India: Christians remember Bhopal

infant victim of Bhopal

infant victim of Bhopal

Christians in Bhopal have staged a prayer service and torchlight vigil to mark the 25th anniversary of the world's worst industrial tragedy.

About 3,000 people died on 3 December, 1984 when 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas escaped from a chemical plant owned by the Union Carbide Corporation in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state.

According to state government figures, some 15,000 people subsequently died as a result of the tragedy, whereas NGOs put the death toll at over 20,000. The government has also admitted the gas leak affected around 573,600 survivors.

About 100 people from various Christian denominations attended the prayer meeting on  2 December, the eve of the tragedy. The commission for ecumenism and dialogue of the state's Catholic bishops' council organized the event at Seva Sadan, Bhopal archdiocese's social service centre.

The participants, including members of the Madhya Pradesh Isai Mahasangh (grand assembly of Christians in Madhya Pradesh), lit candles and observed two minutes of silence as a mark of respect for the victims. They also prayed for peace and comfort for the survivors.

"The magnitude of the tragedy was so powerful, even now people are suffering from its aftermath," said Father Anand Muttungal, the commission secretary and spokesperson of the Catholic Church in the state.

Survivors and those born since then still suffer from breathing difficulties, gastro-intestinal problems, menstrual irregularities, miscarriages and neurological problems, Father Muttungal said.

Other common ailments include susceptibility to infections, chromosomal abnormalities and chronic conjunctivitis, he added.

Later generations are paying "a huge price," Father Muttungal said. "We need to become more conscious of the dangers when industries like this build plants around the world."

Father Muttungal said that the contaminated soil and drinking water have added to survivors' miseries.

Yesterday, Father Muttungal also attended an inter-faith prayer service the state government organized to pay tribute to the victims. State Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan told the gathering the accident was a man-made one.

Mufti Abdul Razak, a Muslim urged people to do more for survivors' welfare. "As a society we have failed to wipe away the victims' tears," he said.

Asked what the Church has done for the victims, Father Muttungal said it had done its part during and after the disaster by assisting the government and NGOs.

Gerry Paul, who was nine when the disaster struck, says the Church needs to do more. Many survivors still live in "very deplorable conditions," the Catholic man told UCA News. "Widows and their children need Church help as they are still unable to get on with their lives."

Richard D'Silva, another Catholic survivor, said the tragedy occurred when he was in his first year at college. D'Silva, who remembers seeing bodies piled up along the roadside, says he too wants the Church to do more to help survivors instead of saying that the government and NGOs are already assisting them.

Source: UCAN

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