Members of five organizations of survivors of the Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal took part in a rally with torches on the occasion of the International Workers’ Memorial Day. Several former employees of the Union Carbide factory and their relatives participated in the rally that was held near the statue of the Bhopal Mother, opposite the Union Carbide factory.
Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action said that according to the International Labour Organization, well over 2.3 million workers die every year from work related injuries or diseases. While the ILO reports a drop in work related injuries, there has been a dramatic rise in work related diseases in recent years. According to the Sarangi, reliable information on work related deaths and injuries are unavailable in India as 90% of the people who carry out hazardous work are unorganized workers. He said that an overwhelming majority of occupational deaths and diseases are preventable and their occurrence are most often corporate crimes of omission.
Balkrishna Namdeo of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha pointed out that there was a long history of workplace accidents before the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal that has killed over 25,000 Bhopalis. Following the death of Mohammad Ashraf in December 1981, 28 workers were exposed to phosgene in January 1982, three electrical workers were severely burned in April 1982, and four workers were exposed to methyl isocyanate in October of the same year. Risking their jobs, workers of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal had warned the neighbourhood population about the likelihood of a catastrophe.
Sazda Bano (widow of Mohammad Ashraf), who was part of the rally, said that she still cannot forget the fact that her husband died because he was not provided with appropriate safety equipment. She received a paltry compensation of Rs. 50, 000 from Union Carbide management, who blamed her husband of being reckless.
Several former contract workers of the Union Carbide factory, who were part of the rally, recalled many instances of serious injuries and diseases among contract workers that were never investigated by the factory inspectors. The organizations bemoaned the fact that the Indian government has learnt no lessons in occupational health and safety from the world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal.
Rashida Bi, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh
Nawab Khan, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha
Balkrishna Namdeo, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha
Satinath Sarangi, Rachna Dhingra, Bhopal Group for Information and Action
Safreen Khan, Children Against Dow Carbide
Photos by Sanjay Verma