. Even the driver who drives the DG’s car gets paid Rs 3000. If a private patient undergoes a surgery and the cost of the surgery is Rs 100,000, only the senior consultants get an incentive cut out of that money. In the contracts of the new joiners, it says that you get 30 paid days off (earned leave), but in reality, if they take those days off in the first year, their salaries will get deducted for those days. They also get 12 casual leave days per year, but in reality, if they take more than 3 days in a row, their salary gets deducted. All new joiners are promised 20% house rent allowance at the time of appointment, but in practice, single men and women are refused this allowance. All employees are also forced to spend 700 Rs. Per month on the compulsary meal plan. They have to eat from the mess hall which serves inadequate and horrible food. When any of us complain about these conditions, the Nurse Superintendant tells us to resign and leave.

Senior Resident: Dr. Shiv Sagar
I did a course in general surgery and joined BMHT because I thought it would be a great place to practice cardiology. I joined as a Senior Resident in Januray 2004. After a month of joining, a DNB (Diplomat National Board) course was introduced in the hospital. 6 people including me joined the course in March 2004. But in December 2004, a notice was issued by the administration that all participants in the DNB course would be paid a different (much lower) salary and that they would be considered students and not residents of the hospital – even though these 6 senior residents were doing all the regular work in addition to the course. This shift in pay scale is NOT according to DNB guidelines – it is an arbitrary decision by management. DNB issued guidelines to level the pay nationally, but the BMHT management used this as an excuse to reduce everyone's salary. In January 2005, my salary went from 13,500 Rs. To 11,000 Rs., and many others went all the way down to 8,500 Rs. We have been meeting with the Director General every single week about this issue, but nothing has happened. He continually tells us that “we will clarify with the senior administration,” etc. The 6 residents have refused to accept salary since January to protest the cut.

My daily schedule from Monday – Saturday in Cardio-Thorasic Surgery:
8:30 am – make rounds in ICU and General Ward
9-4 pm – Operation in OT – I take no break, just quick lunch inside OT
4 pm – Shift patients to ICU
4 pm – 8 am (next morning) – Because I am the only senior resident left in the whole department, I stay overnight to watch the patients until the next morning... so I end up eating, sleeping in ICU.
Sundays – if I have an ICU patient, I will stay on Sunday as well, otherwise I go home.

Endoscopy Technician: Mr. O.S. Farouqi
I have been working in BMHT since 2001 in the Gastroentology Unit. Even though my duty is from 9-5 pm, I stay for 12 hour shifts because of the lack of staffing. There are only 3 other technicians that work with me. I alone perform 15-20 endoscopys per day (one normal endoscopy takes 30 minutes). After 2 pm, I carry out other procedures like coloscopys. When I started, I received 3,000 Rs. and now I am receiving 4,000 Rs/month. If there is an emergency, I will be called from campus even if I have just finished 12 hours of work. I am unable to take any time off becaue of the work load, plus there is no pay or extra days off for overtime. If a private patient comes, a report has to be made right away, but if a gas patient comes, we are not under the same pressure.

Computer Operator – Registration Desk: Ms. Priya Varma
I joined BMTH in 2002 and I register all the patients that come into the clinic. I am always on a week-to-week rotation and never have a set time to work. I am not only responsible for registration, but also for collecting and counting cash by hand – and paying out of pocket for any cash that is missing. For example, if a patient is paying 150,000 Rs. for a surgery in 10 Rs. note increments, I have to count every single note. We see about 700 people/day, so naturally as the work load increases, mistakes are bound to happen. Recently I personally have put in 600 Rs. of my own cash, and my colleagues have put in somewhere between 3-5,000 Rs. My salary right now is 3,670 Rs. If we work overtime (no matter how much), we get one day off but no money – and the time off has to be taken within one month. In reality however, we can never take time off because of the workload, so we end up working more overtime, and it just goes on in a vicious cycle.

