The gas tragedy is a permanent presence in the lives of victims. It continues to scar them and their future generations even three
decades later. Those who were not physically harmed continue to be haunted by its memory
A lone survivor fighting after effects
Shama Bi is as old as the Bhopal gas tragedy. She was barely six months old in December 1984 and her
mother's stories are her only link to what unfolded that night. The others in her family, brothers Shahnawaj (9) and Irfan (5) and father Inayat Mohammed, didn'st live to share their ordeal. While the leaking gas killed Shama's parents and brothers, its after-effects have left her two sons suffering from mental illness.
After having three daughters, she and her husband had thought that the birth of sons would relieve them of their struggles in old age. But they soon noticed that the boys didn'st behave as other children. Their growth was also stunted. Five-year-old Mohammed Afsar and 14-month-old Mohammed Altmas have not reached the appropriate development milestones, making their condition a challenge for their parents.
Shama and her husband, both gas victims, have now started a grocery shop within their house. The prospect
of raising five children, two of them with disabilities, has left them mourning the coming days.
Balkrishna Namdeo was working on the issue of social security before the Bhopal gas tragedy.
After the gas leak, he brought the problems of gas victims under the banner of his
organisation and renamed it Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha. After
sustained campaigning by the morcha and other organisations, women who had been widowed by
the incident were rehabilitated in the Gas Widows Colony between 1989 and 1993.
Namdeo's organisation is also fighting for compensation for the victims of the tragedy. There
is, however, a discrepancy in government figures. While giving compensation, the state
government had said that 5,295 people had been killed in the gas leak. But it contradicted itself
when, in the criminal petition filed in the Supreme Court, it stated that 15,342 people had been
A doctor who survived
Her family was one of the few fortunate ones that survived the gas leak. The moment she came to know about the leak, Bano, who was studying medicine at the time, made all her family members tie wet towels on their faces. The family immediately drove to her uncle's house far from the factory. They returned a month later.
The amount of gas-related cases that I see everyday makes me realise how fortunate I was to have managed to escape in time, she says.
A mother from Arif Nagar
The night the gas leaked, Farzana, who was 15 then, was two months pregnant and mother to a one-year-old son. The family fled from Arif Nagar near the factory towards New Market and stayed in a camp there for three days. It was the only place which was providing food and milk free of cost. When I have an attack, I feel like there is a steel plate vibrating inside my head. I get so mad that I can even kill a person. It becomes
difficult for my husband to control me. My mother-in-law asked my husband to remarry because I could not have a healthy son. But he loved me too much to do so, says Farzana.
A wedding party turns grim
On the night of the gas leak, a heavily-pregnant Lali was at Jahangirabad near the factory. She and her family were attending a relative's wedding. Her daughter and step-daughter were sleeping on a chair nearby. She was waiting for her husband to take them home. All of a sudden, she started coughing violently. By the time she recovered, she realised everybody in the party was coughing and wheezing. The confusion continued for an hour until a few men came running to tell them that poisonous gas was leaking from a tank at the Union Carbide factory.
Lali and her husband picked up their daughters and walked towards the main road. Her eyes had started swelling from the smoke and soon she could not open them at all. Her husband requested a friend with a bicycle to carry Lali and their step-daughter to a safer place. He promised he would meet her with their daughter. After two days, a relative informed her that her husband and daughter had been found dead at Hamidia hospital.
A UCIL employee who never took compensation
On the night of December 2, Saeed heard sirens. He rushed out of his house and saw a white cloud rising
from the Union Carbide factory, where he worked as a production supervisor. He knew it was
poison and fled the area with his family. While most former employees kept away from the factory after the tragedy, Saeed was employed again by Union Carbide in 1993 to start decontamination of the site.
We received a contract to dig out all the waste lying in the factory at the rate of Rs 1 per kg. We worked there till 1997, says Saeed. Today, he runs a poultry farm.
At times, I feel I got the tumour because of my exposure to chemicals during the decontamination work inside the factory. But what is the use of knowing what caused it? I have never taken compensation from the
government. I don'st want any compensation. If I have a disease, I will bear the burden with grace, says Saeed. But one burden he finds difficult to bear is his daughter's pain. Born in 1991, his daughter's kidneys
failed when she was still young. Saeed's wife gave one of her kidneys to their daughter.
