Bhopal remembered [BBC radio]

June 16, 2010

Author Indra Sinha reflects on the conviction of seven people following the 1984 Bhopal disaster, where a leak of poisonous gas from a pesticide factory killed and maimed thousands of people. Listen.


No More Bhopals

June 12, 2010

Deepti Khera and Ritu Jhingran

(Published in the Annual Magazine-Redefining Limits SCM batch 2009-2010. Reprodcued here courtesy Deepti Khera)

On December 4, 1984 the city of Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh witnessed an extraordinary exodus. Every train, every bus, every vehicle leaving the city was packed with people. For in the early hours of the morning, over 40 tonnes of deadly methyl isocyanate, and other poisonous gases such as hydrogen cyanide, leaked from a pesticide factory, owned and run by the Union Carbide Corporation, USA, now Dow Chemicals.

Naturally, the trains coming into the city were almost empty. But on board one of them was Sathinath Sarangi, better known as Sathyu, who had been taking a break from the rigours of a PhD in engineering, in his village, Paliyapitariya,in Oshangabad district.Sarangi says, “I heard of the Bhopal gas tragedy on the radio. I immediately decided to visit Bhopal. It was simply out of curiosity to know what was happening in the city. I decided to go there for a week. But what I saw that day was much more terrible than what I heard on the radio. People were wandering down the road with swollen eyes, tears streaming from them. Many were hobbling as if in pain. Some had fallen down and found it impossible to get up.”
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Bhopal: 25 years of poison (The Guardian)

December 6, 2009

Bhopal: 25 years of poison – Indra Sinha, in the Guardian:

“Wake up people of Bhopal, you are on the edge of a volcano!”

In September 1982, Bhopali journalist Raj Keswani wrote a terrifying story, the first of a series of articles, for the city’s Jansatta daily. Bhopal was about to be annihilated. “It will take just an hour, at most an hour-and-a-half, for every one of us to die.”

Keswani’s information came from worried staff at the Union Carbide factory, where a worker, Ashraf Khan, had just been killed in a phosgene spill. The first world war gas was used in the production of MIC (methyl-isocyanate), a substance 500 times deadlier than hydrogen cyanide, and so volatile that unless kept in spotless conditions, refrigerated to 0C, it can even react explosively with itself. Cooling it slows reactions, buys time, but MIC is so dangerous that chemical engineers recommend not storing it at all unless absolutely necessary and then only in the tiniest quantities. In Bhopal it was kept in a huge tank, the size of a steam locomotive.

Far from the shining cathedral of science depicted in Union Carbide adverts, the Bhopal factory more closely resembled a farmyard. Built in the 70s to make pesticides for India’s “green revolution”, a series of bad monsoons and crop failures had left it haemorrhaging money.

Read on.

Remembering Bhopal, and trying to forget

December 3, 2009

Lekhni, well-known blogger and contributor to DesiPundit, wrote this two years ago.

Twenty three years is a long time. For some people, it is the sum total of years they were single. For others, it is length of their entire career. For me, twenty three years is life after Bhopal.

The year, of course, was 1984. In later years, I would read George Orwell. 1984 would then acquire different meanings for me. But those were just fictional meanings. The reality was, 1984 was always just Bhopal.

I still remember the cold winter morning, foggy like any other. We lived in the suburbs of Bhopal, less than ten miles from the old city, where the Union Carbide factory was. Ten miles is not much of a distance. But on that night, it was enough to spare us.

As usual, my mother woke up at dawn to water the plants in the garden. She thought the hedges and the bougainvillea strangely smelt of Sevin (the insecticide that Union Carbide made), but dismissed the thought. Then the radio news announced that there had been a gas leak in Bhopal. No casualties were mentioned. We listened, but it was just another piece of impersonal news. We felt sorry for whoever was affected, wondered where it was, and went about our day. An hour later, my Dad left for work as usual.

Read on.