An account of THAT NIGHT by Aziza Sultan, a community health worker at the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal.


'I was living with my husband's family at that time. My daughter Ruby was 3 years old and my son Mohsin was about 8 months old. That night my husband was away from Bhopal on work. Our family consisted of my father and mother in law, two sisters in law and their husbands and their four children. Our house had four rooms - two pucca (brick/mortar/cement) rooms [in which doors and windows could be closed to prevent gas from entering] and two side rooms made of wooden slats [with a large opening below the roof that could not be closed to stop gas from entering]. I, my husband and our children had one of the side rooms. At that time television had just come to Bhopal and it was a Sunday. Our whole family watched a Hindi movie 'Damaad' [son-in-law] till 9pm then had dinner together and went to bed at about 10 pm. my children had gone to sleep long before the movie ended. The rest of the people in the community also went to bed around that time (nowadays because so many people have TV they stay up later.)

At about 12.30 am I woke to the sound of Ruby coughing badly. The room was not dark but lighted by a street light right outside. In the half light I saw that the room was filled with a white cloud. I heard a lot of people shouting. They were shouting 'bhago,bhago' (run,run). Then Mohsin started coughing too and then I started coughing with each breath seeming as if we were breathing in fire. Our eyes were burning too. My mother in law who was also coughing badly came in to the room. She was in apanic and bade us come out. I came out with my children, carrying Mohsin on my lap and holding Ruby's hand and went in to the kitchen. Meanwhile other members of the family were also coughing and groaning. They closed all the doors and windows to stop more gas from coming in. The room was already full of the white clouds. My mother in law was known in the community as a person ever ready to help people. A hindu family in our neighbourhood (Mr and Mrs Verma and their three children) knocked on our door, my father in law opened the door and they came inside in a rush and collapsed on the sofa [the sofa broke under the collective weight] . They said that the 'sardars' had done some mischief. [Sardars = sikhs. A month earlier Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had been assassinated by her sikh bodyguards for ordering an army attack on the Golden Temple at Amritsar. Her assasination was followed by large scale violence against sikhs all over the country by Congress supporters. Union Carbide later siezed on this rumour to try to divert blame for the calamity from itself. It claimed a non-existent 'sikh terrorist' movement called Black June had sabotaged the factory. Later the sikh terrorists became 'a disgruntled employee'.] Meanwhile people were becoming more and more uncomfortable. A lot of people were coming in. My nephew fell unconscious.

Next my son Mohsin stopped groaning as he too fell unconscious. My mother in law suggested that all of us should go to the hamidia hospital. We left the house. me carrying Mohsin and Ruby holding my hand. My sister in law was also holding two children and my father in law was carrying his favourite grandson who was five years old. It was very cold outside but we were not feeling cold at all. We went out in the clothes (night gown) we were sleeping in with nothing else to cover ourselves. Not even our dupattas or burquas were with us. It was around 1.30 am by then. We did not even lock the house, Nothing mattered. Outside it appeared that a large number of people had passed that way. Lots of shoes and shawls and other clothing were strewn about. White clouds had enveloped everything. Streetlights looked like points of light. Our family got split up. My sisters in law ran in a different direction and the rest of us went towards the main street. I saw lots and lots of people running, screaming for help, vomiting, falling down, unconscious. There were a few vehicles. We had gone about five hundred meters when my father in law thought that it would be easier to escape on his two wheeler moped. He asked us to stay where we were and went back for the vehicle. He brought the moped but it would not start, there was no gas. He left the two wheeler by the side of the road. Then he spotted a moving truck and told us to climb on to it. We could not climb on to it but he was tall and strong so he got in, but instead of taking five year old Mansoor (his grandson, my husbands elder brother's son) with him he took another child who was running around with him on the truck. Mohsin and my sister in law's daughter were still unconscious. Ruby was holding on to my kurta (she did not leave it once). We walked for another 500 meters and came to Bhopal Talkies crossing. Mohsin was vomiting on my body. Ruby was also vomiting. I was not able to control my bowels. Faeces were running down my legs. My mother in law was vomiting. She was a heart patient and Hamidia hospital was still two kilometers away much of it uphill. We had just one thought in mind and that was to reach Hamidia hospital. At Bhopal Talkies crossing we all had fallen on the ground. I was two months pregnant at the time. I had a miscarriage right in the middle of the street, my body was covered with blood. There was blood all over. I was unable to control my bowels and the faeces ran down my legs, mixing with the blood.

We were not able to talk to each other or even see because our eyes were inflamed. We were wondering what had happened, who had done it. Till then we had no knowledge that there was a gas leak from Union Carbide. We thought that if we stayed on at Bhopal Talkies crossing we would surely all die because we had seen so many people lying on the ground who appeared to be dead. Trucks overflowing with people were passing on the main road . We took the Saifia College road and walked about half a kilometer. We jumped on to a moving vehicle, a large three wheeler, going slowly because it was uphill. It was already full. By then I was covered with my own blood and faeces and vomit from my children. I fell on to some man's lap inside the vehicle. The vehicle gave away at the top of the hill. The engine collapsed because there were too many people. We started walking again towards Hamidia hospital. We reached Hamidia hospital at about 2 am - 2.30 am. there was nobody around so we went towards Kamla Park (the new city) because everyone seemed to be running that way. Mohsin was still unconscious Ruby still holding onto my kurta.

We reached the lake and found the park separating the upper and lower lakes was covered with people on the ground. People from nearby areas were taking out their quilts and covers and covering people up so that they could be protected from the gas cloud. We (my sister in law, mother in law and four chidren) fell on to a pile of dried leaves near a garbage dump and all of us fell unconscious. I remember faintly that two men came and lifted me and my children and carried us to the side of the road and covered me with a quilt. We lay there for a while and then we heard an announcement on a public address system on a jeep. They were saying “we are in control of the gas leak from union carbide. Go back to your houses.” By then it was almost dawn. One man about 35 years old from the locality took us to his home. Our eyes were closed and were very swollen. We were still feeling as if someone was trying to strangle us, breathing was very difficult. This man gave me clothes to wear and some hot water to wash myself. He made us some tea but we could not drink because our throats were on fire. Soon it was morning but we were helpless because of our eyes. The man and his 17-18 year old son brought us home, They also gave us a bottle of drinking water.

When we reached home we saw that trees had shed all their leaves and looked as if they had been burnt. Milk had turned light green and we threw it away. All food left was also thrown away. At about 8 am we heard that people were running away from Bhopal. My mother and brother had come to see me at night and not finding me at home had feared that maybe I was dead. They came back again but then there was fresh panic because of this rumour about leaving Bhopal. I left with my mother and brother and we went to a relative's place far away from the factory. My mother and brother were less affected than us. Unlike me and others in my family, they could keep their eyes open and they held my hand and carried my two children. We reached our relatives' place around 10.30 AM on December 3. They called their family doctor who put in eye drops and gave us some pills. We could not eat anything, my son Mohsin wasn't even suckling on my breast. All of us stayed in the relatives' place till the next evening when we reached home. By then my husband had come back. He was away in Jaipur and had got the news of the disaster on the radio on the 3rd evening. He was worried that we may have died. He had gone to Jaipur as a chauffeur for a businessman and his family. He drove all the way back from Jaipur in a rush. By the 4th evening volunteer doctors were moving from house to house giving medicines and we got some treatment for them.