Pharmacist: Sashi Kant
I have been working at BMTH since January 2005. There are only 2 pharmacists who dispense medications to 600 gas-affected patients/day. We are supposed to work from 9-5 pm but we end up staying until 9 pm, and working a 12 hour shift. We only dispense medicine until 5 pm, but then are required to enter everything into the computer. We can never take time off because one person would go crazy dispensing medicines to so many people. I think we need at least four people for the job. The quality of care we give to patients is definitely compromised because of the workload. I get paid 4,000 Rs./month.



(1) S. Sriramachari, ‘The Bhopal Gas Tragedy: An Environmental Disaster’, Current Science 86(7), 10 April 2004.

(2) Compensation Disbursement: problems and possibilities. Bhopal Group for Information and Action, Bhopal, January 1992.

(3) Health Effects of the Toxic Gas Leak from the Union Carbide Methyl Isocyanate Plant in Bhopal. Indian Council of Medical Research, Ansari Nagar, New Delhi, May 2004, p. 50.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Minutes of the meeting of the Scientific Advisory Committee for Bhopal Gas Disaster Research Centre held on 16.8.88 at Bhopal.

(6) Letter to the Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research from Professor N.R. Bhandari, Chief Investigator, ICMR Project, 1 December 1990.

(7) Nishant Ranjan, Satinath Sarangi, V.T. Padmanabhan, Steve Holleran, Rajasekhar Ramakrishnan, Daya R. Varma, ‘Methyl Isocyanate Exposure and Growth Patterns of Adolescents in Bhopal’, Journal of American Medical Association 290(14), 8 October 2003.

(8) Evaluation of Some Aspects of Medical Treatment of Bhopal Gas Victims. Bhopal Group for Information and Action and Socially Active Medicos, Indore, August 1990.

(9) Rajiv Bhatia and Gianni Tognoni, ‘Pharmaceutical Use in the Victims of the Carbide Gas Exposure’, International Perspectives in Public Health, Volumes 11 & 12, 1996.

(10) The Bhopal Gas Tragedy: 1984 – ? A report from the Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal, November 1998.

(11) A. Gupta, S. Durgavanshi and I Eckerman, Effects of yoga practices for respiratory disorders related to the Union Carbide gas disaster in 1984. XVI World Congress of Asthma, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 17-20 October 1999, pp. 83-87.

(12) Medical Relief and Research in Bhopal: the realities and recommendations. Medico Friend Circle, February 1985.

(13) Rani Bang, Effects of the Bhopal Disaster on Women’s Health: an epidemic of gynaecological diseases. Mimeograph, 1985.

(14) Medical Survey on Bhopal Gas Victims Between 104 and 109 Days After Exposure to MIC Gas. Nagarik Rahat aur Punarvas Committee, March 1985.

(15) The Bhopal Disaster Aftermath: an epidemiological and socio-medical survey. Medico Friend Circle, October 1985.

(16) Storm in Bhopal Over Ad on Gas-hit Girls, The Times of India, 1 June 1999.

(17) Letter from Alka Sirohi, Principal Secretary, Government of Madhya Pradesh, Department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation, to N.C. Gupta, Joint Secretary (Bhopal), Ministry of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, 9 July 2001.

(18) Personal communication from Dr P.M. Bhargava, 28 October 2003.

(19) The Bhopal Legacy. Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Exeter, November 1999.



The international student campaign to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal, and its other toxic legacies around the world.
For more information about the campaign, or for problems regarding this website, contact
Shana Ortman, the US Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Last updated: April 30, 2008


"The year 2003 was a special year in the history of the campaign for justice in Bhopal. It was the year when student and youth supporters from at least 30 campuses in the US and India took action against Dow Chemical or in support of the demands of the Bhopal survivors. As we enter the 20th year of the unfolding Bhopal disaster, we can, with your support, convey to Dow Chemical that the fight for justice in Bhopal is getting stronger and will continue till justice is done. We look forward to your continued support and good wishes, and hope that our joint struggle will pave the way for a just world free of the abuse of corporate power."

Signed/ Rasheeda Bi, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Employees Union
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal