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After 30 years, gas disaster still blights India’s Bhopal

Manjunath Kiran, AFP / A candlelight vigil in Bangalore marks 30 years since the Bhopal Gas disaster

Indians have held protests and candlelight vigils to commemorate the thousands who perished in the world's deadliest industrial disaster and demand justice for those who continue to suffer three decades on.


In the city of Bhopal, protesters burned effigies representing Dow Chemical and displayed placards demanding justice for the thousands killed or maimed by the deadly gas leak.

Some held old black and white photographs of loved ones lost in the early hours of December 3, 1984, when a cloud of deadly methyl isocyanate gas spewed from a Union Carbide factory in Bhopal and blew across the city.

More than 3,500 people were killed in the immediate aftermath and as many as 25,000 are estimated to have died in the years that followed.

Many of those who were exposed to the gas have given birth to physically and mentally disabled children.

For decades, survivors have been fighting to have the site cleaned up, but they say the efforts were slowed when US conglomerate Dow Chemical took over Union Carbide in 2001.

"We want justice," read one placard featuring the chilling photograph of a hand scraping earth from the head of a partially buried dead baby, the best-known image of the disaster.

"Dow shall assume liabilities for the continuing disaster in Bhopal," read another.

Activist groups have long demanded that Dow award additional compensation to the victims and clean up the accident site, which they say is still contaminated.

‘Fourth generation of victims’

“The toxic waste is still lying outside the factory and has contaminated the ground water of more than 50,000 people,” said Rachna Dhingra, a campaigner for the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.

“And there is still the question of providing rehabilitation and health monitoring to children who are being born disabled,” she said, adding that not a single person had been jailed over the disaster.

Dow has long denied liability, saying it bought the company a decade after Union Carbide had settled its liabilities to the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470 million.

Union Carbide’s CEO at the time, Warren Anderson, died earlier this year having never stood trial for his role in the deadly gas spill.

The state of Madhya Pradesh, where Bhopal is located, has provided $650 million to more than 500,000 people identified by the Supreme Court as being affected by the disaster.

But many of Bhopal’s second and third generations of disabled children have been left out of the compensation scheme.

"The government knew that the methyl isocyananate gas could affect two or three generations but gave little support to the women exposed to the gas," said Rashida Bee, co-founder of Bhopal’s Chingari Rehabilitation Centre.

"It looks like it will also affect a fourth generation as we see lot of young children coming here with birth defects 30 years on, so we will continue to fight on behalf of all these children who desperately need our love and attention."


Watch our special report: Scars of Bhopal disaster hard to heal


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