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Survivor story – Bhopal Gas tragedy
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Survivor story – Bhopal Gas tragedy

 

A survivor story in spite of being expected to have a happy ending may sometimes leave a lingering sadness. Our story today is one such. Dr Jayshree. MS, a GDMO in DHS, Delhi recounts hers and her family’s tale of horror that fateful night- on the intervening night of 2nd 3rd December. 1984, Bhopal.  The night of that tragedy – the night of the disaster of Bhopal Gas tragedy.

Dr Jayshree who was pursuing her post graduate studies away from home received news the next day that there here had been a major gas leak in the Union Carbide Factory. Back then there were no cell phones for instant contact. The telephone lines were not working. (Probably jammed) Though she was worried to death and wanted to be with her family at the earliest, there was nothing she could do as her Faculty too had advised her against visiting home until it was safe as there were no proper reports of the situation back in Bhopal. After three restless days she finally reached Bhopal. It resembled a ghost town. The city smelled of death and despair.  The railway station was almost deserted. Coolies had many sad tales to tell- Of train load of people dying in their sleep: Of people, who were sleeping bliss fully unaware of the situation when it passed through and halted. There was one heroic story of a station master who on realizing the gravity of the situation valiantly attempted to signal all trains not to stop. He kept on at his post trying to contact stations to stop entering the city instead of fleeing and taking cover and in the process he lost his life. There were also unconfirmed stories of Para medics who were affected by the toxic gas while administering treatment as it was reported that they simply were at loss at the nature of treatment to be given and the antidote as there were no information about the gas that had leaked. Amidst these stories of horror she reached home but thankfully her family members were safe.

The Cold wintry night had saved her family and so were the other residents of the colony. They had slept with the windows tightly shut and were safely tucked in bed underneath thick blankets, when the toxic gas spread over the unsuspecting city. When the gas leaked it was reported that the alarms were not sounded and the workers fled the site immediately without activating the (almost non existent) emergency management systems… By the time the authorities were informed precious moments were wasted. It was a small consolation that the gas was denser and by early morning it had disappeared considerably.

The leak was controlled and the gas had settled down literally and thankfully dispersed or else the casualties would have been higher. The next morning there was death everywhere near the factory. Add to it some panic spreading rumors which sent the city in total chaos. Information network was not functioning properly. The city was simply not prepared for something of this magnitude even after having some close shaves earlier. After one week the city somewhat turned into normal but long term effects started showing up. There was food scarcity for one; secondly the symptoms of long term toxic effects of the gas were showing in the affected people. Relief was slow to come. Dr Jayshree‘s family were lucky in that no body suffered any damage. They had come out of it unscathed and safe and they were thankful to the almighty for it, but happy? … Can’t say… can’t be! At least not now, anymore!

  • Bhopal gas tragedy occurred on the night of December 3 or more precisely on the intervening night of 2nd and 3rd December at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal.
  • Around midnight there was there was a leak of methyl isocyanate(MIC) gas and other toxins from the plant, resulting in the exposure of over 500,000 people.
  • Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.[1] Other government agencies estimate 15,000 deaths.[2] Others estimate that 8,000 died within the first weeks and that another 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.[3][4]
  • Another 100,000 to 200,000 people are estimated to have permanent injuries.[4]
  • Warren Anderson, the then Chairman of Union Carbide Corporation of USA, was allowed to escape India and is still an absconder and did not not subject himself to trial.
  • Greenpeace asserts that as the Union Carbide CEO, Anderson knew about a 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant, which identified 30 major hazards and that they were not fixed in Bhopal but were fixed at the company’s identical plant in the US.
  • 26 years after the world’s worst industrial disaster that had left over many thousands of  people dead, a local court had  convicted all the seven persons, including former Union Carbide Chairman Keshub Mahindra, in the case and awarded them a maximum of two years imprisonment while the erstwhile CEO lives a free man in US.

Value of human life:

  • After the accident, no one under the age of 18 was registered. The number of children exposed to the gases was at least 200,000.[4]
  • Immediate relief was decided two days after the tragedy.[4]
  • Relief measures commenced in 1985 when food was distributed for a short period and ration cards were distributed.[4]
  • Widow pension of the rate of Rs 200/per month (later Rs 750) was provided.[4]
  • One-time ex-gratia payment of Rs 1,500 to families with monthly income Rs 500 or less was decided.[4]
  • Each claimant was to be categorised by a doctor. In court, the claimants were expected to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that death or injury in each case was attributable to exposure. In 1992, 44 percent of the claimants still had to be medically examined.[4]
  • From 1990 interim relief of Rs 200 was paid to everyone in the family who was born before the disaster.[4]
  • The final compensation (including interim relief) for personal injury was for the majority Rs 25,000 (US$ 830). For death claim, the average sum paid out was Rs 62,000.[4]
  • Effects of interim relief were more children sent to school, more money spent on treatment, more money spent on food, improvement of housing conditions.[4]
  • The management of registration and distribution of relief showed many shortcomings.[37]
  • In 2007, 1,029,517 cases were registered and decided. Number of awarded cases were 574,304 and number of rejected cases 455,213. Total compensation awarded was Rs.1,546.47 crores.[38]
  • Because of the smallness of the sums paid and the denial of interest to the claimants, a sum as large as Rs 10 billion is expected to be left over after all claims have been settled.[4]

Source: Wikipedia

0 17 June, 2010 Survivors June 17, 2010

About the author

She is a Doctor by profession , working in Delhi. Loves traveling, mind games and playing with words… And also the chief-co brewer of GingerChai. She is the chief brewer of some of the interesting categories you see in GingerChai. Follow @manishalsam

View all articles by Mani Padma

27 comments

  1. Sameer

    Its a shame on then Indian govt for let off the hook Anderson. The compensation makes a mockery out of the deaths and affected and 25 years of legal battle is a judicial shame.

