In Their Words
aim a blowtorch at my eyes pour acid down my throat strip the tissue from my lungs. drown me in my own blood. choke my baby to death in front of me. make me watch her struggles as she dies. cripple my children. let pain be their daily and their only playmate. spare me nothing. wreck my health so I can no longer feed my family. watch us starve. say it's nothing to do with you. don’t ever say sorry. poison our water. cause monsters to be born among us. make us curse God. stunt our living children’s growth. for twenty years ignore our cries. teach me that my rage is as useless as my tears. prove to me beyond all doubt that there is no justice in the world. you are a wealthy american corporation and I am a gas victim of bhopal.
AGE: 20 years AGE AT DISASTER: 6 years NEIGHBORHOOD: Near Military Gate, Shahajahanabad
I was in the first grade at the time of the gas disaster. I remember being woken up by people in my family. I remember everyone vomiting and groaning and then joining the crowd of people who were trying to run away from the clouds of poison. Since then my problem of breathlessness has been getting worse, my eye problems are also getting worse and now everything appears blurry. I am also getting more and more weak. I was very keen on studying but I failed my exams in the eigth grade. I was very sick at the time of the examination. I told my teacher that I could not write my exams because of my illness but she refused to take my application for leave of absence.
So I failed and that was the end of my studies. I have never stopped regretting this. When I see other women pursuing their studies I wish I had continued. Since I was a child I wanted to do something important, become someone famous and I still can not accept that none of my wishes will ever come true. Now I spend most of my time doing chores at home and some embroidery work with "zari". My eyes go blurred when I work with "zari".
Its been over 10 years since I have been so sick. I have been admitted to the hospital several times. My elder brother Rayees used to be so breathless, he had to sit through the whole night. His lungs were badly damaged. He died four years back. He died in the hospital. I think of him often and and the one thing I feel really bad about is that I was not there by his side when he died. My father owned a truck and three auto-rickshaws. He sold them one by one to pay for Rayees' medical bills. Now my father rents an autorickshaw for the day and our family survives on what he makes.
For the last one month he has been sick in bed and I am taking care of household expenses through my "zari" work. My mother Aneesa too is sick.She is breathless has chest pain and pain in the stomach and she has swelling in her limbs. She has a fever that never leaves her.
AGE: 38 years AGE AT DISASTER: 24 years NEIGHBORHOOD: Quazi Camp
I used to work as a load carrier before the gas. After I got exposed, for two years I was so breathless I could not do any work. Also I would get these sudden panic attacks out of nowhere. I had itching on my whole body and when I scratched I got eruptions all over.
About a month back I got this severe pain in my left leg. There would be a dull pain starting from my waist down till my foot. It would get intense all of a sudden with the pain traveling up and down the back of my leg. There was no way I could work, I could not even walk. Even going to the toilet was difficult. For five nights in a row I could not sleep properly. The pain kept me awake. I took all kinds of pills but nothing worked. Then the doctor at the Sambhavna Clinic told me to take Panchakarma therapy. It has been 20 days since I have been taking this treatment and am feeling much better. I can walk with ease though there is still slight pain. I have also started going to work since the last five days. I am not taking any medicines.
As told in Sunday Magazine, Calcutta, India 16-22 December, 1984
It was a sight that Mangla Ram will never forget. An entire settlement was scampering out of their homes running southwest, towards the city centre without really knowinq where to go or what to do. Many collapsed on the way, some for ever. Children vomited blood. Pregnant women stumbled and tell on the ground crying in pain and bleeding profusely. With the grey clouds of death chasing them their fear turned into panic. Relatives did not wait to pick up the bodies of those they loved and were alive only moments ago. Children got separated from their parents, husbands from their wives and brothers from their sisters, in the mad rush to run away from the clouds. Many were trampled to death. As a terrified and sick populace moved forward, more people--the residents of neighboring Chola Road, Tilla Jampaipura, Sindhi Colony, Railway Colony and Chandbad settlements--joined them. The resourceful and the affluent had already fled in whatever transport they could manage to secure. Only the poor were left behind…
[W]hen he arrived at the hospital it was 2:3 0 a.m. By then the hospital had received more people than it could accommodate. All or most of them were in a critical condition gasping for breath. As Mangla Ram placed his wife on the steps at the entrance of the hospital she hardly moved'. . . [Wlhen a young doctor lifted his wife's hand to feel her pulse, it was already stiff and cold. The doctor covered her face with the sheet she was wrapped in and walked away.
Down the corridor so many corpses lay one next to the other that Mangla Ram even forgot to weep.
In the wake of the disaster, the survivors assembled to fight for justice. In January 1985 a petition was circulated by Mr. Syed Irfan, leader of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha organization, and other survivors addressing the heads of the Madhya Pradesh government for medical and monetary aid.
Few people were healthy enough after the disaster to do the sort of manual labor they had done beforehand. Many needed to be taught new crafts. The Indian Government initially set up lessons for survivors to learn trades, but did not provide decent jobs. The women at one stationary factory decided to unionize, forming the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary Karamchari Sangh or “Bhopal Gas-Affected Women’s Stationary Worker’s Union”. Led by future Goldman Award Winners Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, the union tried for months to negotiate with the government for decent wages. Finally, they marched from Bhopal to Delhi to petition the Prime Minister of India. It took them thirty-three days to reach Delhi, and even after having received some promises of support, little was done. Although the BGPMSKS struggle lasted for more than a decade, it was ultimately successful. Meanwhile, the union became deeply involved in the broader campaign for justice in Bhopal, becoming one of four key survivors organizations to spearhead the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
In one of their first acts in the newly-formed ICJB, survivors protested against Dow’s purchase of Union Carbide by traveling to Dow’s Indian Headquarters in Mumbai. There they popped balloons filled with red paint to illustrate that Dow now has Bhopal’s blood on their hands.
