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Revisiting the horrors of Bhopal 122

The New Straits Times, December 9, 2001

IT is close to three months since the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York and the three digits 911 are increasingly becoming a point of departure, so much so that the universal time-line seems to be divided into pre- and post-911. But there is another three-digit figure that should be equally symbolic.

It is 122, in reference to Dec 2, 1984 when, around midnight workers detected a methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leak at Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal, India.

By the next day, over 40 tonnes of highly toxic methyl isocyanate and other lethal gases had escaped, bringing disaster to the surrounding areas. The cloud of death shrouded more than 40 square kilometres; so dense that visibility was affected. Many were unaware of what had dawned on them until it was too late because, allegedly, the factory’s emergency siren had been switched off. 

Some 8,000 people were killed, according to the Bhopal People’s Health and Documentation Clinic (BPHDC), and more than 500,000 people maimed. Many died slow and painful deaths subsequently as a result of the poisoning.

The death toll continues to rise until today, exceeding 16,000, with “no end to the physical and mental suffering caused by exposure to the poisonous gases”, according to another source.

In fact, a Bhopal survivor’s organisation, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) noted that 10 to 15 people die every month from exposure-related complications.

Bhopal, known as the city of lakes and mosques, is the capital city of Madhya Pradesh. A city of more than one million people with its famous landmarks: two beautiful lakes and the largest mosque in India known as Tajul Masjid.

But now Bhopal is also infamous, known for that night of death. Little is said about it anymore, however.

The world seems to have forgotten about yet another form of terror that has killed thousands and continues to kill today.

Some allege that the medical conditions may not only go unrecognised, but as time goes by, “untreated or mistreated”.

Not surprisingly, one report filed as late as December 2000 estimated the number of people experiencing debilitating chronic illnesses resulting from gas-exposure at 200,000. The majority “suffer from respiratory illnesses such as fibrosis, bronchial asthma, chronic obstructive airways disease, emphysema and recurrent chest infections.

In addition, because the gas-affected lungs are more susceptible to infection, pulmonary tuberculosis among the exposed population is significantly higher than the national average”.

One chilling real-life account can be read at http://www.bhopal.net/shakeel.html 

In summary as posted on a Greenpeace website: “The toxic legacy of Union Carbide continues to haunt the communities surrounding the abandoned plant. Medical research carried out by official agencies has established that the poisonous cloud caused damage to the eyes, lungs, kidneys, liver, intestines, muscles, brain and reproductive and immune systems of people nearby. Forty per cent of the women from the severely affected communities and who were pregnant at the time of the disaster, aborted.

“Anxiety, depression, insomnia and irritability are common among the affected people. Chromosomal aberrations have been detected, indicating the likelihood of congenital malformation in future generations of survivors. Huge quantities of chemicals wantonly dumped in and around the factory have found their way into the ground water.

“Meanwhile, Union Carbide has managed to get away after paying a pittance (less than RM1.9 billion) in damages and continues to treat medical information on the leaked chemicals as a trade secret” (http://www.greenpeace.org/ ).

On top of this, the 1996 International Medical Commission on Bhopal in its findings on the medical, social and economic condition of survivors 10 years and more after the disaster found among others that the company “has not yet apologised to the victims” or is yet “to face criminal charges of homicide”.

Redress for the victims of terror 122 remains an elusive dream. Despite the injustice and environmental as well as criminal liabilities, the silence is deafening. There is no war declared on this act of industrial terror and violence, no coalition of governments to speak for them, if not to act for them.

Those “evil ones” responsible for so many deaths have not been pursued or hunted down. No rewards are offered. Instead, the company implicated has since emerged into an even more powerful corporation, while the victims continue to suffer in isolation.

As one Amazon.com reviewer remarked on the latest book authored by D. Lapierre and J. Moro in French Il Etait Minuit Cinq a Bhopal (Five Minutes Past Midnight in Bhopal): “Just imagine if an Indian chemical plant exploded at midnight next to a major city in the US and caused thousands of deaths and even more short and long term injuries. 

“The outcry would be heard for decades; lawsuits would abound; guilty people would be tracked down and found. The pain and the agony of the victims would be in the news a long time and sorrow and anger would be felt by all. And rightly so. But that did not happen in the US.”

Lives elsewhere are so much cheaper and can be easily wasted.

Recommended site: http://www.bhopal-justice.com/

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