A Tragedy to Remember

Agnes Krocha 

More than two decades have passed since one of the worst chemical disasters in history took place on that fateful night of December 2, 1984, in Bhopal. The actual scenario of what went wrong just after the midnight of December 2 or the morning of December 3, 1984 at the Bhopal plant which manufactured Carbaryl (Carbamate pesticide) using Methyl Isocynate (MIC) is not exactly known. But what became evident was the massive leakage of MIC somewhere in the plant on that chilly windy December night when the city of Bhopal was virtually asleep. Realizing the seriousness of the leakage the night shift workers tried to save the situation but in vain.

About an hour after the gas leakage the public siren was turned on but most of the residents got up not because of the siren but due to the irritation caused by the gas. People woke up coughing violently and with eyes burning as if chilly powder had been sprayed into them. They fled from their homes, some with families and many without families. They used whatever transport they could get. By 3 a.m. the main streets were jammed with and endless and uncontrollable stream of humanity. By that time hundreds of people were dead and many thousands were doomed to die over the next few hours and days. The worst victims were the children, unable to walk and breathe, they simply suffocated and died. For nearly a quarter of Bhopal’s population the city was transformed into a gas chamber that night. A bigger tragedy than that occurred was prevented by the presence of two lakes in the way of the gas cloud. A railway station close to the factory became a place where hundreds of sick and writhing people were found all around, on platforms, railway tracks and office rooms. Next morning thousands lay dead on the roads and in homes. Corpses with distended bellies were beginning to rot, attracting vultures and dogs. A grotesque awkward scene was that of carcasses of that of dead cattle and animal, all over the gas affected area, swollen up to sizes of elephants.

The death drama continued for days. Within a week about 10,000 people died, 1,000 became blind while more than one lakh people continue to suffer from various disorders. Within 10 days one lakh people left the city on the largest peace time exodus known so far in the region.

A medical survey held 100 days after the exposure revealed that out of 250,000 people exposed, 65,000 were subjected to severe medical disability (respiratory, eye, gastrointestinal, neuromuscular, gynecological symptoms) and 45,000 to mild to moderate medical disability. People suffering from breathlessness, sleeping and digestion problems became incapable of carrying on even light physical labor and unable to earn a living. Women were badly affected, the worst victims being pregnant women.

Twenty six years have passed by ever since the disaster in Bhopal took place. Yet it is told that thousands of survivors wake up everyday to the agonizing memory of the gas tragedy while the legal wrangling still tolls on in India. All the world’s systems of justice have not being able to bring to book those responsible for the mass murder and the victims have yet to get their rightful compensation.