Bhopal: The observance of the 27th
anniversary of the 1984 Bhopal Gas Tragedy, the world’s worst
industrial catastrophe, which was marred by violence for the first
time in more than last two-and-a-half decades has left the victims
and survivors of the disaster bitter. Thereafter, the blame game
has started as to who triggered violence leading to injuries to
several people including elderly women gas victims and police and
district personnel along with a dozen vehicles being torched.
The survivors have blamed the police of unleashing brutality on
them in the shape of cane-charging, lobbing of teargas shells and
firing in the air to disperse them who were staging a peaceful
“Rail Roko” (Train Blockade) on December 3 last. The “Rail Roko”
was organized as scheduled last under the banner of five NGOs
working for their welfare at six spots in the city from Nishatpura
to Berkhedi in deference to their long pending demands of adequate
compensation, rehabilitation and proper medical facilities to all
the victims’ kin and survivors of the tragedy. In this respect
they have been pestering the Madhya Pradesh State Government and
the Union Government to submit the correct figures of the dead and
the injured in the curative petition pending in the Supreme Court
of India. The government snubbed even the findings of the Indian
Council of Medical Research, (ICMR), and followed the guidelines
of the Union Carbide, the killer pesticide plant from where
poisonous gas spewed out, in calculating the death and injuries
The survivors are aghast at the government stance. According to
NGOs working for the cause of gas victims, 22,917 people had died
till the year 2009; 5,08,437 people became permanently disabled
and 33,781 others sustained severe injuries. However, Government
records show only 5,295 deaths, 4,902 with permanent disability,
35,455 with temporary disability and 527,894 with minor injuries.
Condemning the violence, the group of five NGOs said that it was
precipitated by police action on “peaceful” protestors, announced
at a joint Press conference that they will organise a detailed
enquiry presided over by a retired judge of the High Court or
Supreme Court. The enquiry is expected to help survivors in their
attempts to gather evidence and initiate formal proceedings
against those responsible for the violence, including the police.
However, the survivors’ groups were on the back-foot as they
apologised to the media persons who were hurt, and said they will
work towards ensuring that those responsible for the violence
against media persons are identified and punished.
At the Press conference the media persons, especially those
belonging to electronic media and photojournalists who became
victims of mob violence, were up in arms of being put on the mat
when they were targeted while covering the “Rail Roko” stir. They
complained that their vehicles were burnt down, cameras & OB van
damaged apart from being inflicted bodily harms on them when hell
broke down after police started dragging elderly women and
resorted to cane-charge, tear-gassing and air-firing to clear the
rail tracks to resume train traffic on the New Delhi-Chennai and
New Delhi-Mumbai route. This infuriated peaceful protesting tens
of thousands of gas victims, especially the youth, who vent their
ire by indulging in heavy stone-pelting and arson. The police
apart from baton charge also retaliated with pelting of stones on
the crowd in tit-for-tat fashion which is authenticated by
photographs taken during the violence. In the melee that ensued
several people including police and district officials were
injured. About a dozen vehicles were torched.
Denying that the “Rail Roko” agitation was a “seditious activity”
the organizations asked the government what administration was
doing when they had informed it about blocking of train traffic
more than a month ago. Secondly, they also said: “ Had we been
violent we would have created the same scene at all the six places
where we blocked the train traffic”.
Replying to a volley of questions Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal
Group for Information and Action, (BGIA), said: “We conducted the
training so that the agitation remains peaceful and even
administration knew about it”.
Calling the Madhya Pradesh Government's actions vindictive, the
organisations laid the blame squarely on the police for the
violence that ensued on December 3. "The first act of the police
was to snatch away our PA system through which we could have
stopped protestors from responding to police brutalities through
violence," said Ms Rasheeda Bee, President, Bhopal Gas Peedit
Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh. Ms Rasheeda Bee said that she
is an eye witness to the police instigating violence and creating
a situation for criminal elements to join in.