The girl also has stunted body growth and suffers from depression and inferiority complex. She does not have friends. My daughter is my princess. But no matter how much I tell her this, she remains upset with her looks. It kills me to see her this way, he says.
A doctor who was on duty
He was pursuing a doctorate in medicine from Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal. It was a Sunday. The mess was closed during the night. He, along with others in the hostel, went and had dinner outside the campus. After having dinner, he went to his room. As it was winter, all the windows were closed. When he finally decided to sleep, he opened the window to get some fresh air.
As soon as he opened the window, his eyes started to burn. He received a call from the hospital and rushed to find that many others were
suffering from the same problem. There were many who were unable to even open their eyes. People were pouring in huge numbers. Some were vomiting, rubbing their eyes, crying. Many had lost consciousness.
An 18-year-old who lost her family
The horrors of the night refuse to leave her thoughts. Nushrat was only 18 when the poisonous gas swept through her locality, killing her parents and three younger sisters. It was around midnight when people started shouting in the street, asking everyone to escape. Inside, Nushrat's family was already coughing and rubbing their eyes. Basheer, Nushrat's father, stepped outside to find out what the noise was all about. He returned, picked up the youngest child - four-year-old Farat - and signalled to the others to follow him.
The first person to send a legal notice to UCIL
The Union Carbide India Ltd factory should have been red flagged much before the gas leak on December 2, 1984. A series of leaks on February 9 and October 2 that year had led to the death of many workers at the plant. But no precaution was taken. Shanawaz Khan, who is the first person to send a legal notice to Union Carbide, says a confidential report of the Union Carbide team in May 1982 had also warned of a leak due to equipment failure, operation problems or maintenance problems.
Photos: Living with the disaster
Khan was also a key witness in the CBI case. The administration is favoring the Union Carbide management.
Union Carbide employed the sons and daughters of several ministers. The ministers's family has been enjoying company-sponsored foreign trips. What can we expect of them? asks Khan. On the night the gas leaked, Khan rushed to the Eastern Air Products plant and found all the workers in an unconscious state.
A victim of two gas leaks from the UCIL plant
Sajida Bano was only 17 when her husband, Ashraf Khan, factory fitter at Union Carbide, died of a phosgene leak at the plant. Ashraf had been asked to open a valve by his manager. This was in December 1981. She recalls how she felt her world collapse.
Rs 50,000 was what the company fixed as the value of my husband's life. I wanted to lodge a police complaint. But the company's local lawyer, who later became a Congress leader, concealed the post-mortem report and bribed the police. I had to look after my sons. So I took the money, she says.
It has been 30 years since her son died. Sajida still suffers from bouts of asthma. Even when she
is narrating her story, she feels dizzy and breathless. She expects nothing from the cases going on in court.
A former UCIL employee
Mohammad Rahman worked as a fitter at the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) factory. On the night of the deadly gas leak, the factory alarm began to ring and workers were asked to stay out of the wind which was blowing through the cloud of smoke.
Abdul Qayyum Qureshi
As Rahman waited with the rest of the workers, he had no idea that the gas leak was wreaking havoc in people's lives in the city, including his own. The methyl isocyanate claimed the life of his unborn child. Rahman's wife was six months pregnant. Around 3 am, Rahman and his colleagues were asked to assist the doctor at the factory clinic. Rahman recalls how patients were speaking to him one moment, and the next moment, they were dead. The scene left him in shock.
Resident of Sunder Nagar
Not a day passes when Abdul Qayyum Qureshi and his family don'st discuss the gas tragedy.
His son, Abdul Asif, was only a month old at the time. Qureshi looks after the 30-year-old man now. A child who could never sit up, Asif needs to be fed in his bed and carried to the bathroom. He is also intolerant of light and is kept in a room where the light is never switched on. Medical treatment has become a formality for the family. Doctors recognise Asif 's family members and prescribe some medicines every time they visit. No one examines Asif anymore.
