So far, I have written about several heart rending photographs in the series of famous and iconic photographs. Trust me, it has been tough to write about tragedies. Researching about information, putting it all together and then writing it in a coherent manner gives me feeling as though I am witnessing those painful moments with my own eyes. Nevertheless, so far, no other photograph has put me under as much grief as the one that I am presenting today. This photograph makes me feel like crying. And, while writing it, I am crying.
People of Bhopal, capital town of the Indian state Madhya Pradesh, were sleeping through a cold, intervening night on 2nd and 3rd December 1984. Nothing was out of ordinary and the night seemed like any other silent, shivering, winter night of the region. But that was only superficial.
Somewhere, in the eastern part of the city, something nightmarish was happening inside a pesticide plant of the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). An industrial disaster of incomparable magnitude was about to happen.
Built in 1969, the factory used to produce a pesticide which UCIL had branded as Sevin. A chemical called Methyl isocynate (MIC) was used for producing this pesticide. Therefore, the factory stored a large amount of MIC inside its premises. On that fateful night, water began to leak into a tank containing 42 tonnes of MIC. The resulting exothermic reaction increased the temperature inside the tank to over 200 °C (392 °F) and also raised the pressure. Soon the tank vented; releasing toxic gases into the atmosphere. The gases were blown by the northwesterly winds all over the Bhopal city.
It was not long before that the entire city was enveloped by an invisible but extremely toxic gas. At around 10:30pm, people of Bhopal began to feel the effect of toxin. People who were cozily lying inside duvets a few minutes ago; they now began to feel suffocation, cough, burning eyes and vomiting. Streets became crowded with people running here and there for help. The chaos went on throughout the night.
About 3,000 people died immediately on that night and another 6,000 died in the next one week. Yet another 8,000 people died over a longer period of time due to effects of the poisonous gas. Still about 150,000 people are living with chronic diseases that occurred due to exposure to the gas.
Today’s photograph is perhaps the most capable one to tell the pain of that night. It was shot by Pablo Bartholomew (another photographer named Raghu Rai shot a similar black and white photo). Early in the morning of 5th December 1984 Bartholomew and Rai rushed to Bhopal in order to cover the disaster. In the city, they came across a group of people gathered around a father who was about to bury his girl child. The child was poisoned to death due to gas leak. Bartholomew and Rai quickly took several shots before the grave was filled with dirt. The photographers did not ask the name of the child or father. Unable to withstand the sorrow, they broke down and cried.
So far, the identity of this girl child remains unknown. No one has come forward claiming to be a relative of this girl.
Did you know?
- On 3 December 2000, a man named Andy Bichlbaum appeared on BBC World News. He claimed to be Jude Finisterra -a representative of Dow Chemical Company (which had acquired Union Carbide). He stated that Dow had agreed to clean up the site and compensate those harmed in the incident, by liquidating Union Carbide for $12 billion USD. Immediately afterward, Dow’s share price fell 4.2% in 23 minutes, for a loss of $2 billion in market value. Dow quickly issued a statement saying that they had no employee by that name —and that he was an impostor, not affiliated with Dow, and that his claims were a hoax
- In 1994, Union Carbide sold it’s Indian subsidiary, UCIL, which operated the Bhopal plant. The buyer was Eveready Industries (makers of the Eveready batteries)
- After the tragedy, Union Carbide chairman and CEO Warren Anderson was arrested by the Bhopal police. He was released within 6 hours on a bail merely of $2,100 USD.
- On 20 August 2010, the United States State Department said the Bhopal gas tragedy case is legally closed.
- Pablo Bartholomew won World Press Photo of the Year award in 1984 for this photograph
Here is a video that brings some more haunting photos Bhopal Gas Tragedy and its aftermath.
I don’t know how to sign off this article. Do share your thoughts after reading —this is all I can say.