Station Master Ghulam Dastagir: Forgotten Hero Of Bhopal Gas Tragedy
We all know that stationmaster is known as the icon of Indian railway. Station Master’s love for nation and hard work earned them this tag. If all the station master stop working for only 10 minutes. there will be stir in the whole country. But they never stop their work even for one second because they love their country. Today we will remember one such heroic station master who risked his own live to save others.
This is the little known story of deputy station superintendent Ghulam Dastagir, an unsung hero.
Thirty six years ago, on the night of December 2, 1984, Bhopal was hit by the world’s deadliest industrial disaster. An accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal had released almost 30 tons of a highly toxic gas called methyl isocyanate, turning the city into a vast gas chamber. The result was a nightmare; more than 600,000 people were exposed to the deadly gas cloud that left thousands dead and many more breathless, blind and in agonizing pain.
This is the little known story of deputy station superintendent Ghulam Dastagir, an unsung hero without whom the casualties in the tragedy would have been much higher.
He was performing his night duty when he emerged to check the arrival of the Gorakhpur Mumbai Express. As he stepped on to the platform, he felt an itch in his throat and a burning sensation in his eyes. Beginning to choke, Dastagir did not know then that twenty three of his railway colleagues, including his boss, station superintendent Harish Dhurve, had already died.
Mr Dastagir did not fully understand the situation but years of training on the busy railways told him something was clearly wrong. He alerted the Station Masters of nearby stations, like Vidisha and Itarsi, to suspend all train traffic to Bhopal.
However, the jam-packed Gorakhpur-Kanpur Express was already standing on a platform and its departure time was 20 minutes away. Moving quickly, he ordered his staff and told them to clear the Gorakhpur train for departure. His sub ordinates like guard and other staff advised him to check with the head office as the scheduled departure of the train was still 20 minutes away. But Mr Dastagir said he could not risk even a minute’s delay and he would take complete responsibility for the train’s early departure. He wanted to ensure that the train left immediately, without any delay.
His colleagues later recalled that Dastagir could barely stand and breathe as he spoke to them. Breaking all rules and without taking permission from anyone, he and his brave staff personally flagged off the train. That night, the stationmaster’s quick decision saved the lives of hundreds of people who would have died had they been exposed to the toxic gas for much longer.
But Dastagir work was not done , he rushed to the control room and alerted senior railway officers. They immediately suspended services. The railway station was filling up with people, desperate to flee the fumes. Some were gasping, others were vomiting, and most were weeping. Dastagir chose to remain on duty, running from one platform to another, attending, helping and consoling victims.
Mr Dastagir sent an SOS to all the nearby stations. Four ambulances arrived with paramedics and railway doctors soon joined them. The station resembled the emergency room of a large hospital.
The burning and itching Mr Dastagir had felt became worse, but he ignored it. He also had no time to think of his own family – his wife and four sons – who were living in the old city which was severely exposed to the gas.
Gulam Dastagir’s devotion to duty saved the lives of hundreds of people. However, the gas tragedy ruined him and his family. One of his sons died on the night of the tragedy and another developed a lifelong skin infection. His last 19 years were spent mostly in hospitals. He developed a painful growth in the throat due to exposure to toxic fumes.
When he passed way in 2003, his death certificate mentioned that he was suffering from
diseases caused as a direct result of exposure to MIC (Methyl Isocyanate) gas.
Indian railways installed a memorial in memory of those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty on the fateful night of 3 December, 1984. Ghulam Dastagir is not on the list.
Dy SS Ghulam Dastagir is a forgotten hero whose sense of duty and commitment saved countless lives. Mr Dastagir’s wife who is living in poverty these days says his actions have gone unrecognized. The railways did not reward him for his sense of duty and commitment to helping suffering victims, she says.
Dastagir’s story deserves to be recognized and remembered by his fellow countrymen.
*Hope you like reading about this forgotten hero. And if you really liked it, share this as much as possible maybe someday we will see a bollywood movie on this UNSUNG HERO.