In 1984, Leela Bai Thakur, 65, lived just 500 metres from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal with her husband and four children. Her husband was a welder with the factory and had just returned home from his late shift when the entire family started experiencing burning eyes, coughing and vomiting. Leela Bai’s husband told her that a poisonous gas has leaked from his factory.
They fully covered their four children with blankets and decided not to join their neighbours who were running away to escape from the poison clouds. Her youngest child, a girl, was only one month old at the time of the disaster. She remained sick for a long time and died when she was 21. A son who was exposed to the gas at age 4, died at 26. Leela Bai, her husband and their two children, who all suffer from various ailments till today, received Rs 25000 each as compensation.
Similarly, Shehzadi Bi, who stayed close by, ran with her husband and four children to get onto a truck and escape the poison clouds issuing from the factory. She still remembers that her two neighbours died in the truck. After the disaster, her husband had to be hospitalized often and was not able to continue with his manual job. Diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, he died in 2019. Shehazadi received no compensation for her husband’s untimely death. Her son was diagnosed with Tuberculosis. Shehzadi, who continues to suffer from chest pain, impaired vision and burning in stomach received only Rs 25,000 as compensation as did other members of her family.
Leela Bai and Shehzadi Bi are among the 10 women who began an indefinite fast without water at Neelam Park in Bhopal demanding proper additional compensation for deaths and injuries caused by the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster that killed thousands and maimed lakhs for life.
The stories of Kapuri Yadav, 70, Batti Bai Rajak, 41, Chironji Ahirwar, 80, Premlata Chaudhary, 75, Vishnu Panthi, 58, Kasturi Kasote, 73, Laxmi Ahirwar, 65, Laxmi Ahirwar, 58 – the other women on fast – is more or less the same as narrated above.
Addressing a press conference at the beginning of the protest fast being called a ‘satyagraha’, leaders of the five survivors’ organizations said that survivors will be denied proper compensation once again if the central and state governments do not revise figures of death and extent of injuries in the curative petition soon to be heard by Supreme Court. The petition filed by the union government in 2010 seeks additional compensation from Union Carbide and its owner Dow Chemical.
Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action said, “Our Satyagraha is to ensure that the Supreme Court bench that is to hear the curative petition on January 10, can know about the true magnitude of the damage caused by the American corporations. The government is doing its best to mislead the apex court of our country regarding the world’s worst industrial disaster and we are being threatened with police action for speaking out against this.”
Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh said “Our ten brave sisters who began their waterless fast today are from low caste Hindu and Muslim families below the poverty line. All of them continue to suffer from chronic exposure-induced illnesses and most have lost their family members due to the disaster. Some have children and grandchildren with congenital malformations. Yet, like 93 per cent of the affected population, they have been paid only Rs 25,000 for injuries caused by the disaster.”
“After arbitrarily stopping the registration of death claims in 1997, the government is telling the Supreme Court that only 5,295 people died due to the disaster. Official records clearly show that thousands of people continue to die from illnesses caused by the disaster for a long time afterwards and the actual figure of death is close to 25,000. The party ruling the state and central governments, that is downplaying the death figures, is close to Dow Chemical that is known to have contributed to the party’s campaign funds,” alleged Balkrishna Namdeo, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha.
Also alleging corporate–government collusion, Nawab Khan of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha said, “To help Dow Chemical escape liability, the Supreme Court is being told by the government that more than 90 per cent of the people who got exposed to Union Carbide’s deadly gas have been only temporarily injured. The government has chosen not to present hospital records and research data that show that those exposed actually suffered permanent injuries and chronic diseases. Official records show that 95 per cent of the gas-affected people who got cancers and 97 per cent of those who suffered fatal kidney diseases had been categorized as temporarily injured. The overwhelming majority of the gas-affected population is Muslim and low caste Hindu, this seems to be the other reason the government is not interested in presenting the true extent of health damage caused to the survivors.”
Nousheen Khan of Children Against Dow Carbide said, “Earlier this year, the union minister of chemicals and fertilizers who is in charge of matters related to the Bhopal disaster, has promised us to do the right thing. The principal secretary of the Madhya Pradesh department of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation also promised the same. Neither of them are giving any information whether figures of deaths and extent of injuries have actually been revised in the curative petition.”