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India

Bhopal Gas Tragedy Still Burns 30 Years Later

Considered history's worst industrial accident, having killed thousands in a Dec. 3, 1984 gas leak at a Union Carbide plant in India, the health effects in Bhopal can still be felt today.

Protests have continued for decades
Protests have continued for decades
Aletta Andre

J.P. NAGAR — In the early hours of Dec. 3, 1984, a gas leak from the American-owned Union Carbide factory opposite the slums in India's J.P. Nagar killed thousands of people. The effects of the gas cloud traveled beyond the immediate area, and there are at least 100,000 people living with gas-related illnesses today because of the disaster.

A criminal case against the company has been ongoing for years, but Union Carbide insists the matter was settled years ago. As the 30th anniversary of the gas disaster approaches — Dec. 3 in Bhopal will be commemorated with rallies, music, meetings and silent candlelight marches — people are gearing up for protests.

Here in J.P. Nagar, right next to the old, abandoned Union Carbide factory, several dozen people are getting ready to drive to New Delhi. They will join around 1,000 survivors in the capital to march on the parliament.

Firdouz and her mother Semida are among the group. "We are going for the gas tragedy rally, for compensation," Firdouz says. "We expect to get what we deserve. We are going to claim our rights. It's been more than 30 years, but nothing happened. We are sick and worried. They have not done anything about it. They should give us what we deserve. We're fighting for the rights of the whole of Bhopal."

More than 500,000 victims have received on average around $400 each. But many victims such as Firdouz and Semida claim they were denied the money, because as slum dwellers they couldn't prove their address.

The Indian government says higher amounts were given to severely ill and disabled people, and others are treated for free at specially built government hospitals. But the Delhi-bound protesters are demanding an extra $1,600 for each surviving gas victim, more than 500,000 in total.

Just around the corner from the old Union Carbide factory, in the middle of one of the gas-affected slum areas, is a health clinic run by Sambhavna Trust with nearly 30,000 registered patients. Shahnaz Ansari, who works here, explains the common problems and how they treat them.

"Respiratory problems, ocular problems, diabetes," she says, cataloging the issues. "Cardiac problems are more common, hypertension is more common among the gas exposed population."

Neverending health issues

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