Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The night that never ended

As the Copenhagen Summit Mulls measures to save the earth, victims of one of the world’s worst-ever industrial disasters continue to face apathy and injustice 25 years after the catastrophe, writes K Raghav Sharma

As the world meets in Copenhagen to save the earth and discuss climate change, carbon emissions and melting glaciers, the lives of many of Bhopal’s gas leak victims continue to be a never-ending nightmare. Fobbed off with inadequate compensation and left to grapple with severe disabilities and diseases, they are as good as dead – men and women who are paying for the sins of greedy multinationals, insensitive governments and a lethargic legal machinery.

Consider the case of Kiranbai. On the night of December 3, 1984, she delivered a baby boy. Even as the infant lay beside her, happiness eluded the mother and thousands of other residents of the city. They were fleeing, trying to escape from the deadly gas, methyl isocyanate, which had burst out from the Union Carbide plant. The gas didn’t spare the newborn. It seeped into his brain cells.

The boy born on the day of one of the world’s worst-ever industrial disasters is 25 years old today. But he is still a child. People call him Gasu. His real name, Chandrasekhar, is all but forgotten. “He lapses into illogical acts at times,” Kiranbai mourns. But there is nobody that she can turn to for solace.

The story of Kiran and her hapless son is a live illustration of the irreparable damage that corporate avarice and administrative collusion can wreak on mankind. For those who suffered on that fateful, frightful night and continue to suffer to this day, the Copenhagen Summit is akin to a cruel joke. The world is seeking to clean up its act after messing up the lives of these gas tragedy victims and is looking the other way. Will anyone speak up for their cause in Copenhagen?

Gasu is among countless children who have been left maimed, scarred and brain-damaged by the horrific gas leak. His friend, Akram Khan, unhappy at Gasu’s fate, has other things to bemoan. His father, Ibrahim, was sapped of all his energy by the deadly gas. His tummy bloated like a balloon and he lost his job. Life is a daily grind for him and his family. “I have no appetite and every day is living hell,” he told TSI.

Many children born later have also developed severe neurological diseases as a direct impact of the gas leak. Three-year-old Sakshi, sitting on the lap of her mother Babita Sahoo, is even unable to cry. A weak sound escapes from her lips when she tries. Sakshi can’t walk properly. “We have no money for her treatment and whatever I earn is spent on her,” Babita told TSI. To this day, the mental scars are visible everywhere. One still hears bizarre stories of how the entire state administration, including the then chief minister Arjun Singh, his ministerial colleagues and the senior-most bureaucrats, had fled the capital of Madhya Pradesh, leaving the trapped citizens to fend for themselves.

That night, Neelabai, a young woman, was taken to the cremation pyre in an unconscious state and petrol was poured on her body. But she returned to her senses in the nick of time and ran for her life. She was six months pregnant then. The pregnancy got aborted. Speaking to TSI, a deeply distressed Neelabai said, “If the disaster hadn’t happened, I would have had a child as old as you.” For her, the corridors of a hospital are second home. Six years after the tragedy, Neelabai received only Rs 50,000 as compensation.

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Source :
IIPM Editorial, 2009

An IIPM and Professor Arindam Chaudhuri (Renowned Management Guru and Economist) Initiative

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