Sustained Outrage

Remembering the Bhopal Disaster

India Bhopal Gas
Children born with congenital diseases caused by the exposure of their parents to the gas leakage in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, participate in a candlelight vigil to pay homage to the people killed in the tragedy, in Bhopal, India, Monday Dec. 2, 2013. The Bhopal industrial disaster killed about 4,000 people on the night of Dec. 3, 1984. The death toll over the next few years rose to 15,000, according to government estimates. A quarter century later, many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children. Placard in foreground reads: “Tribute”. (AP Photo/Rajeev Gupta)

Twenty-nine years ago today, thousands of people were killed by a toxic leak at a Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India. As Kanawha Valley residents know, the Bhopal plant was a sister facility to the Institute, W.Va., Carbide plant that is now owned by Bayer CropScience.

For many years, local residents lived in fear of a Bhopal-type disaster here. They pointed to the Institute plant’s huge stockpile of methyl isocyanate, or MIC, the deadly chemical that leaked at Bhopal.  Luckily, nothing of that size or scale has happened. Smaller leaks, fires and explosions over the years have claimed workers’ lives. Pressure for Bayer to get rid of the MIC stockpile increased dramatically following an explosion and fire that killed two workers in August 2008. The Institute plant  came under new scrutiny after that, with a U.S. Chemical Safety Board report that provided the most telling look to date about the dangers the facility presented.

Then in March 2011, Bayer announced its landmark decision to never restart its MIC unit in Institute.

Today, on the other side of the world, survivors and others are remembering what happened back in 1984. The Times of India has several stories marking the anniversary. One piece, headlined No grooms for Bhopal gas victim girls, reports:

Fatima Bi, resident of Barkheda was just six years old when the Union Carbide gas tragedy struck on the intervening midnight of December 2-3, 1984. Today she is 35 years-old and hates family members for even uttering the word “marriage” in her presence. Her mother and two brothers tried to find her a suitable match but every prospective groom refused to marry her because she is a gas tragedy victim.

“They think marrying a gas girl victim would mean spending the boy’s entire life’s earnings on her medical treatment,” explained Fatima’s mother, Feroza Bi. “They are also afraid that a gas victim girl would give birth to deformed and disabled children. When we failed to get a match for her from Bhopal, we tried the other districts Raisen, Sagar, Burhanpur and Jabalpur. My daughter is overweight and the grooms’ relatives thought that too was because she inhaled the poisonous gas as a child.”

According to Fatima argued the grooms’ relatives would invariably ask her if she had any health problems. “I told them that I had the usual stomach and back pains sometimes when I worked on the household chores. But it all came down to my being a gas victim. In the end, the groom would refuse marriage because he was not prepared to take the responsibility of a gas affected victim.” Unemployed and living with her mother, Fatima said she does not regret her single status. “Other gas victim girls in the neighbourhood who got married have been deserted by their husbands. At least I didn’t have to suffer that humiliation.”

Kausar Jehan (33) of Jehangirabad is another gas victim woman who could not be married. She stitches clothes and works night and day sowing embroidery work on sarees to make her ends meet. In Karond, Laxmi Bai (40) daughter of Tulsiram says she has never dared dream of a fairy-tale handsome prince after she was blinded in the gas tragedy at the age of 11. Lying in her cot, she said that no one marries a blind gas victim girl. The government gives her a pension of Rs 150 for being a handicapped victim.

APTOPIX India Bhopal Anniversary

Survivors and their supporters sit next to photographs of the Bhopal gas disaster displayed during a protest on the anniversary of the tragedy near the Indian parliament in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. On this day in 1984, thousands of people died after a cloud of methyl isocyanate gas escaped from a pesticide plant operated by a Union Carbide subsidiary in Bhopal in central India. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Another story explains:

Ahead of 29th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas disaster, activist Abdul Jabbar said that victims are still struggling for medical and economic rehabilitation.

On the medical front, Jabbar said that Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) is still carrying out research on the effect of MIC gas on victims. He alleged that despite some Rs 60 crore being spent on medical relief, gas victims are yet to get adequate medical care. There are seven gas relief hospitals, 20 dispensaries which have 200 doctors along with some 1,500 support staff meant to cater to some 5.74 lakh gas victims and their dependents.

And another reports:

Just days before the 29th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Disaster of 1984, news came last Friday that no hearing took place at the Supreme Court on a curative petition filed by the central government to rectify the flawed settlement of 1989, and no further date had been fixed. The petition had been admitted by the apex court three years ago, on December 3, 2010. Not a single hearing has taken place since then.

Lost in a maze of litigation that stretches from the Supreme Court in Delhi to the MP high court in Jabalpur and down to the chief judicial magistrate in Bhopal, survivors and family members of the worst ever industrial disaster were baffled but resigned – they are exhausted and hopeless.

Nasreen Bi, was just 25 years old when poisonous gases broke out from the Union Carbide pesticide plant and drifted through sleeping Bhopal on the night of 2-3 December 1984. A grandmother now, she feels betrayed by all.

“The big political parties, the courts, the sarkari babus – they are all unconcerned of our plight. We have survived till today by our own fate, though weakened by the gas, and poor,” she says, breathless due to compromised lungs.

India Bhopal

In this Dec. 5, 1984 file photo, two men carry children blinded by the Union Carbide chemical pesticide leak to a hospital in Bhopal, India. An Indian court on Monday, June 7, 2010 convicted seven former senior employees of Union Carbide’s Indian subsidiary of “death by negligence” for their roles in the Bhopal gas tragedy that left an estimated 15,000 people dead more than a quarter century ago. (AP Photo/Sondeep Shankar, File)