Who said the Bhopal tragedies were over?

I’ve been in Bhopal for a month now but I’ve been so consumed by my work at Orya Basti school and on medicinal plants (and blogging!) that I never really had time to visit the Chingari Trust Rehabilitation Center for children. I pass by the center every day, when I bike back to the clinic from the bastis but I never really thought of dropping by, à l’improviste like that. So when the new volunteer, Gautama from NYC, wanted to volunteer there, I seized the opportunity to go with him and finally have a look at the center.

Sambhavna staff had told me that the Chingari Trust was a therapy center for children who were born handicapped from parents who were affected by the gas tragedy or from parents who were contaminated by the toxic water. [Yes friends, the MIC leak into the air in 1984 that killed thousands immediately was only the first Bhopal tragedy. Ever since it was erected, in 1982, the UC plant has been leaching toxic chemicals into the water consumed by the people in the bastis all around the factory. The plant, that is abandoned and uncleaned, is still leaching heavy metals into the water that is connected to the pumps that service the bastis. So beside the gas tragedy of 1984, there is an ongoing 2nd tragedy that is affecting several generations at a time: water contamination. That is why many activist campaigns say: “Bhopal, 1984, till when?”

Even though parents are affected with certain types of sicknesses because of the gas/water, they are still functional human beings. Most of them can talk correctly, walk properly, coordinate their movements, think clearly… But their children, now that is a completely different story. The chemicals that have penetrated the parents of these children are serious mutagen agents and can have very damaging effects on their children. As a result, many children are born handicapped. For the longest time, the Indian government denied that these handicapped children had anything to do with the gas/water tragedy. But numbers show that the basti areas have a dramatically higher number of handicapped children than the rest of Bhopal. Il faut se rendre à l’évidence les amis!

Sambhavna’s definition of Chingari was quite exact. Chingari is a rehabilitation center for handicapped children. But before visiting the center, these words were just words. I was only truly able to understand the weight of these words once I actually visited the center yesterday. I was shocked to see the severity of the children’s handicaps, handicaps that have worsened because they were left untreated for years. Some have mental handicaps, others physical. I met some kids with cerebral palsies, some with  autism, some with Down’s Syndrome, some who have to crawl around because their legs don’t function, some who have trouble controlling their movements, some who can’t talk… Most of them need operations, but their parents can’t afford them and only a lucky few get them for free when some private clinics feel like being generous. Although all the kids bear huge smiles on their faces, and rush to you to shake your hand, it was so hard to see these kids thrown into the margins of society because of a fatal mistake made 27 years ago. Union Carbide’s negligence has carried over to the next generation, more terrible than ever.

The work Chingari is doing is very positive and fundamental for the basti communities. These children have access to free therapy as well as special schooling. These facilities allow the children to improve their condition. At Chingari, the children have found a friendly niche with specialists who care for them, love them and empower them. Parents are also empowered. With the stigma associated with having a handicapped child, many parents refuse to accept that their children are handicapped and bring them to the center. But when they actually go to the center with their kids and see how their children’s condition improves, they are thankful and come back willingly (this is what Mr Thomas, the director was telling us). The organization needs support, publicity and financial help. The Bhopal Medical Appeal (UK) partially funds Chingari and the government also helped by giving them a large space to work in but the children need a lot more attention and therapists. We, as activists, need to open their eyes to this tragic reality and do something for these children. The Bhopal tragedy is far from being over, it is just continuing in the terribly sad form of children plagued with lifelong handicaps and no way of helping them out.

Source: Stephie, Oxygène

Girl with candle Bhopal

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