The streets of Bhopal, India flooded with people as December 3 marked the three decade anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy. People were out on the roads, protesting against the world’s worst industrial disaster. They were carrying slogans, banners and candles remembering the victims who died in the incidence and also for those who survived, but were physically and mentally crippled for life.
During the protest, the survivals of Bhopal gas leak were demanding harsher punishments for those who were responsible for the incidence and more compensation for the victims. The people were remembering the pain and suffering of what happened 30 years ago. The incidence was more closely called industrial genocide rather than the accident which claimed the lives of thousands of people. According to a government estimate, almost 500,000 people were overall affected in one way or the other.
Thirty years ago in the middle of the night, a pesticide industry plant leaked almost 40 tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas into the air of Bhopal city that killed 4,000 people on the spot. The poisonous gas kept raising the death toll to 15,000 in total. The disaster is also rightly called as “Hiroshima of the Chemical Industry”.
No major investigation was conducted about the incidence as to what actually caused the leakage of poisonous methyl isocyanate in the factory of Union Carbide Corporation in Bhopal. The factory has been abandoned since then and it stands as a black twisted steel and distorted figure. Even after decades have passed, it is still leaking the poison in the air and many children born in the area suffer from birth defects.
People living in the surroundings of the abandoned factory have no idea that they are living in such a lethal environment which is consuming them every day. Even as the Bhopal tragedy reaches three decades, the government still has taken no serious steps to bring awareness to the people, to transfer poor residents to safer areas or to take any measures to stop continued leaking into the air.
The protesters displayed open resentment on lack of justice provided to the victims and their families. They especially showed anger on the then head of Union Carbide Corp, Warren Anderson, at the time of accident. They burned the effigies of Anderson who was liable to be tried on culpable-homicide charges but set free on bail and fled India, never to return.
Later on, the Union Carbide was bought by a company called Dow Chemical Corporation in a settlement with the government for $470 in 1989. Dow Chemical states that it holds no liability towards the accident as it bought the Union Carbide more than ten years later after the case was settled. The protestors claimed that the settlement is a shame and an insult on part of the government.
Although many of the sufferers of Bhopal tragedy were ignored and no major steps were taken for the accountability of the responsible, but many social activists and community workers have stepped up to provide remedies. The Sambhavana Clinic in Bhopal, established near the vicinity of the site of abandoned factory, provides physical and mental healing to the patients. Its most unique element is that it is operated by the survival of the tragic incident. Its philosophy lies in self-healing methods and in crafting own destinies for healthier and better life.
The incident has left people with many unanswered questions. Nobody has yet accepted the responsibility, nor any protective measures have been taken to ensure the safety against such incidents. People of Bhopal and all around India still look forward to justice as they remember and mark the three decade anniversary of the disaster.
By Atika Jilani