Kahaan to tai tha charaghaan har ek ghar ke liye/ kahaan charag mayassar nahiin shahr ke liye (Light was promised for every household but darkness envelops the entire city.
These poignant lines by poet Dushyant Kumar sums up the tragedy of the Bhopal gas disaster victims. 30 years after one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, I feel extremely disappointed at the ‘fate’ of those affected. We had thought that the government of India would take care of them as it had declared itself the guardian of the gas victims in Bhopal but for every little thing, we had to run to the courts. After three decades of the tragedy, the situation continues to be the same.
The gas disaster was the reason why I took to activism. I saw gas victims deprived of medical care, gimmicks in the name of relief like distribution of food grain and milk to gas victims.
I saw bodies picked up in military vans and dumped at cremation ground or burial ground for mass cremation and later the leaders, who should have fought for justice to those who perished and those who survived the tragedy, were shockingly lying about the figures of death and injuries.
A group of people decided to fight for the gas victims and fight for their cause and this is how the ‘Jahrili Gas Sangharsh Morcha’ was born.
In 1986, however, I founded my own group ‘Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan’. It was the time when stitching centres opened for gas victim women were closed and whatever little they were earning also stopped. We always believed that gas victims needed training and jobs and not charity. Our slogan was also ‘khairat nahin rozgar chahiye’ (We want job not charity).
It was a big blow when the Government of India signed the Bhopal accord with Union Carbide on February 14-15, 1989 and the company was let off with a Rs 715 crore compensation. All the criminal and civil liabilities against the company were scrapped.
That was the time when seeds of what we know as economic liberalism or new economic policy were being sown and the Rajiv Gandhi government wished to send out a message across the world that MNCs could get away even after perpetrating a Bhopal in India.
Our fight is to send out a message, loud and clear, that Bhopal won’t be allowed again and no company big or small could get away easily after committing genocide like the Union Carbide.
As far as my biggest achievement is concerned, I feel privileged to have brought hundreds of Muslim women out of their ‘burqa’ and infuse a will and fortitude to fight for justice.
But fight is far from over. Our fight for justice will continue.
(The author is a social activist. The views expressed are personal)
(As told to Ashutosh Shukla)