A Day That Killed Thousands
For the rest of the world, 1984 is here that saw Ronald Regan defeat Walter F. Mondale in the US Presidential polls or the year the iconic film Terminator was released. But for India - 1984 was the year that witnessed three events that changed India - forever -
1. Operation Blue Star was a six-day-long (1-8 June) armed battle between the army and the armed Khalistani Separatists.
2. The assassination of PM Indira Gandhi on the morning of 31st October.
3. On the night of December 3, as the rest of the country slept, the 900,000 citizens of Bhopal - choked on toxic gas.
The gas leak in the Union Carbide (now known as Dow Chemicals) was reported after midnight on the intervening night of December 2 and 3. The incident had taken place at the plant Numbers C of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. As the cool morning breeze picked up pace, it carried the poisonous gas leaking from the Union Carbide factory to rest of the city and killing people - both awake and asleep. As per government's affidavit, about 3,000 people died of poisonous gas within a few hours of the incident. It is estimated that about 40 tones of methyl isocyanate ( MIC ) gas and other chemicals leaked from the Union Carbide factory. MIC is extremely toxic and if its concentration in air touches 21 ppm ( parts per million ), it can cause death within minutes of inhaling the gas. In Bhopal, the level was multiple times higher.
Until then, the Indian government had never dealt with a disaster like this. Legal proceedings between India, UCC and the US began right after the catastrophe. Over decades, there is no closure in the case. Thousands of survivors of the Bhopal Gas tragedy continue to face a lack of healthcare facilities. After the factory was closed, whatever remained inside was sealed and kept there. Gas victim's welfare organisations have been demanding its removal for years. Many petitions have been lying in the High Court and Supreme Court for removal of the plant's poisonous remains.
Justice has indeed remained elusive for the victims of Bhopal. The Indian government has also been accused of working against the victims by kowtowing to corporate interests. Even the smaller indignities suffered by Bhopal victims are relentless in their absurdity. Each anniversary brings a smaller onslaught of attention to Bhopal but the tragedy remains the same.
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