‘37 years later, nobody cares for Bhopal gas tragedy victims’

Almost four decades after the Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the world’s worst industrial disasters, its survivors are still struggling to get justice and proper compensation. Simran Sharma of The Observer interviewed survivor Nazeem Ahmad, a social worker. Excerpts:

Thirty-seven years have passed since the Bhopal gas leak. What memories does this day bring you?

Thousands of bodies were lying around everywhere. This is something I cannot forget. The entire city was devastated. Even today, when I think of that night, I am not able to stop my tears. I remember seeing people running here and there, trying to find their kin. Maut ka saaya tha har jagah (The shadow of death was everywhere). Hospitals were teeming with people. Graveyards were filled with bodies.

What happened that night?

It was 10 or 10.20 p.m. I had just reached home. As soon as I entered my house, I had a burning sensation in my eyes. I remember asking my mother whether she had burnt some spices. Moments later, my parents started feeling the same. I rushed downstairs and saw everyone running here and there. I saw a policeman what had happened and he replied, Bhaago gas leak ho gayi hai. (Run, there has been a gas leak).  My house was just 5 km away from the (Union Carbide) factory. I, along with my parents, ran from that place and went to my cousin’s house, only to find out her father was lying there unconscious. We all left her house and spent the night near a lake. The next day, I went to the factory and saw bodies lying there. My friends and I tried to take out some of the bodies and help the people who were still alive. Even today, people are suffering from various ailments but no one cares.

Tell us about the ‘37 years-37 questions’ campaign directed at the MP and Union governments?

We want people to get justice. Some organisations are fighting for it through this campaign. It focuses on providing the sufferers of the tragedy housing and jobs. We were able to provide the widows of people who lost their lives their pension which they had not been getting for the last two years. We want hospitals to be better equipped. Water near that place is still contaminated, and we have asked the government to take action, but all our efforts have gone in vain. Last month, PM Narendra Modi came to Madhya Pradesh. He was sent an invite, but we got no response from him. Tomorrow, the MP will come and give his condolences, and not turn up for the entire year.

What has the government done for the survivors till now, and what is the future of this campaign?

The government did provide compensation to some affected people, but not all of them got it. The Madhya Pradesh government is not giving the right statistics of the people who died or were badly affected in the accident. Because of this no decision has been taken in the Supreme Court regarding the pending cases. We have been fighting for so long now. In Delhi, six ladies went on hunger strike and the government told us that they will listen to us, but then nothing happened. We hope the government will give us a good response this time. If they don’t, we will try again.

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