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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 18:10 GMT 19:10 UK
Bhopal's wounds refuse to heal
Graffiti on Union Carbide factory wall, now owned by Dow Chemical
Many victims still feel outraged by what happened

A court in the central Indian city of Bhopal has rejected an attempt by the Indian Government to reduce the gravity of its own charge against a former chairman of Union Carbide.

Patients at a clinic opened solely to treat gas victims
The Sambhavna clinic has treated 11,000 victims

The charge stems from the 1984 gas disaster at the company's factory, which killed thousands of people.

Many in Bhopal still feel rage against Warren Anderson and Union Carbide. They're all victims with horrific tales to tell.

"I lost my husband and both my sons," one women campaigner told me.

"As we were running away from the gas leak, my husband fell and his bladder burst.

"After a year and a half he was dead. Both my sons' lungs were damaged. They've both died in the last few years."

A security guard at the now derelict insecticide factory told me there are still tonnes of chemical waste inside which has simply never been cleared up.

Open in new window : Bhopal disaster
Images remembering India's poison gas leak

A recent Greenpeace report says the site, like the water supply for the slums across the road, is heavily contaminated.

Smack opposite the languishing factory we found men spending the evening lost in a song to the Hindu god, Hanuman.

For people like Laskhman Panthi, memories of December 1984 remain raw.

"I felt this burning sensation in my eyes. I covered my children with blankets.

"People were shouting at me to leave the house, but I suddenly lost control of my bowels as I ran outside.

"Out in the streets people were demented. Some collapsed in front of me, but people just trampled over them."

Mother (L) and daughter, both gas victims
The disaster devastated many Bhopal families

His son, Hemraj, was just five at the time.

"I remember countless bodies being cremated here that morning. There was no time for any proper rituals.

"They were just thrown on the wood, there were so many."

In the Muslim burial ground there was no more space for anybody so the dead children and women were taken off in trucks to other burial places.

But is it fair that Union Carbide's former boss should still face homicide charges?

Prabhat Gupta says "no". He used to work in the ill-fated factory and says the safety regime was excellent.

"I as a person who was working inside the plant as a production chap, was finding it sometimes very inconvenient - there were so elaborate safety measures they were taking that it used to really hinder our production activities."

Victim and activist Abdul Jabbar
Abdul Jabbar: The campaign goes on

Many of the bereaved and ill, however, are glad the charge of homicide against Warren Anderson remains. S Muralidhar is a lawyer for many victims.

"Bhopal is symbolic of what is happening in several places in the world," he says.

"And if we don't get our act together - if we don't clearly enunciate the principles for corporate criminality, violation of human rights by business houses, corporations - I think we are going to miss the bus.

"I think it's very important that we do this right now."

At the Bhopal Gas Victim's Women's organisation, women who can no longer do their old jobs are learning to use sewing machines - a new skill.

Son (L) and father, both gas victims
Many victims are still waiting for 'justice'

Sherbano is one. Her father died of throat cancer and her mother can't walk any more. They've had to fight for their share of the compensation money.

"For my father's death we got 100,000 rupees - $2,000. But 20,000 rupees went to the lawyer, 10,000 to the doctors, and we had to pay a bribe to cash the cheque.

Here in Bhopal, there's a mixture of feelings.

Many are simply weary of the struggle for more compensation.

But, with 100,000 people still severely ill, others will be glad the charge against Warren Anderson still stands - now they'll want to see him in an Indian courtroom.

See also:

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