India, gas leak, industrial disaster, Bhopal, Aletta Andre

On the night of 2nd of December in 1984 a gas leak from the American-owned Union Carbide factory killed thousands of people. 

Today there are at least 100,000 people living with gas-related illnesses.

A criminal case against the company has been going for years but the American company insists the matter was settled years ago.

As the 30th anniversary of the gas disaster approaches, people in Bhopal are gearing up for protest.

Here in JP Nagar, right next to the old, abandoned Union Carbide Factory, several dozens of people are getting ready to drive to New Delhi.

They will join around 1000 survivors in the capital to march on the parliament.

Firdouz and her mother Semida are part of the group.

“We are going for the gas tragedy rally, for compensation. We expect to get what we deserve.”

“We are going to claim our rights. It’s been more than 30 years, but nothing happened. We are sick and worried, they have not done anything about it. They should give us what we deserve. We are fighting for the rights of the whole of Bhopal.”

More than 500,000 victims have received on average around 400 US Dollars each.

But many victims such as Firdouz and Semida claim they were denied the money, because as slum dwellers they couldn’t prove their address.

The Indian government says higher amounts were given to severely ill and disabled people and everyone else gets treated for free at specially built government hospitals.   (Yes, true)

But the Delhi-bound protesters are demanding for an extra 1600 US Dollars for each surviving gas victim, more than 500,000 in total.

Just around the corner from the old Union Carbide Factory, in the middle of one of the gas affected slum areas is a health clinic.

It’s run by the Sambhavna Trust and has nearly 30,000 registered patients.

Shanaz Ansari who works here explains the common problems and how they threat them.

 “Respiratory problems, ocular problems, diabetes is more common, the cardiac problems are more common, hypertension is more common among the gas exposed population… This is our ayurvedic pharmacy. 200 species of plants we are growing here. Tumeric, ginger, hibiscus, aloe vera, tulsi….Because they are chemically exposed and if we give them more chemicals then definitely they will do some good, but some harm. So we are trying to treat them with traditional medical care.”

Zubeda Bee is one of the gas victims.  She lost several family members in the gas disaster, she and other relatives continue to have health issues – even the ones born after 1984.

“It felt like chilies were burning. Eyes started burning, there was smoke. We started coughing, and running. Eight people died. My husband, brother, daughter, nephew, daughter-in-law… after the gas. My heart rate increased and I have chest pain. We suffer and keep going to the hospital. And there is one who is born like that, my grandson, he cannot hold anything, he runs away, cannot speak also.”

In Bhopal there are still higher numbers of children born with birth deficits varying from blindness and growth issues to mental disorders. 

No research has been done to establish if this is the result of the ’84 gas cloud or the consumption of ground water, which reportedly continues to be contaminated by toxic waste seeping into the ground from the old Union Carbide Factory.

The Union Carbide Corporation, on its designated website, insists that the factory ground is the state government’s responsibility, and in any case not as contaminated as claimed by victims.

They also claim that the gas disaster was most likely the result of sabotage by an employee.
Back in JP Nagar, Navaab Khan calls over a loudspeaker for people to join the Delhi protest.

He, like most victims, believes that the disaster was caused by neglect and disregard of safety precautions by the company.

He wants the company and its management to be tried for homicide. Union Carbide Corporation never appeared in an Indian court, despite being summoned. It's then CEO in India, Warren Anderson, died last month in the US without having faced trial.

Most importantly, Navaab Khan says he never wants this to happen again.

“If Prime Minister Modi wants foreign companies to come it is good for employment. But they should take responsibility. If some incident happens, it should be clear who is responsible. Not like Union Carbide, they just ran away.  If you do business in India, you have to follow the rules. We don’t want such development, but development with responsibility.”

The 3rd of December in Bhopal will be marked with rallies, music, meetings and silent candle light marches.

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