Day after verdict, defeat and anger hang heavy over Bhopal
Story Dated: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 16:44 hrs IST
Bhopal: The gloom is unrelenting in the colonies near the Union Carbide plant. This should have been a day of retribution but is one of resignation, residents said Tuesday, a day after seven accused in the world's worst industrial disaster got away with two years imprisonment and immediate bail.
They are the residents of Shahid Nagar and Karon Colony, amongst those colonies that have come to be known simply as 'gas-hit localities' since that night of Dec 2-3, 1984 when methyl iso-cyanate and other lethal gases leaked out killing 3,500 people instantly and maiming several thousand others for life.
An estimated 15,000 people have died over the years with some activists claiming that the figure is closer to 25,000.
The verdict from a local Bhopal court convicting eight people, including one who has died, of criminal negligence is another disaster, say the victims.
"What we had demanded was justice and this is what we have got in return. Endless wait and no punishment to those who ruined our lives," said A.P. Shukla, who lives in Karon Colony, just a kilometre away from the now shut Union Carbide plant.
Shukla, who lost his two brothers and parents in the toxic leak, said: "We were first deceived on the compensation front, then there was no economic rehabilitation, and now the government cannot even ensure that the guilty are punished."
Tarannum of Shaheed Nagar is equally furious.
"Our judicial system seems to acknowledge Americans and America more than Indians and India...," said Tarannum, whose father died almost seven years ago from ailments caused by the gas leak.
Warren Anderson, who headed Union Carbide Corp, the parent company of Union Carbide, is now 89 and lives in near seclusion in the US. He has never been prosecuted and was not amongst the eight accused.
And the anger runs deep.
"Should we go to court or should we take law in our hand? This is the question in our mind after this shameful judgement," said Aziza Sultan, a survivor who lives next to the Union Carbide plant.
She survived and regrets she lives to tell the tale.
"Those who survived the gas are the unlucky ones like me. The lucky are those who died that night. It would have been better if I too would have died then. I would have not seen this day at least."
Said Mazhar Abbas, who was not in Bhopal that night: "It is a shame to award two years imprisonment to those eight accused... Is it money power or political connections that have come to the relief of the accused?"
"Had it been any other country, the culprits would have been either shot or hanged. Are Indian not humans?" I.H. Siddique, a retired bank official, asked. "Just imagine if Union Carbide were an Indian company located in the US. What would the US have done?"
Siddique said he had seen his relatives die a slow death over the years. Another relative has three daughters who have suffered gynaecological problems after being exposed to the gas; now, no one is willing to marry them.
According to retired insurance official Narendra Sharma, Monday's ruling is a "cruel and inhuman" decision for those who had lost everything in the fight for justice and were only clinging on to the hope of appropriate punitive action against those responsible.
"Think of the families who lost everything. Think of the ones who don't exist anymore. The justice system is terrible in India. Now it's up to the media and the people to make a difference."
Tarannum, Aziza, Mazhar, Narendra... voices of anger, dejection and defeat. They have spoken out for the last 25 years and there is no rest yet.