The Bhopal Marathon: Lie & Let Die (Final Part)

1984 Union carbide Gas tragedy 28 years later

LIE & LET DIE (Final Part)

An order was given, to doctors treating the victims NOT to use an antidote (sodium thiosulphate) that had been clearly helping the victims.

Sodium thiosulphate is an antidote to cyanide poisoning and accepting it as an antidote would be to imply that the MIC gas had crossed the pulmonary barrier. That is to say that the poison gas would be attacking the bodies other organs, through the blood stream, and not simply irritating the lungs and eyes.

CARBIDE MUSTERS ITS ALLIES

What the Indian Express (see p.23 Bhopal Marathon) called ‘the Carbide lobby in Bhopal’s medical administration’ was soon at work. Its first act, according to former District Collector Moti Singh, was to launch a campaign of smears against Dr Max Daunderer and drive him from Bhopal.(31)

Next, Dr. M.N. Nagu, Bhopal’s Directorate of Health Services (his brother held the lucrative contract for security at the Union Carbide’ factory) sent a circular warning doctors that ‘under no circumstances’ should sodium thiosulphate be used. Any doctor who used the antidote, Nagu blustered, would be ‘held responsible’ in case of negative results.(32)

This diktat, which had no medical basis, effectively stopped use of a drug that could have saved many lives and eased the suffering of the gas survivors. In fact, when early results from the Indian Council of Medical Research’s double-blind testing of sodium thiosulphate came through in April 1985, they were so good that it was recommending mass use of antidote injections.(33)

Given the strong suspicion that Union Carbide had colluded with its allies in Bhopal’s medical establishment to stop the use of sodium thiosulphate(34) Bhopal survivors realised that to get the anti-dote they would have to administer it themselves.

They decided to set up a People’s Health Centre to provide injections free of charge to communities living near the Union Carbide factory. A call for help was answered by volunteer doctors and health workers and work began on a simple pole and thatch building on land comandeered within the huge sixty-six acre factory site.

The foundation plaque was laid by Sunil Kumar, 13, who was orphaned by the disaster, Seven of his family of ten died on ‘that night’.

The Centre was run by volunteer doctors who meticulously recorded the effects of sodium thiosulphate on the many symptoms of gas exposure. The Centre survived just 20 days but in that brief period it gave more injections than all the government hospitals put together had done in the previous six months.(34)

But, at midnight on 24 June 1985, police raided the homes of the doctors and clinic workers. A dozen armed police entered the clinic, forced those inside into two jeeps and took them to two separate police stations where they were locked up overnight before being sent to jail.

The Bhopal People’s Clinic was the first attempt by survivors faced with Carbide’s indifference and government neglect to take charge of their own medical care. Charges cooked up against them included the attempted murder of officials and other serious criminal offences. The police took away 1,200 medical folders that recorded the beneficial effect on exposed people of sodium thiosulphate injections.

These were handed to Carbide and never seen again.What became of them, no one knows.

One of the surviving records is a patient card issued to Mr Jagdish Vishwakarma, a 28 year old resident of Qazi Camp, one of the worst-hit neighbourhoods. It shows that on June 25, 1985 he received the first of a course of 12 injections of sodium thiosulphate. Hours later the clinic was destroyed and his course was never completed.

On the card the Clinic’s manifesto was published in Hindi. It is translated into English and can be sen in the Bhopal Marathon.

The destruction of the clinic was a defining moment in the survivors’ struggle for health and medical care, to obtain which they had been forced to fight ‘these powers that rule and govern us.’

It was now abundantly clear how deep the multinational’s influence ran among the country’s rulers and that in any future conflict of interest it was the survivors who would be thrown to the dogs.

The sodium thiosulphate scandal demonstrated to the survivors of the disaster that their political rulers and the corporation were essentially on the same side.

REFERENCES, please see The Bhopal Marathon by following the link below.

You can read the complete Bhopal Marathon publication online here

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We believe Dow & DuPont must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.