In 2002 the women went on hunger strike in Bhopal in protest against an attempt to water down the charges being pressed against the former CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson. Thousands of people worldwide joined the fast in solidarity, including Diane Wilson of Texas, who spent 30 days in the bed of a pickup truck, fasting in front of Carbide’s Seadrift, Texas plant.
Today, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal is stronger than ever before. Within the past two years the campaign has won several significant victories, improving the lives and the condition of the people of Bhopal.
Despite the horror of THAT NIGHT and the chemical terror that its survivors have endured, the people of Bhopal continue their struggle for justice, for corporate accountability, and for their basic human right to an environment free of chemical poisons. The outcome of their struggle holds vast implications for all of us; if corporations aren't held accountable for their crimes, they're destined to be repeated. We all live in Bhopal.
The only memorial ever built in Bhopal was privately funded, designed by the daughter of Holocaust victims. In bold letters, the inscription reads, “No Hiroshima, No Bhopal, We Want To Live.” With your help and that of others, the justice that has been so long delayed in Bhopal cannot be denied.
Tim Edwards Explains
Union Carbide's 50.9% share in UCIL enabled it to maintain total management control: control of UCIL's board, budgets and the proprietary MIC technology in Bhopal. Carbide's engineers oversaw design, build and operations until the end of 1982; after, they provided ongoing technological know-how and safety reviews. A US executive management team, the 'Bhopal Task Force', oversaw fatal cost-cutting at the plant, reducing staff numbers, training and maintenance from 1982 onwards. Poor training, maintenance and design were all key factors in the disaster.
"As early as 1972, an internal Union Carbide report said, after a study of the Institute plant, that almost every item in the MIC unit there had 'failed and been replaced since start up'. 'If another facility is built to produce MIC, based on the process used in Institute, materials of construction at least as good as those presently used in the facility at Institute will be required', the report added." (from Sanjoy Hazarika's 'Bhopal, Lessons of a Tragedy', p.59, and the quotes are from Carbide engineer Warren Woomer's deposition in New York)
What was actually provided was as far from state of the art as possible.
The Vent gas scrubber, the chief safety system, was designed to take a feed rate of 190 pounds per hour at 35 degrees C, with a maximum working pressure of 15 psig. At the time of the disaster, MIC poured through it at 40,000 pounds per hour and at over 200 degrees C, with an average pressure of 180 psig.
The flare tower also would have been utterly useless, even if connected. Its piping was too small to handle a large flow of gas. The works manager estimated that if workers had tried to light it with that amount of MIC pushing through it would have created a huge explosion that would have
Immediately after Bhopal, while Carbide management claimed not to know what had caused the disaster, the MIC plant at Institute, shut down in Jan 1985, quietly received a bunch of changes to its safety devices before reopening. $5 million was invested on increasing the capacity of the Vent gas scrubber (there were two at Institute - one normal as in the Bhopal one, and one emergency, with a capacity of 60,000 pounds per hour) by 2.5 times and larger vent headers were built. The flare tower was improved. Also added was a 'rate-of-rise temperature monitor and other instrumentation to insure earlier warning of any temperature rise in the storage tank' and a computerised vapour emission tracking and warning system.
In Bhopal, the workers eyes and noses and lungs were the leak detectors. There were few gauges and indicators, and those were often failing without being replaced. There were only indicators of temperatures and flows, not recorders that could have chronicled the behaviour of critical parameters: hence when the evening shift changed on Dec 2nd the next operator didn't know that the pressure in Tank 610 had risen by 8 psig in 30 minutes. There were only eight 'shut down' devices, whereas there should have been three times as many.
Installing safety devices can cost between 15-30 % of outlay at a plant's inception. In respect of Carbide's $20 million investment in Bhopal, this amounts to $3-6 million. Carbide’s own documents show that the company trimmed $8 million at the outset of the Bhopal plant build simply in order to keep managerial control of UCIL.
When the additional cost-cutting hit, aside from leaky valves and malfunctioning gauges not being replaced, carbon steel piping also replaced stainless steel under the new financial strictures – these pipes are more corrosive and were the probable source of the metal contaminants that entered tank 610 and fuelled the speed of the exothermic reactions.
At Institute, and in Carbide's French plant, the safety devices were automatically controlled with manual back-up devices - at Bhopal they were manual. Even in 1984 at other similar sized hazardous plants in Europe, computerized early warning systems sensed leaks, monitored their rates and concentration and even evaluated weather conditions to determine where a leak might go. These systems were often linked to a telephone system to automatically dial out alerts. In Bhopal, there weren't even any emergency planning measures and local authorities knew nothing about the dangers of MIC.
At Institute, however, emergency planning involved all of the emergency services and public broadcast systems. A 30,000 gallon 'dump' tank was kept empty and ready to receive any run-off MIC, there was also a 'sump system' with a capacity of 42,000 gallons.
Despite the fact that "the demand is on the human out there - the plant relies heavily on manual control and checking of levels" (CS Tyson, author of a '82 safety audit conducted by the US parent company), the work force was brought down by half from 1980 to 1984. 150 operatives were taken off their jobs and used as floating labour. The work crew for the MIC plant was cut in half from twelve to six workers. The period of safety-training to workers in MIC plant was brought down from 6 months to 15 days. The position of MIC supervisor on the night shift was axed.
Extensive instrumentation, back-up systems and redundancies are all critical responsibilities in running a hazardous facility. Carbide abandoned these responsibilities in Bhopal then blamed the catastrophic fall out on a single, unnamed worker - a lie elaborated in a pseudo-scientific 'independent' report that Carbide itself commissioned and paid for.