Ms Rasheeda Bee introduced several women among the over 50 gas
victims who were beaten with sticks and left bleeding while
protesting peacefully. Even after peace was restored and the
agitation called off, a large gang of policemen entered individual
homes and shops in Umrao Dulha Bagh area and beat up people,
damaged furniture, doors, windows and vehicles.
The representatives of five organizations viz. Bhopal Gas Peedit
Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush
Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi
Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information & Action and
Children Against Dow Carbide, who gave the call for “Rail Roko”
agitation, jointly addressed the Press conference.
Meanwhile, a 15-year old boy Daoud has been seriously injured in
hospital and may lose his hand after it was badly mangled by a
rubber bullet fired by police. It happened at Berkhedi, one of six
places where the survivors lay down on the tracks to stop trains.
The attack on the women drove the younger boys and men to a fury
and they began throwing stones at the police, who responded by
throwing stones back at them. The police then fired rubber bullets
directly into the mass of survivors on the tracks. This is when
Daoud’s hand was injured.
Attack on elderly women and men
Among the survivors in this place were several older women, among
the Goldman Prize co-winner and co-founder of the Chingari Trust,
Ms Rasheeda Bee (55). Police attacked her with cudgels and fists.
Her brother in law, coming to her aid, had his leg broken in three
Among the other older ladies attacked by police with cudgels were
Ms Hazra Bee, a grandmother whose grandchildren suffer serious
birth defects, Meena Khatoon with bandages on forehead and nose
and swollen face, and Bano Bee (60), whose hand is badly bruised
and swollen. In 2006 in Delhi, Ms Bano Bee was knocked unconscious
by a police kick to her ribs. In hospital she was threatened being
cut open. The 18-year-old Ms Rafat was dragged along the stony
ground till her skin was scraped off. Ms Nafisa was also beaten.
Like Ms Rasheeda Bee and Ms Bano Bee, Ms Nafisa has twice walked
the 500 miles to Delhi to register protest with the Central
Until the police attacked the women the action had been peaceful.
Pictures and footage from Berkhedi clearly show the police
attacking with cudgels first, after which the situation grew
increasingly violent. The protests passed off peacefully at the
other five locations.
The organisations appealed to all citizens who had recorded the
violence on December 3rd on their cameras and mobiles to send them
the evidence for successful prosecution of police officials.
The Chief Minister has gone back on his assurance to initiate an
independent and impartial investigation in to the incident of
violence. Survivors and their children, including those who were
not even present at the scene, are being charged with trumped up
offences. Balkrishna Namdeo, President of the Bhopal Gas Peedit
Nirashrit Pensionbhogi Sangharsh Morcha, has been charged with
murderous assault and other serious offences without any evidence.
“If the police can present one single photograph, video or any
other evidence to substantiate their charges against Namdeo, we
will ourselves walk him to the jail,” said Satinath Sarangi of the
Bhopal Group for Information and Action, (BGIA). The organizations
called for immediate withdrawal of false charges on innocent gas
victims and their children.
They said that the 14 men who are currently in police custody
include those who were arrested while returning home from their
workplace and were not present when violence broke out. "The men
were stripped to their underpants, and beaten inside the police
station where they were detained for well over 40 hours. These
young men were not allowed to speak to their parents or lawyer and
every right of an accused was violated,” said Ms Rachna Dhingra
also from BGIA.
Meanwhile, the organizations opposed the Chief Minister’s recent
demand for inclusion of 20 wards of New Bhopal in the gas-affected
area. They said the demand did not have any scientific basis and
would weaken the gas victim’s case for compensation fr0om Dow
It may be recalled here that 40 tones of methyl isocyanate, (MIC –
a highly volatile toxic chemical), gas spewed from the pesticide
plant – owned by Union Carbide India Limited, (UCIL), a subsidiary
of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), USA – in the intervening night
of December 2-3, 1984. The gas leak killed 3,000 people instantly
and more than 25,000 over the years and inflicting grievous
injuries on countless others. Many were deformed for life and many
children born with the toxic effect are sick and with congenital
malformations. It also affected 100,000 people that night and
estimates are that more than 500,000 continue to suffer till date.