An ethnographer still making sense of the tragedy
After watching the Ramlila, Naval Shukla, a government ethnographer, was trying to sleep at his residence in Professor's Colony when he heard a noise. Though he does not remember the time, he found his landlord had woken up too. When he came out, he saw thousands of people running on the road, many of them in their night dress. Some reports spoke of a bomb blast.
A mother of two near-blind children
Zenab laughs bitterly as she speaks of the night that changed her life. Had her grandparents been inside the house in Quazi Camp on December 2, she says, the family would have escaped the worst of the gas leak.
But they rushed outside on hearing Zenab's grandparents cough in a strange fashion. The poisonous gas began to affect the rest of the family too.
Thirty years of unfulfilled promises by the government have destroyed Zenab's faith in the system. Her husband Sayeed is a daily wage labourer who often spends his entire income on
the children's treatment. Zenab doesn'st trust doctors anymore. At Hamidia Hospital in Bhopal, doctors asked to take a sample of Isha's bone marrow, saying it would help them treat
the girl. Two years have passed but Zenab has not seen a single report on the sample. Her daughter's condition has worsened and lodging a complaint, she thinks, would only be an exercise in futility.
A victim desperate to end his sufferings
Sanjay Yadav was 11 years old when the gas leak from the Union Carbide factory poisoned his life. He suffers from numerous health problems--poor eyesight, breathlessness and stomach ache. His wife, Sharda, was also a victim. The gas leak disaster took a toll on her eyes, and her nose bleeds every day. Their children - 16-year-old Vikas, 14-year-old Aman and 12-year-old Vandana - are paying the price too. Vikas and Aman cannot walk. Nor do they understand anything.
H H Trivedi
He fears most for his children. I am scared to even think of what will happen to them if we die. They are not entitled to any compensation. Every doctor says they were born this way because of the gas, but none one of them are ready to give it in writing, he laments.
The doctor on emergency duty
It was around 11.30 pm on December 2 when H H Trivedi, professor of medicine (retired) at Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal, received an emergency call from the hospital. He had hardly reached the New Market area when he noticed huge crowds running towards him. He kept moving and opened the window of his car only to breathe a sharp smell. He reached the hospital coughing.
Raj Kumar Keswani
The situation in the hospital was worse. He recalls people vomiting, crying, frothing and dying. There were no beds, as more than 50,000 people were present on the campus. New patients were kept on the floor.
Students were informed and they rushed to hospital at around 3 am. They made stretchers out of their jackets to carry the patients as stretchers were not available. Many others institutions, such as the military, came forward for help.
Around midnight on December 2, 1984, having finished a story for his newspaper, Raj Kumar Keswani went to bed in old Bhopal. When he was about to sleep, he felt a sharp pricking in his throat. He thought it was cold. Within few minutes, he was seized by a bout of coughing and breathlessness. Keswani also heard loud coughing sounds. When he looked from the window, he saw huge crowds coughing and scurrying for safety.
They had covered their mouths with whatever they could. A sense of fear prevailed that everybody was going to die. He called up a few friends. His wife reminded him about their parents and other family members.
A survivor with a cause
She was pregnant and the family had gone to sleep after watching a movie on Doordarshan. It was cold and the family had wrapped themselves in blankets. At around 12.30 am, her six-month-old son, Mohsin Ali, started coughing and crying. As she removed the blanket to see her son, she felt a pain.
On way to the hospital, she lost consciousness. When she opened her eyes 24 hours later, the doctor at Hamidia Hospital informed her about her miscarriage.
Sultan's father and brother too died due to breathing problems, while her husband died fighting blood cancer in 2010. The gas also left her son Mohsin in a mentally and physically weak condition. Today, she assists a gynaecologist at the Sambhavna Clinic, which works for gas victims. My whole life has gone in
meeting treatment costs, she says. The government never plans with a holistic approach to rehabilitate gas victims, she adds.
A survivor who deals with the present
After death of her husband, she was awarded compensation of Rs 1 lakh. After four years, she was again awarded Rs 8 lakh. Later, she was also allotted a quarter in the Gas Pidit Colony. But there are no sewage or water facilities in the colony.
