"We call ourselves survivors because it is more optimistic to do that, instead of thinking gloomy thoughts, and calling ourselves victims."
Leela Bai, and Hajra Bee are survivors of the leak in 1984, and they share their stories on how hard it has been for them since the gas leak.
Q: How long have you been living in Bhopal and how old are you now?
A: I have lived in Bhopal for 27 years. I am now 43. I was 20 when it happened.
Q: Did you know what was going on when it happened?
A: Yes, I knew that it was going on because I was sleeping with my one year old daughter in my house when the gas leak happened.
Q: How did you find out about the event?
A: My daughter and husband started crying in the night and I woke up. I asked him why he was crying, but I realized that because of the gas in the air, they had tears in their eyes. Then my eyes started watering too. So I took my daughter in my lap and went to another room. My brother-in-law covered us with a blanket and we decided not to leave the house. I opened the window, and people were screaming 'RUN!'
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how if affected you?
A: Breathlessness, and my father-in-law had to leave his work. He lost most of his sight. My mother-in-law can't work either. She's constantly sick. My son has diabetes, and my daughter has thyroid. My husband lost the ability to do hard labor. In the night, my arms hurt, and I get sick quite often. When my son goes to school, he gets made fun of by all the people who aren't as affected by the tragedy. He is very short, about 1.2 meters (about 4 feet in US measurement) and he is eighteen years old. He would love to learn, but he really doesn't like to go to school and face the people. Luckily, my daughter is married now, so I am very thankful for that. So, really, this has really affected my whole family.
Q: What would you like to see happen in the future?
A: I want work that I can do. I can't do hard labor, or work. I become breathless easily now, and my children are sick a lot of the time, if not most of the time. So, I want something I can easily do at home.
Q: Is or was there any personal goal that you wanted to accomplish that was hindered by the gas tragedy? Do you think you could still accomplish it?
A: My husband works at the mill, and he only gets fifty rupees a day (a little over one US dollar). But because he makes such little money, I couldn't really own my own flour grinder: something I would liked to have had for a while. Now I am hoping to get a government loan, so that I can get one.
Q: What is the worst part of being a "survivor"?
A: I have become very useless. I have to take expensive medicine every day, only now, it is not so expensive because of the Trust Clinic that Satinath Sarangi started. I have also become very weak, so work is hard. However, even though it was only a little, we got some compensation for the tragedy: 25,000 rupees (about 550 US dollars).
Q: Does it give you comfort that you are a survivor, and that you are taking part in improving your city every day?
A: Yes. I am fighting for my rights, and I am glad that I can get more sane because of it.
Q: What is hard about your day? what are some daily struggles you go through?
A: Before the gas tragedy I never thought that something this big would ever happen. Now I don't feel as safe as I used to. Our family doesn't know what to do without much money. Our house was twenty kilometers away from the disaster, and before it happened I felt secure and safe in my home. But, after it happened, I felt like, and I still feel like anything can happen, and that i didn't know that factories could do such harm.
Q: What happened on the day after the tragedy?
A: In the morning, many doctors came. They kept telling us to rinse our faces and eyes in water. They told us not to eat the night before's food, and kept getting us more and more medicine. There were many dead bodies everywhere, and they cremated the bodies in stacks. They couldn't cremate anybody individually because there were too many dead bodies. The saddest part is, though, that some people who were still alive got cremated because they were so weak they couldn't move or open their eyes or do anything. Everything was polluted, and contaminated.
Q: How do you feel about supporters and non- supporters?
A: I feel that because of the supporters, only through struggles we have had victories in our campaigns. We have gotten second rounds of compensation, free medical treatment, and ration cards. Yes the survivor groups are doing a good job. As for the non-supporters, I feel that they only don't understand our situation because they haven't gone through the ongoing daily struggle that we have. They think our campaign is a drive for money, which it isn't.
Q: How are your present jobs affected by the gas tragedy? Did you have to change your occupation because of it?
A: I think that because that my family is very poor, both back then and now, I could've protected many things such as my eyesight a lot better. However, because our eyesight suffered, my husband lost his job. Before he could run mills on his own. Now, he need much help to run one.
Q: How did you react when you found out that so many of your friends, acquaintances, and loved ones had died? How did it make you feel that so many of the newborn children still born today are deformed because of the contaminated water and the gas?
A: I wish that the gas leak never happened. When my children get sick, I feel that the small kids have only gotten it because of the tragedy. It hurts to know that a lot of people I knew and loved have died. I have carried this sadness with me for many years. It still hurts. I remember that many small children used to come to my door and sell me their milk, trying to make a living. Most of those small, cute kids, and their laughter is now gone. And, it pains me know that they aren't here anymore.
Q: How long have you lived in Bhopal and how old were you when it happened?
A: I have lived here for 51 years. I was 28 years old.
Q: Did you know what was going on during the leak?
A: No, I didnít know what was going on. I didnít even know who Union Carbide was. Everybody had their own separate ideas of what was happening.
Q: How did you find about the event?
A: When me, my husband, and my children were sleeping, my husband woke up, and then I did too. He said that we had chili powder or something in our eyes because our eyes really started to sting and water. Then later, we heard ďGas leakage! Run!Ē I wrapped my sons in blankets, and we started to run away on foot. I then took our eleven month son and started running. My husband took another son on a bike and he fled. When we reached Biti College, where water was being offered, I realized that we had left another son in bed. I went home to get him, and by the Union Carbide gate the police were standing. They stopped me, and they took us to some doctors and gave us medicine. I saw lots of dead and injured people. I went home with my husband and I found my son unconscious. My sister in law was missing, so everyone went to look for her. I hid her son and my children under covers, even though we werenít allowed in the house.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about how it affected you?
A: My vision is diminished, it is harder for me to breathe, and one of my sons was hospitalized for eight years.
Q: What would you like to see happen in the future?
A: Income generation for my sons, because they are too sick to work. Severely affected areas of Bhopal should definitely get this too, because everyone, especially the new generation, cannot work, and that is not just my family, but others too.
Q: Is there any personal goal you wanted to accomplish that the Gas Tragedy struck down?
A: I have always wanted to open a store, but since the incident my children have been sick so much, I donít have the time, or funding to do it. I donít want to do it for me anymore, but I want to help for my children, so that they could run a store.
Q: What is the worst part of being a survivor?
A: My life has been wasted. Thatís what I hate. The new generation is even worse. They wonít have any strength.
Q: Does it give you any comfort that you are a survivor, and working to help make your city a better place?
A: Yes. It gives me a lot of comfort. I am happy that at least through this struggle people are getting some rights, and I will continue to help.
Q: What is hard about your day? What are some daily struggles that you go through?
A: Because of the gas tragedy, and what it did to my family, in 1991 my husband left me. I had a child on the 2nd floor admitted in a hospital. I used to work a lot, stitching and making children clothes, and also making cigarettes so that I could have money for my kidsí medications and put food on our table. The money I made was barely enough to feed them. It was a hard time for me, and nobody helped me, or could help me since a lot of the people here in Bhopal were in similar situations themselves. Also, my husband leaving me, left me to do all the work for my whole family. I struggled like this for ten years, until 2001. I cannot do any hard labor. My job is now being an activist, so I fight for the rights of the people of Bhopal.
Q: Did you feel less safe after the gas tragedy?
A: I used to feel a lot safer before. I also used to have strength. My life was good, I made money. Now its all changed.
Q: How do you feel about supporters and non-supporters?
A: The people that support us make me happy, and I hope that they stay with us. However, for those against us, I hope to convince them.
way for your children to learn about money is for you not to have any."
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