Monday, November 12, 2007

Bhopal Gas Disaster Survivors Struggle

Shortly after midnight poison gas leaked from a factory in Bhopal, India, owned by Union Carbide Corporation. There was no warning, none of the plant's safety systems were working. In the city people were sleeping. They woke in darkness to the sound of screams with the gases burning their eyes, noses and mouths. They began retching and coughing up froth streaked with blood. Whole neighbourhoods fled in panic, some were trampled, others convulsed and fell dead. People lost control of their bowels and bladders as they ran. Within hours thousands of dead bodies lay in the streets. Read a survivor's account of "that night". More background here.

All that was back in 1984. The government let the miscreants get away, and also made a deal with Union Carbide as compensation for those who died that night. The survivors today have a fight of a different nature altogether, as they fight the contamination, the water borne handicapping diseases, physical malformations, societal stigma, hunger, poverty -- it never ends. I visited Bhopal in January of 2007 and met with the survivors and visited the contaminated factory site. It was a surreal experience. Folks are obviously in a bad state for resources. The ground water is badly contaminated and there is no other water available except once a week. The governmental promises about pipelines from nearby Kolar river have not been kept. The factory site is dilapidated and lot of chemicals still lie around, and with every rainy season, further deeply get entrenched into the water table of the area.

Despite all this, the Bhopalis will first smile, and then offer you a cup of chai and then ask you "Ab boliyen, kaise aana hua?" I'll add more details and links and stories here when I get more time.

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