The Bhopal gas disaster was yet another tragedy waiting to be forgotten. But thanks to some social activists, we not only remember the injustice, but are now also raising our voices. Ashutosh Shukla and Sravani Sarkar met six of them.
Abdul Jabbar, 54
This bulky Pathan has seldom relaxed in the last 25 years. His office is always crowded. Someone wants his gas-affected relative admitted in a hospital; another is wailing about bribes demanded by authorities. Jabbar hears them out patiently but, at times, gets irritated. He fixes most of these problems over the phone. Sometimes, he accompanies the victims to hospitals or offices. He has also been the one-stop point for all journalists covering the Bhopal gas tragedy. An engineering diploma-holder, Jabbar used to install handpumps and tubewells before December 1984. Since then, he has been helping Bhopal’s victims. At present, he is pursuing a petition in the Supreme Court for a five-fold increase in victim compensation. To combat against public opinion moving on, Jabbar started the ‘Bhulane Ke Khilaf..’ (Against forgetting) campaign.
Sadhna Karnik Pradhan, 52
As a member of the Zahreeli Gas Kand Sangharsh Morcha, Sadhna Pradhan became an intervener in the Bhopal Gas criminal case in 1987, which led to the Bhopal district court ordering Union Carbide to pay a compensation of Rs 3,900 crore to victims. Later, however, the Indian Government and Union Carbide reached an out-of-court settlement for Rs 750 crore. From Indore, Sadhna, while working with patients, shifted to the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti, the organisation that intervenes in almost all the legal issues related to gas victims. She was also instrumental in getting the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre up and running by sitting on a fast-unto-death in 2004-05. Sadhna and her husband, Pramod, president of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions, Madhya Pradesh, decided not to have children so they could focus on their work for Bhopal victims.
Rachna Dhingra, 32
After graduating from the University of Michigan Business School in 2000, Rachna Dhingra, who moved from Delhi to the US when she was 18, worked as a consultant at the software giant, Accenture. Here, ironically, one of her clients was Dow Chemicals, the company that took over Union Carbide. While in the US, Rachna came in contact with Bhopal Group of Information and Action (BGIA) activists in 1999. That changed her professional and private life. She married Satinath Sarangi of the BGIA and has been spearheading the cause of the victims for a decade.
Balkrishna Namdeo, 52
Since 1984, hardly a week passes in Bhopal without demonstrations staged under the banner, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Manch. No demands have been met, but that hasn’t dampened the will of Namdeo, who leads the organisation’s sustained struggle. A CPI activist, he earns a living from a small tailoring shop. Madhya Pradesh’s gas relief department used to provide pension to widows, also providing free homes to 2,450 women in the Gas Widows’ Colony. But over the years, the state government has become indifferent to their rehabilitation. To add insult to injury, the pension amount given to them was deducted from the final compensation provided. With Namdeo leading the protests, these women continue to demonstrate in front of the Bhopal Municapal Coprporation headquarters for justice.
ND Jaiprakash, 53
A Jawaharlal Nehru University alumni, N.D. Jaiprakash left academics during the Emergency to become a political activist. While working with the Delhi Science Forum, he concentrated on mobilising public opinion for disarmament and against damage to environment. The forum was among the first outfits to come out with a report on the Bhopal gas tragedy and pointed out that the Bhopal plant did not have the same safety standards as Union Carbide's plant in America. Jaiprakash first came to Bhopal in 1987. After the Supreme Court ratified the Bhopal agreement between Union Carbide and the Government of India in 1989, he became actively involved in fighting for the cause of the gas victims, forming the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti, a collective of representatives from 30 organisations of trade unions, students, teachers, lawyers and journalists.
Satinath Sarangi, 56
Satinath ‘Sathyu’ Sarangi landed in Bhopal two days after the fateful night of December 3, 1984 along with other Kishore Bharti volunteers. He has stayed on ever since. From Orissa, this M. Tech from Benaras Hindu University started providing medical relief and assistance to victims under the banner of the Zahreeli Gas Kand Sangharsh Morcha. In 1986, he set up the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA). In 1995, he started the Sambhavna Trust with individual donations, which has been providing treatment to survivors and conducting medical researches since. Sathyu was instrumental in filing a petition in the Supreme Court seeking improved healthcare and monitoring for survivors. He has also been at the forefront of keeping the case against Union Carbide alive in the American court.