A life dedicated to Bhopal survivors
Posted January 3, 2011on:
In reply to my email seeking a public apology for his gratuitous observations about the gas leak tragedy during his visit to Bhopal in late 2009, minister of environment and forests Jairam Ramesh said: “In case you don’t know I have already apologised to Jabbarbhai orally and in writing”.
Jabbarbhai, that is Abdul Jabbar, has become almost synonymous with the gas leak tragedy survivors. It is not possible to discuss the long drawn out fight of the survivors for justice (which they have not got so far) without bringing in Jabbarbhai. Son of a cloth mill employee who had migrated from West Punjab (now in Pakistan), Jabbar was eking out his livelihood by boring irrigation wells when the gas leak disaster of December 2-3, 1984 drew him away.
Of the scores of voluntary organisations which had sprung up in Bhopal in the wake of the tragedy, only Jabbar’s Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS) is active today. When Jabbar is not busy finalising a petition or appeal to seek relief for the victims or to get some wrong righted, he is running around gas relief hospitals or dispensaries pleading the case of some survivor who had been earlier turned away. At other times he is trying to find some soft employment for those whose physical strength has been shattered by the effect of the MiC gas inhalation 26 years ago. His assistance has been sought by almost every one of the survivors either for getting medicine or for processing his papers for compensation or for pleading with a claims court judge who has rejected the papers on flimsy grounds.
He is a hard worker but a bad manager. He and his organisations are behind the dozens of appeals and petitions in the High Court and the Supreme Court and he will tell you about the subject-matter of each petition and appeal and the order thereon. He has, however, not been able to prepare a summary of those files and orders. One reason is the lack of a cohesive organisation suited to this type of work and the other, and more important, reason is the lack of funds.
He is shy of seeking funds. The advice by his friends to create a corpus (for which many of his well-wishers had expressed their eagerness to contribute) has always been dismissed by Jabbar with cynicism. His belief is that fund collection leads to various ills. Matters are arranged on ad hoc basis. Some public-spirited advocates help in preparation of petitions and appeals and some friends contribute for the paper work. Whenever there is another programme like holding a rally and undertaking a march, the survivors make their own contributions to defray the expenses.
This all has had a disastrous effect on his family life as well as on his personal health. Not long ago he had a serious eye problem and was advised to get treatment in a hospital in Tamil Nadu if he wanted so save his eyesight. Jabbar could manage it as Delhi-based journalist Hartosh Singh Bal had persuaded a weekly to run a campaign for funds for Jabbar’s treatment.
Jabbar had turned down the offer of a Madhya Pradesh minister to take care of the expenses on his treatment as he had turned down the earlier offers of the government to help him in various ways. The politicians in power have not been able to decide what to do with him. He has always been a thorn in the flesh for those in power: agitating for medical and economic rehabilitation of the survivors, ambushing truckloads of medicines meant for gas victims but being diverted to black market or making complaints against corrupt bureaucrats. Along with the offers of help, the government also did not hesitate in using coercive methods. Several criminal cases were filed against him. In one case, a woman had held him responsible for clipping her long hair; the case was eventually dismissed.
The NDTV honoured the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan with the Indian of the Year 2009 “Unsung Hero” Award in February 2010. Jabbar received the Award from Amitabh Bachan at a glittering function in New Delhi. He, however, feels more gratified with the honour he had received from a little known organisation, called “Kusumagraja Sansthan”, of Nasik (Maharashtra). He received the “Lokseva Puraskar” (public service award) from Sansthan president and noted film director Dr Jabbar Patel. Jabbar’s pleasure came from the fact that the compact audience drawn from different walks of life questioned him keenly on the conditions of the gas victims and the work his organisation was doing.
Later on, “MP Foundation”, an elite organisation managed by Additional Solicitor General Vivek Tankha invited Jabbar to its function in New Delhi to honour him for his services to the gas victims but with the rider that Jabbar would not speak at the function. Jabbar refused.