Bhopal, November 10
The families of Bhopal gas leak victims on Friday petitioned the Election Commission for change of result day in five election-going states, December 3, reminding the poll panel of the sombreness of the occasion.
It was on December 3, 1984, that over 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, instantly killing 3,800 and maiming, disabling and causing premature death of several thousands later.
“We mark December 3 as a ‘day of mourning’. When results come on that day, winning candidates will celebrate in a gesture that would be most non-humanitarian. The choice of counting dare goes to show how much the institutions care for the sufferers of India’s greatest industrial disaster. The EC should change at least the counting day in Madhya Pradesh,” the petition from associations fighting for gas leak victims to Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar says.
Nasreen, one of the victims, speaks of how those affected by the tragedy remain out of sight and mind. “Not one candidate has come to us asking what we need, what’s our anguish or even seeking our vote,” says Nasreen, who resides close to the now abandoned pesticide plant.
The majority of gas victims live in two Assembly segments of Bhopal district—Narela, represented by state minister Vishwas Sarang; and Bhopal-Uttar, represented by Congress MLA Arif Aqeel. Sarang is contesting again but has not campaigned in areas housing affected families nor has his Congress rival Manoj Shukla. Aqeel, people say, helped with some resettlement but has not canvased in areas around the plant.
“This only shows how seriously our politicians take fundamental issues concerning life, health and dignity. Gas leak victims and their families continue to bear historical injustice,” says Rachna Dhingra, a local activist and a signatory to the petition to the CEC. This year, the victims will mark 39 years of the tragedy that killed thousands and maimed nearly 5 lakh people in subsequent years. “We are still piecing together our lives, struggling with chronic diseases and displacement. On top of that we get no empathy,” says Najma, another victim.
During a visit to dilapidated colonies near the ghostly plant here, this correspondent came across several families that have lost four to five persons either in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy or later to cancers, chronic liver, lung and kidney disease. For each deceased, the families got Rs 25,000 with a promise of free treatment for kin suffering health impact. “But we have to spend from our own pockets. The diseases we suffer are very severe. Doctors just give us antibiotics and send us back. There is no proper investigation,” says Waheedan, another victim.
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