30 years on, fight for justice still rages in Bhopal

30 years on, fight for justice still rages in Bhopal
A notice propagating safety (bottom) is seen on the casing of a machine inside one of the buildings at the now-defunct Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal on November 28, 2014. The Bhopal industrial disaster, the world's worst industrial disaster in 1984 when gas leaked from a pesticides plant owned by the US multinational Union Carbide, killed about 4,000 people on the night of December 3, 1984.

BHOPAL, India - Nearly deaf and riddled with cancer and ulcers, 90-year-old Rampyari Bai insists she will never give up fighting for justice for victims of the world's worst industrial disaster.

"I will fight until my very last breath, even if I have to crawl on the ground," says Bai at her home in Bhopal, the site of a catastrophic leak at a chemical plant on December 2, 1984.

Bai was living just outside the Union Carbide factory when around 30,000 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) began spewing from a tank shortly before midnight.

Sirens only sounded for a few minutes and wind blew the highly toxic gas across the city. More than 3,500 were killed in the immediate aftermath but as many as 25,000 people are estimated to have died in the long run.

Bai suffered injuries, including mouth ulcers, which she has endured for the last 30 years, while her son Prabhu Lal has had several limbs amputated.

There is also the never-ending pain of seeing her daughter-in-law Jamuna die in hospital on the night of the disaster.

"She was seven months pregnant," Bai told AFP.

Grief spurred Bai to campaign for compensation and ensure those responsible were punished.

Over the years she and fellow activists have been beaten by police at protests and threatened with prison.

Their determination is undimmed, but the recent death of Union Carbide's former boss and the failure to secure more compensation means their prospects look grim.

The plant sits abandoned behind walls, crawling with vines, weeds and snakes. E-610, the now rusting tank from which the poison sprang, is still identifiable by its fading serial number.

Amid disputes over whether the soil below will ever be safe, the control room remains labelled with signs including a sticker reading "SAFETY IS EVERYBODY'S BUSINESS".

The site is off limits, but Shahid Noor - who was orphaned by the tragedy - received permission last week to look around.

Speaking in an old laboratory, the 39-year-old recalled how the alarm was raised by the panicked sounds from the family's buffaloes.

"When I went outside, it was like someone had boiled 100 chilies together and thrown them in my eyes," he said.

His relatives tried to flee, but not all of them made it.

"My mother was taken to hospital and I never saw her again as she died there the next day.

"I was with my father when he passed away. He kept telling me his eyes were burning, and his chest exploding."

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