    Reply
  2. Lazy Pineapple

    If such an incident had happened in US..union carbide would have faced class action lawsuits and would have probably gone bankrupt paying off the victims..

    This hypocrisy when it comes to lives of people from developing nation is to be completely blamed on our government and officials who let Anderson escape.

    Look at OBAMA and the BP oil Spill..they are making so much of a hue and cry…we should learn to show some respect for our own citizens

    Reply
    1. Sir Pumpkin Lonshanks

      Hue and Cry? You are quite mistaken. I know this article is about the Bhopal Gas trag. but there is no hue and cry being raised about the BP oil spill here in the US. Obama took nearly 2 months to address the issue and that too in a non-committal manner. The guy’s ratings are at an all time low and with nearly 3/4th of participants (over several hundreds of thousands) in a survey being completely miffed.

      So no. There is no hue and cry being raised here. It’s just a misconstruction of the news for a shock contrast value.

      Reply
  3. Sir Pumpkin Lonshanks

    Irrespective of nationality or religion, humanity breeds apathy. That’s what we are *good* at.

    Reply
  4. S.R.Ayyangar

    What is narrated by Dr. Jayshree is absolutely true.The new generation just can not imagine the horrific sight of Bhopal and the sufferers.I was in Jabalpur MP when this mishap happened.It is absurd to question now after 26 years as to who let off Anderson.When he was let off, no hue & cry was raised either by Media or political parties.Out of blue the court verdict came and now every body is in search of a scapegoat!

    Reply
  5. N. K. Mani

    I am a surviving victim of the gas tragedy still faced with multiple health problems. On that fateful night I was trying to help an elderly person who
    was almost dying before me with the result I was more exposed and continue to
    suffer. Now, 26 years after the tragedy, it seems to me that the political
    parties are more interested in bring down Anderson to India to face the trial
    that might take another 20 years to see the day of judgement, than to do
    something constructively to help the gas victims to alleviate their sufferings.
    Will Anderson who is 92 will survive to see day of judgement? Atleast I am
    sure I will not be alive the see the judgement.

    Reply
  6. Mani padma

    Sir, I appreciate your opinion and feelings and our prayers and support are with you all. Though I am not a firm believer in divine justice, I strongly believe that Anderson’s conscience will get to him

    Reply
  7. Sophia B. Liu

    This is a very informative blog post. I am a PhD student studying the use of social media for historically significant crises like the Bhopal gas leak. It is nice to read about a survivor’s story of what happened on the night of the gas leak and there after.

    I am also wondering if I can ask you questions about blogging especially on topics like the Bhopal disaster.
    Why did you blog about the Bhopal disaster?
    What do you hope people will take away from your blog post?
    What value do you think social media like blogs has for contributing to the collective narrative about historical disasters like Bhopal?

    Feel free to email your reply if that is better.

    Reply
    1. Mani padma

      Hi Sophiya. Welcome to Gingerchai. I appreciate and yes I will email my replies at the earliest. Here I would just like to put in that, over and above, our site serving as a platform for upcoming talented writers and forum for expressing one’s opinion, GC is also a social commitment. A commitment to our readers to inform, inspire and entertain. Thanks.

      Reply
      1. Sophia B. Liu

        Thanks for your reply and I look forward to the email. It is great to see that this site is social commitment. Does this also mean that there are multiple writers who collaborate and curate what they think is worth sharing?

        Thanks, Sophia

        Reply
        1. Mani padma

          Yes we do have multiple authors who are handling some important sections like Ambi in Spirituality, Sanjiv- he tries to fill in for lifestyle products and is at present doing automobiles. Rajan our chief editor handles features on current burning issues as well movie reviews. I am also doing a travel section while Usha is presently promoting up coming Indian music bands. We have Anney, Pumpkin, Gayatri, Pranjal our regulars who provide added spices and thoughtful bytes. We also have some Experienced bloggers on our Panel – Pramathesh, Divya, Ritu, Mudassar, upasana and of course Vidya Sury who write for us.

          Reply
          1. Sophia B. Liu

            Thanks for clarifying this. What a wonderful set of spices you have here :-)
            And thanks for the replies. I look forward to hearing your responses to my questions when you have the time. Cheers!

          2. Sophia B. Liu

            Thanks for clarifying this. What a wonderful set of spices you have here :-)
            And thanks for the replies. I look forward to hearing your responses to my questions when you have the time. Cheers!

  8. Sophia B. Liu

    Hi Mani,

    I have a quick request about using the information presented in this blog post and it would be great if you can reply back to me by Wednesday, September 22. Can you email me so that I can give you the details? I am mainly wondering if I should use your name or anonymize the information I use from this blog post. In the email, I can include background information about where I will be publishing this information and the other content about Bhopal that I include in this paper.

    Thanks, Sophia

    Reply
  9. Sam Kutty, Muscat

    I was a trainee journalist in Indore at the time of the holocaust. But visited Bhopal to know about the wherabouts of my cousin. I was an eye-witness to the aftermath. Human bodies kept at Hamdia Hopsital compound just like wood logs and stinking odour from scattered animal carcasses like….. Twenty-six years now. Memory is still alive. The victims of the biggest industrial accident are yet to receive succour. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy has been lost in the collective consciousness of the nation. Yes, life has to go on – we must offer prayers for the victims – but do spare a thought for those who lost their lives in their devotion to duty.

    Reply

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