Taha Qureshi has inherited the gruesome after-effect of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters three decades ago as a debilitating blood cancer is slowly sapping the two-year-old boy of his life and his parents’ hope and resources.
Taha belongs to a generation of children whose parents survived the fateful December night in 1984 when leaked lethal methyl isocyanate gas from the Union Carbide plant shrouded the town and asphyxiated to death thousands of people.
The long-term effects of the toxic disaster live 30 years on in the third generation or children of survivors who were themselves kids in 1984. Hundreds of children of affected parents are born with minor or major congenital defects.
Mrityunjay Mali, a preventive and social medicine expert working with Sambhavna Trust Clinic, said problems such as cerebral palsy, gastrointestinal complications, cleft palate, skin disease and anaemia were found in children of survivors and those living in areas with soil and water contamination from the residual waste that still awaits safe disposal.
The Madhya Pradesh government wasn’t even ready until 2008 to accept any liability towards these young victims of the tragedy. It had to act, or reluctantly pretend to, when social activists Abdul Jabbar and ND Jayaprakash approached the Supreme Court for a directive on medical care to dependents of recognised gas victims.
“Like in the case of Taha Qureshi, the impact on the family is much more than just medical expenses,” Jabbar said.
Taha’s parents, Shamshad and Memuma, had to sell their poultry shop and jewellery and pull out three elder children from school to foot the toddler’s medicals bills. “We are devastated. We don’t know whether to look at Taha’s present or his siblings’ future,” Shamsad said.
Shailendra Chaurasia’s year-old daughter Priyanshi has been detected with two holes in the heart, a congenital ventricular septal defect.
Shailendra was an 11-month-old infant at Puttha Mill Colony when the gas tragedy struck. “My mother thought I was dead because I was foaming at the mouth. Time, they say, is a healer and I had forgotten this horrible fact from my life over the years. When Priyanshi was detected with the heart condition, a 30-year-old nightmare returned to haunt me.”
Similarly, Mohammad Kamil never thought his son, Altamash, would suffer because the poisonous gas affected him. Eight-year-old Altamash has cerebral palsy. Activist Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group of Information and Action said the government never made any effort to check if the congenital health problems had anything to do with the lethal gas or the toxic waste. “This makes it all the more difficult to find long-term solutions.”