Death of an activist:  Life & death of Abdul Jabbar

For 35 years he fought for the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. But when he needed medical intervention, he ignored his health, refused to seek help for himself and passed away this week

Death of an activist:  Life & death of Abdul Jabbar
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Chandrakant Naidu

Abdul Jabbar, whose name had for the past 35 years become synonymous with Bhopal gas tragedy survivors’ battle for better rehabilitation and health facilities, died on Thursday-- in near penury and for want of proper treatment through two months’ of hospitalisation.

For all the funds he raised to help the fellow citizens affected by the poisonous gas, his own modest means prevented Jabbar from getting a good treatment.

The 62-year-old activist, who fought for justice for nearly 20,000 victims and thousands of survivors of world’s worst industrial disaster in recent times, was buried in a graveyard near the Bhopal Railway station after Friday Namaz with hundreds of his admirers in attendance. He is survived by three minor children and wife Saira Bano.

As a 27-year-old, Jabbar had seen his parents and brother dying during the gas tragedy 35 years ago. He had even tried to drive his mother almost 40 kilometres from the town on the fateful night. The personal loss and that of a large neighbourhood turned him into an activist.

Jabbar was working as construction worker and digging bore wells when the catastrophe had struck the city. ‘Jabbar Bhai’, as he was known, had become a household name in the gas-affected areas of Bhopal through three decades. He was among the heroes of the downtrodden living in the vicinity of the Carbide plant. But he seems to have ignored the calls of his own health.

Union Carbide ex- CEO Warren Anderson, a US citizen, had escaped shortly after the tragedy and never appeared before a court for trial. He died in the United States in 2014. The Modi government not only failed to bring him to book, it overlooked protests and invited the promoters of carbide to invest in other industries in India.

During the gas tragedy, Jabbar had suffered lung fibrosis and lost 50 per cent of his vision. For the past three months he was diagnosed with cardiac problems and diabetes and developed gangrene in his leg. Ironically, while he stood for fellow citizens in championing the cause of the gas victims, he did not have the heart to seek financial assistance for his own treatment. His friends did seek to raise some money through the social media.

The government then woke up to the situation and resolved to bear the expenses of his treatment besides providing assistance to his family. The effort came too late. On Tuesday the hospital authorities had sought an opinion from the specialists in Mumbai with a plan to send him there. But before they could decide the next course of action, Jabbar passed away on Thursday night.

In 1987, Jabbar set up the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, that fought for justice to the victims, survivors and their families, conducting organised demonstrations, seeking not merely allowances and compensation, particularly for widows who lost their loved ones, but also for employment opportunities.

He took the fight to the Supreme Court. In 1988 the apex court ordered payment of sustenance allowance to the survivors and in 1989 the Government of India and the Union Carbide signed an agreement to provide additional Rs 25,000 each to the affected survivors and Rs one lakh each to the kin of the dead. Jabbar had galvanised the victims of the tragedy into a potent force that could force a multinational giant and the Indian government into action.

The other activists see Jabbar’s death as a blow to the gas victims‘ cause. Rachna Dhingra, who runs another organisation Bhopal Group for Information and Action, said Jabbar fought for gas victims’ cause till his last breath and his departure from the scene is a major loss to the organisations fighting for survivors of the tragedy.

Rasheeda Bi, another known activist who helped provide jobs to the women survivors, said Jabbar had set an example as a selfless social worker. His struggle for the poor was grossly underestimated and remained largely unrecognised.

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