India may be singing praises of its rapid industrialisation, but the past cannot be buried easily.
History will not forget the night of December 2, 1984 – while the country slept, a tragedy unfolded in Bhopal that still haunts the nation. Stuck in the legal maze for justice, batting emotional hangovers, 32 years of struggle has not brought any relief to the people affected by the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.
The poisonous Methyl Isocyanate gas that leaked from a Union Carbide plant, brought upon a holocaust on the blissful sleep of the citizens of Bhopal. The disaster saw a casualty count that cannot be shrugged off till today. About 4000 people were killed within just a couple of days of the leak. The next few days saw a surge in the death toll to nearly 15,287, due to the lingering aftereffects. The aftermath also led to a scourge that affected five lakh people.
Three decades have passed, but instead of justice, the aftermath of the deadly disaster still haunts the Bhopalis. The effects of 1984 destroyed generation after generation, crippling the brain and bodies of infants, while the old still carry scars of the disaster. The Sambhavna Trust Clinic is a health centre that provides free medical help to the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Congenital defects, cerebral palsy and cancer has been reported widely among children. The clinic studied that almost 2500 children are suffering from birth defects due to the exposure of their parents towards the lethal gases.
The second and the third generations are at a higher risk than the survivors of the tragedy. Unfortunately, the government does not take these abnormalities into consideration, provide any significant measures to combat these illnesses. For most families, the birth of a child is a reason to celebrate, but in these families, it comes as a shock and burden. The child’s birth defects add to their misery, and provide an added financial burden due to expensive medical treatments.
Around 350 tonnes of toxic waste lies in Bhopal near the disaster site, tainting the water and land; the government remains oblivious to these conditions. After the gas leak, the factory was locked up with all the hazardous substances left to rot. The cylinder that was the source of the whole calamity lies discarded, just meters away from the factory.
Bhopalis living in the area have no safe, pure drinking water. Life-risking chemicals have percolated through the water and polluted the underground water, along with the nearby water bodies. Surveys prove that the carcinogen in water is 1000 times more than the World Health Organisation’s limit.
The question of justice is long gone for the unmeasurable loss suffered by the people of Bhopal during this tragedy. The government could neither punish the culprits, nor could they provide atonement for the victims. Charges of manslaughter were filed against Warren Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide India, but he managed to flee the country. The Rajiv Gandhi government closed the case by settling for a compensation amount of $470 million. The amount, though seemingly large, when distributed between the endless families is at a bare minimal compensation.
Activists have protested and burnt the effigies of Warren Anderson and Uncle Tom. They raised questions against the Indian government and forced Dow Chemical, who purchased Union Carbide, to clean up the site and revise the compensation amount. Since the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan, no cleaning activity has taken place at the factory site, raising questions about negligence towards Bhopal. The NGOs and people are protesting for their past, present and the future.
Sources: Hindustan Times, Wall Street Journal, Daily O, Environmental Health Journal