Recently saw Martin Sheen's youtube video asking for the White House for the justice for Bhopal. He also asked to sign a petition. I would really like to commend this gesture that even after so many years, people still remember the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, often called the Hiroshima of the Chemical Industry. However, there are certain facts that haven't come out in the open even after 25 years. These facts maybe very disturbing to many and make shake the foundations of what they have believed in for so long. This article includes my mother's (now 76 years old and still living in Bhopal) account of the Bhopal incidence. In many ways she had first hand knowledge of what happened immediately after the Gas tragedy. I was very young when the world's worst industrial disaster hit Bhopal the night of 2nd Dec 1984. My mom woke me up at 4am that morning and I thought I had to get ready for school. But things were different. It was still dark and a few families who managed to come to our house which was further away from the main city. The main city was worst hit as the factory was in close proximity to the city. Neighbors came over to discuss the rumor. I could hear (translated from Hindi to English here) "gas has leaked" "is it the gas from a cooking stove" "no a factory". My aunt started to bundle-up my sister and me and hurriedly pack our stuff. But it was impossible to pack all of us in a small jeep- adults, children, dogs and cats. Meanwhile the air smelled different. Our eyes became itchy and watery. But there was no place to go. The main road outside our house was jammed, as by now, the entire city was trying to get out of Bhopal.
I heard that many people had died. I was worried about my friends. My mom left us at home to go to the city later that morning. We heard the rumor that again the gas has leaked. With mummy in the city, we all sat down to pray. Fortunately, it was just a rumor. My mom had left us knowing that we are safe, but there are many who needed her help. She had previously helped Mother Theresa to set up her home in Bhopal and worked with the Missionaries of Charity closely. She was out driving her 1942 Model Army Jeep with the nuns putting eye drops into the eyes of those lucky few who survived. She opened the doors of houses to found everyone dead. Go-carts carried dead bodies with no place to burry. That day she came back exhausted. For the next 15 days she drove her jeep nearly 12 to 15 hours, a day. All the Catholic nuns and priests helped her by putting the patients inside the jeep.
After few days, Mother Theresa arrived with planeload of blankets and medicines to help out in Bhopal. When everyone was fleeing Bhopal, she was one of the few who visited Bhopal to help the helpless. Eye-drops were over in Bhopal and Mother's eye-drops were of great help. Mummy went with her to show her the area that was worst affected and they started their health work from there. After about two days, mummy received a call from a government representative. He mentioned that Warren Anderson, the CEO of the factory that let out the gas-Union Carbide, was in town and he wanted to donate money to Mother Theresa to immediately start a home for the children who were suffering. Warren Anderson was confined to staying at the factory rest house. He sent two members from his team to meet my mom to convince Mother to start the house for the children. Mummy relayed the same conversation to Mother Theresa who refused the money saying that she can only accept if it comes through the Government. My mom conveyed the message to Mr. Anderson's team and they asked me to speak with him. In the phone conversation with Mr. Anderson, he expressed his deep sadness and mentioned that he wanted to go to the factory site to pay homage to the dead. He also mentioned a series of projects that he planned to help the gas victims, one of which was to open a vocational training center. Others included opening a hospital and a house for the patients. However, suddenly he was asked to leave the country in a hurry.
In subsequent conversations with the Government officials and my mother, it was revealed that Mr. Warren Anderson was there to help. He asked the Government to permission to start his own hospital to cure the patients. He also asked to start with the Vocational Training Centers to give jobs especially to those who were physically challenged after the gas leak. Anderson was there to stay and help with the construction of the Hospital and the Training and Vocational Centers. One would imagine that this would be easy to do and all with the right intentions. Anderson was not allowed to run the hospitals or establish apprenticeship centers. Instead the government asked to give the money to them directly. The politicians in power pocketed most of the money. They asked Mr. Anderson to transfer the money to their individual accounts in their own constituencies. Everyone thought of their individual benefits at that time and no one thought of Bhopal. Anderson did all he could by giving money to the Government as this was the only thing he was allowed to do. The government was concerned with lawsuits and compensation to the victims and after taking Anderson's money, he was conveniently escorted to leave the country. It was the Indian Government who helped Anderson to escape or rather escort him to leave the country.
After all that, each family was given just Rs. 50,000 (approx.770 USD). I personally know many ladies who lost their children and were not given any compensation since there was some fault in their paperwork (or not). Others who didn't live in Bhopal during the gas leak were given compensations. The government built a fancy hospital called the Bhopal Memorial for the gas affected. As expected from Government institutions, it is very poorly run. There is also a Chest Hospital for lungs to treat patients of the Gas Tragedy. Most of the medical equipment is non-functional. Meanwhile, we still cry for justice, but expect it from the U.S. Government.
A few questions arise- who gave the permission for the factory to be built inside the city premise? The city inspectors did their regular monitoring checks, why was nothing detected in those checks? What did the Government in power do as soon as they heard about the gas leak the night? There is a rumor that the head of the state wasn't present in the city the next morning. When Warren Anderson was asking permission to build and run hospitals, why wasn't he allowed to do so? Probably the hospitals would have been much better condition as compared to the ones we have in Bhopal now. Why was it easier to take the money with no real records from Warren Anderson? Why was he respectfully escorted out of the country and then we cried foul? We would like justice from Union Carbide, Dow Chemicals, The White House, after all the factory was foreign owned. But we forget all the things we do in our backyard. We should cry for justice from the Bhopal Government first.
My mother kept up her good work over the years. Warren Anderson again tried to help Bhopal though her work. In the letter attached, he gave 2 million dollars to Arizona State University to start Vocational Training Centers in Bhopal for the Gas Affected. Probably by now it was evident that he couldn't trust the Government in India too. While the call for Justice and the law suits continued, mummy received a letter in 1995 which was signed by Mr .Warren M. Anderson stating that he would like to donate $2 million as initial seed money for establishment of the Bhopal Technical and Vocational Training Center. The project was developed by Arizona State University. My mom was appointed as the Director of the vocational training school in Bhopal. Professors from Arizona State University stayed extended periods in Bhopal to provide technical support. But unfortunately, the Indian Government did not allow it to operate and stopped all the efforts. They stopped the organization's FCRA (a permit to a non-profit to get funding from international agencies). To make things worse, they started a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) inquiry on my mother. My mother remembers this phase of her life to be humiliating and felt like a criminal. Finally, the CBI inquiry couldn't find anything un-lawful and the case was dropped. But by then it was too late to start all over and Bhopal Technical and Vocational Training Center was history.
This article may prove to be a very rude shock for all the human rights activists fighting for justice, but given my mother's personal accounts of Mr. Anderson's intensions and his work, she would like to sincerely thank him for all his efforts to help the gas affected victims. A couple of times she wanted to speak to the press reporters, but to them a nice story on Anderson meant no story at all. It's been many years since then, the health ailments of the victims continue. Some say that the Bhopal lakes have populated water. We still drink the same water and life continues. My mother started her NGO Mahashakti Seva Kendra in 1992, which is still going strong. It is located near the now closed Union Carbide factory where most families had perished. The NGO has engaged the gas-affected women of Bhopal to live a life of dignity and economic freedom. But their losses can never be erased. Some of them lost their children, some their whole family. The project uses many techniques imparted previously by the Professors of Arizona University and benefits about 5000 women on various projects throughout the year. The Textile Ministry finances the projects.
Finally, I am mere a mouthpiece for my mom, who belongs to the generation of typewriters and ink pen. Tonight I will probably be reading out this entire article on the phone for fact checking. The Bhopal Call for Justice petitions should also be doing some of their own fact checking.