Though there is a water connection, they do not get water supply. Sewage lines are choked. Three years ago, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan visited the place on Raksha Bandhan and named it Jivan Jyoti Colony. He promised to improve the condition of the colony, but nothing has happened so far. They continue to drink water knowing it is contaminated. She feels the government is not interested in improving the condition of the gas victims.
Mohammad Sayeed was alone in his house on the night of December 2. His wife and children had gone to their grandmother's house on the outskirts of Bhopal. Sayeed, who worked at the Jahangirabad cemetery, was summoned after the first two bodies arrived at 1 am. It was here that he came to know about the poisonous gas leak that killed thousands. He first thought that the figures were exaggerated. It was the year of riots, both Hindu-Sikh and Hindu-Muslim. Initially, I assumed it was a rumour. But when I had over 300 bodies to bury by 4 am, I realised it was the wrath of God, he says.
Ram Krishna Dwivedi
The Bhopal tragedy made him realise the value of life. People who lost their kin come here even after 30 years, he narrates. One of them lost his eight sons, including a one-year-old. He does not talk to anybody. He just sits near the graves. Sometimes, we see him sobbing and talking to the graves. For many in Bhopal, time has stopped. It seems people are still living in 1984. And the government has done little to heal their wounds, Sayeed adds.
On the night of December 2, 1984, head constable Ram Krishna Dwivedi was on duty at the Talaiya police station. At about 1 am, the air started getting heavier. Nobody knew what was going on. By 2 am, it was confirmed that poisonous gas had leaked from the Union Carbide plant. We did not know what to do. Somebody asked us to wrap a wet towel around our face. That helped us a little, Dwivedi says.
Shiv Charan Dholpuria
While others were trying to save their lives, Dwivedi went to rescue the family of his superior J P Pali, the station in-charge. Pali saab was on his night rounds. I received a call from his wife. She was crying and pleading with me to save her and her daughter. I took the police jeep and brought them to my house which was under construction near Gupha mandir, says Dwivedi.
The attendant at the cremation ground
He shudders every time he thinks of the night the toxic gas leaked. At the time, his wife was due to deliver and was admitted at the Sultania Hospital. As soon as Dholpuria heard of the gas leak, he took his children to the hospital and got his wife discharged. Together, they ran towards Kamala Park, the safer side of the city. On his way there, he saw more than 30 corpses lying on the road. Dholpuria used to assist in cremation at the Chola cremation ghat and realised he would soon be needed. He went to the crematorium and saw that there were 200 bodies waiting to be cremated. The vegetation around the pucca structure was cleared to make place for more pyres. Space was made behind the crematorium to bury children.
The night was eerie. People were not crying. Even fathers of babies only a few months old were silent. It seemed the night had taken their voice away, Dholpuria recounts. When there was no wood remaining, people started getting whatever they could lay their hands on. We brought tyres and old broken furniture from peoples's homes, he adds. By 5 am, the number of bodies coming from the city was so high that a huge pyre was made to cremate 20 to 30 bodies at one go.
While Dholpuria says that the gas did not affect him, his family claims his lungs and kidneys are not functioning properly. When he fainted in his house some days ago, he was admitted to hospital. The doctor had said I would not live longer. So I beat him up. But he asked the ward boys to tie me to my bed. He said I have lost my mental balance. Do I look like crazy to you? Dholpuria asks.
A resident of the colony built on UCIL's waste dump
Naseeruddin forces every social activist or journalist visiting his colony to drink the water at his home. If they don'st drink this water, how will they know the real condition
that we live in? he asks. Now a father of two, Naseeruddin was a child when the gas leaked and claimed the lives of his parents, brothers and sisters. He was with his grandmother in Sivni, a few kilometres from Bhopal, when the tragedy happened.
Some researchers from the city collected water from our colony. We learnt that the water contained several harmful elements, which are present even after boiling. The government that allotted us flats here must have known and yet, they built a colony here, he says with anger. Sustained campaigning with the help of non-profit organisations forced the administration to provide a drinking water pipeline to New Moon Colony. But life is not easy. Piped water comes for half an hour, and there is no fixed time. If you miss
it, you have to drink water from the tube wells, he complains.