Freshly BrewedMadhya Pradesh

What’s it like to survive as a daughter of a Bhopal disaster victim in Gas Vidhwa colony?

This is the sixth story for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy series. It has been written by Anup Dutta in collaboration with Vikas Samvad: Tulsi was the father's loving daughter. The gas leak from the Union Carbide plant caused the death of her father, damaged the immune system of her mother and left her with a lingering disability. The administration never recognised her to be a gas victim

Bhopal: It is easy to spot the painted glass on the window panels from a distance, but not the curtains on flat number L-102 in the unmaintained Motilal Nehru Nagar, better known as Gas-Vidhwa (Gas Widows’) colony in Bhopal. The so-called Gas Widows’ colony, a multistory slum with 2,486 one and two-bedroom apartments, was built by the Madhya Pradesh government in 1992. The Madhya Pradesh government announced a monthly pension of Rs 275 that would take care of the residents in their new homes and pay for medical care and other living expenses.

The vast majority of widows entered the colony in search of safety, protection, and a better life.

Between 1989 and 1993, over 2,000 widows, victims of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy (assumptions of the Supreme Court in the settlement [compensation] order of February 14/15, 1989, stated a number of deaths: 3,000, number of injured victims: 52,000; however, actual figures based on a statement issued by the Office of the Welfare Commissioner regarding disposal of claims as of March 31, 2003, indicated a number of deaths: 15,180, number of injured victims: 5,53,015) were accommodated in the colony. This tiny amount of pension remained the same until 2010 when the central government revised it to Rs 1,000 per month.

Life in the Gas Widows’ colony was always dull and grim as many of the residents were battling diseases ranging from cancer, lung injuries, and the aftermath of cardiac failures to neurological disorders. Many found it very tough to climb stairs due to these diseases. Many others found it very difficult to cope with issues like dry taps, drains getting choked with filth, drinking water supply lines getting mixed with the sewage pipeline, and erratic electricity supply in the colony.

Thirteen years ago, in 2010, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan (possibly the only Chief Minister who visited the colony) renamed the settlement Jeevan Jyoti Colony and adopted all the residents as his “Rakhi sisters,” promising to turn Vidhwa Colony into a “model town.”

He renamed the settlement Jeevan Jyoti Colony and sanctioned Rs 15 crore to fix sewage and drainage, build roads, and maintain the apartment buildings. It promised to set up an Anganwadi center, a higher secondary school, and a vocational training center in the colony, a far-fetched dream yet to become a reality.

bhopal gas tragedy disaster victim vidhwa

Reality is a little different in the Gas Widows’ Colony. As expected, half of the widow allottees fled; some within Bhopal while others left for different parts of the State and country. Many flats were rented and sold by the gas victims or their successors who did receive relief, shelter, subsidized ration, educational assistance, medical care, compensation, and widow pension but not enough sustaining assistance to renew hope for them and to take care of children without a father.

Tulsi Yadav, a resident of L-102 (painted glass on the window panels) of the colony, was an exception. Tulsi was her father’s loving daughter; the sparkling ribbon in her two plaits of hair was her identity.

The gas leak from the Union Carbide plant caused the death of her father, damaged the immune system of her mother, and left her with a lingering disability. The administration categorized her parents as victims of the gas leak but not Tulsi. The ill effects of the gas leak made her muscles weak, and gradually, muscular dystrophy took hold of her. For mobility, she decided to use a tricycle. Additionally, she had to cross several steps to reach her tricycle parked on the ground floor.

However, most residents of the colony still believed that Tulsi was a gas victim, drawing a monthly pension, eligible to receive treatment from 24 Health Institutions set up for the gas victims, and receiving medicines free of cost for chronically ill gas victim patients at the doorstep (that is what the government claims).

But that was not the case with her. Tulsi’s greatest sporting feat was climbing down the stairs and changing public transport to reach Swabhiman Kendra (meaning self-respect center, the center founded by Padma Shri awardee, late Abdul Jabbar, convenor of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan) near Central Library, Bhopal, to attend major gatherings, protests, and sometimes weekly Saturday afternoon meetings of the gas victims.

My last visit to L-102 was sometime in the summer of April-May 2020 during the extended nationwide COVID-19 lockdown to supply the occupants and others with groceries, other materials, and medicines. It was in June 2022 when I went to meet Tulsi a day after she was admitted to Kamla Nehru Hospital, located on the campus of Gandhi Medical College, Bhopal, overlooking Bada Talab (Upper lake) in Bhopal. It is easier to visit hospitals in the early morning or afternoon when there are fewer people around, and the staff is more likely to be available to talk. She was in a room with four other patients, and the doctors were desperately trying to ascertain what kind of recovery would be good for Tulsi to bring back her mobility (which was always restricted because of hand and finger deformities) and recover her from several ailments.

One of the other problems Tulsi faced was not having an attendant. Her only attendant was her married elder sister.

A few days later, with no sign of recovery, the doctor at the Government Kamla Nehru Hospital advised us (Asha Mishra – civil society activist and ND Jayaprakash – Joint Secretary, Delhi Science Forum & Co-Convener, Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti, who arranged an attendant and many other things for Tulsi) to shift her to Chirayu Medical College, from where she embarked on another journey on July 10, 2022, leaving behind her echoing words, “What was my crime…? They (administrators, public representatives) should know that some gas victims could be like me (coming in the grip of muscular dystrophy).”

Tulsi is not alone; there are many others like her in the colony and in several localities in the State capital who are waiting for the pendulum to swing in their direction. Although the pendulum may now have swung in the other direction, if we zoom into the larger context, we may see the causes for what happened to Tulsi and several others like her are not in the spirit of the founders of our Constitution.

“The Constituent Assembly was clear in its belief that the Constitution’s emphasis must always rest on individual dignity. That is, the Constitution’s chief purpose must be to preserve and guarantee basic human rights, equality, autonomy, and liberty, among others,” says Suhrith Parthasarathy, an advocate practicing at the Madras High Court in his write-up titled “A false conflation between duties and rights,” published in The Hindu on December 16, 2021.

In the case of Tulsi, where our popular discourse veers towards the need to place importance on the burden of obligations and duties over citizens’ rights, the Constitution’s basic ethos once again comes under threat. What her case echoes is that the social revolution that the Constitution was meant to bring about was underpinned by the belief that it is only a guarantee of rights, unimpeded by duty, that could help usher India into a free and equal future for every citizen.

Her eyes remind me of a moving excerpt from English poet and essayist Anna Laetitia Barbauld’s poem, “To The Poor.” It is a window into the common burden of inequality and withdrawal that points to a deep wound in the souls of the gas widows. ‘Child of distress, who encounters bitter scorn, who feels oppression’s iron in your soul, whose bread is anguish, and whose water is tears.’ And the prevailing perception advises against judging gas victims by their added value.


Anup Dutta is a fellow of Vikas Samvad Constitution Fellowship 2022.

Anup Dutta

is a multimedia freelance journalist based in Bhopal. He reports on people, politics, policies, health, art and culture.

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