1984 Bhopal: A story, A Tragedy

As I handed him the last cup of tea of the day way past the midnight hour, Raman coughed out aloud and spilled the tea on the carpet, the one my parents gave as part of dowry five years back. He had always hated the carpet and I used the opportunity to playfully scold him while he apologised profusely. Our laughter was drowned within seconds as we heard the sound of blaring siren. As Raman opened the door to check outside, a strong gush of white smoke came rushing in causing us both to cough. Undettered, Raman went out and asked me to call the police station to see what was happening. That was the last I saw him - walking past the cows in the street and into the fast spreading fog like smoke.

The police picked the call within two rings, something I was just not used to and told me to keep the doors and windows closed and put a wet cloth on our faces. By now my eyes were burning badly and even our dog Kalu was running all around the house, as if in panic. As I closed the windows, I could hear faint sounds of people screaming, some in pain others in panic. The sky had turned white and the air impossible to inhale, and I could sense that the world as I knew was fast coming to an end. Kalu had escaped outside the house and I saw his body lying on the side of the road; he was still alive and gasping for air. I closed my eyes and said a small prayer for him.

I tried calling the police station again, but my fingers didn’t move. Despite closing the windows and doors, the white smoke was already inside and was choking me now, sucking life out of me. I felt lost and abandoned, so lonely in my last moments, this isn’t how I wanted to leave this world.

By the time my body recovered two days later, I was one of the 3000 people who were killed within minutes of the leak from the Union Carbide plant. Even today I am still just a number, just one of the 3000 who didn’t make it through the night.

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On the night between 2-3 December, about 500,000 residents of the city of Bhopal were exposed to methyl isocyanite (MIC) due to the what’s now considered world’s worst industrial disaster.

The story of Radhika and Raman above is a fictional account of a family living in Bhopal in 1984, inspired by the stories of tragedies that have come to define that fateful night.

The gas leak wrecked havoc and caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.

bhopal tragedy gas leak 1984 2017
Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal (source: Wikipedia)

34 years later the victims are still fighting for their rights. The legal battles in United States as well as India have bought little relief, and most of the accused have gone almost scot-free, including Warren Anderson, who then headed Union Carbide globally. Only 470 million payout was done by UCC and victims have continued to suffer through the generations.

This scenario is unlikely to change in future too.

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I am in Bhopal today as I wrote this and even researching about what happened that night shakes me to the core. I can see goosebumps on my forearms and can only imagine how challenging the year 1984 was for India - operation Blue Star at the Golden Temple, Indira Gandhi’s assassination, anti-Sikh riots and finally the Bhopal tragedy.

Let’s keep a moment of silence for those who lost their lives this day in a man-made industrial disaster.

Comments

  1. How elequent! Time comes to a still...as u imagine the fateful moment of life coming to an end in such an unlikely way. Thanks for remembering & speaking about it today

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