Coinciding National Pollution Day observed to remember 1984 gas leak from US-owned plant in India, victims say, their struggle is far from over.
NEW DELHI (AA) – Last month when Abdul Jabbar Khan, a victim of gas leak tragedy that happened 37 years ago in the central Indian city of Bhopal, was awarded posthumously the Padma Shri – fourth highest civilian award – his friends and family members said it was recognition of his work for the welfare of the survivors.
Coinciding with National Pollution Prevention Day which is being observed on Thursday to commemorate people who lost their lives in the Bhopal gas disaster, the family members and friends remember Jabbar as the one who waged a lonely and never-ending battle.
“He worked for the people and the society all these years. I think he would always be remembered for his work and rebuilding the lives of the victims,” Saira Bano, Jabbar’s wife, told Anadolu Agency, adding it was a “proud moment” and recognition of his efforts.
Jabbar was also co-convener of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (Bhopal Gas Affected Women Organization) – an advocacy group – that passed away in 2019 but not before ensuring medical and economic rehabilitation of scores of families.
Considered among the world’s worst industrial disasters, the gas leak incident at the US-owned Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal took place on the night of Dec. 2-3, 1984. Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and 8,000 people lost their lives.
Subsequently, the chemical plant was then shut down and Union Carbide faced a flurry of court cases for its alleged negligence. Jabbar, who was then 28 years old, began a struggle for justice for the survivors of the tragedy.
Shahwar Khan, another relative of Jabbar, said that his contribution was immense.
“It is good they have now awarded him…but it would have been better, had they realized and recognized his effort a little bit earlier. All his life, he worked hard to ensure justice to the victims,” he said.
The gas leak victims said they can never forget that dreadful night when fresh air became a precious commodity.
“How can we forget that night? When it comes to my mind, I only pray to God that no human being witnesses such a tragedy,” Raeesa Bi, a gas victim and an activist, told Anadolu Agency.
– Fight will continue
Even as Khan has been awarded for his work, Raeesa Bi said several demands of the victims are yet to be fulfilled.
“I want to see the survivors get justice in my lifetime…there is the issue of proper compensation etc.,” she said.
Nallukunnel Damodaran Jayaprakash, co-convenor of Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti, another group fighting for the victims, maintains that the fight will continue.
“In 2012, the supreme court had given several directions including providing better health facilities to the victims, but it has not been implemented properly,” he said.
Jayaprakash said that a petition was also filed in the apex court in 2010 by the victims, demanding an increase in compensation for the gas victims.
“It is still pending … also, the criminal cases against the accused are also pending… so the victims haven’t got full justice yet, the fight will continue,” he said.
On Jabbar, he said that he will be always remembered for his work.
“He spent 35 years of his life fighting for justice before he died in 2019 … the award is for government recognizing his work,” he said.