GHULAM DASTAGIR: A selfless hero who lived and died for others

“Heroes are made, not born”- goes an age-old saying.

This is true, because heroes are born- not from a mother’s womb, but are made from situations that compels one to lose all hope. They are not Supermans or Shaktimaans, but are ordinary people, who have chosen to selflessly contribute to the wellbeing of everyone around. Putting others’ lives before themselves is what makes someone a HERO. One such hero this nation has borne is Ghulam Dastagir, who turned savior to thousands of lives destined to be killed in the ill-fated Bhopal Gas Disaster.

Many winters have passed since Bhopal was transformed into a toxic gas chamber, owing to an unfortunate accident at the Union Carbide pesticide plant. Almost 30 tons of toxic methyl isocyanate gas was released, exposing more than 600,000 people to it. That dreadful night of December 2, 1984 snatched the lives of thousands of people, and many more were left breathless, blind and in agonizing pain.

A deputy station superintendent named Ghulam Dastagir, unaware of the dreadful accident, was neck deep in his pending paperwork till 1 am when he stepped outside to check the arrival of the Gorakhpur Mumbai Express. The toxic fumes engulfing the railway station had wreaked havoc on the lives of twenty-three of his colleagues already and Dastagir was not left unharmed either. His eyes burnt and he had an itching sensation in his throat.

As per reports, his supervisor, station superintendent Harish Dhurve had heard about the gas and tried stopping the movement of trains passing through Bhopal before he collapsed and died.

Dastagir sensed something was amiss when his health deteriorated and he decided to act immediately.  When he did not get any response from the station master, he alerted the senior staff at nearby stations like Vidisha and Itarsi, to suspend all train traffic to Bhopal.

But, the Gorakhpur-Kanpur Express was on the platform with its departure time 20 minutes away. He got the train cleared for departure without further ado, taking full responsibility for the action. He personally flagged off the train and saved all passengers, despite being barely able to stand and breathe.

The railway station was gradually filling up with badly affected people, who were running haywire to flee the fumes. Despite knowing that his family was also exposed to the deadly fumes back in the city, Dastagir took up the responsibility of attending to victims, running from platform to platform; sending out SOS to nearby railway offices, seeking immediate medical help.

And medical help arrived in the form of paramedics and railway doctors arriving at the station along with four ambulances. The station became the emergency room of a large hospital soon after, and treatment began.

Ghulam Dastagir was not left unharmed: he and his family suffered the consequences of inhaling the toxic gas in a tragic manner. One of his sons died on the night of the tragedy and another developed a lifelong skin infection. Dastagir himself suffered for around 19 years, making hospital his second home. He passed away in 2003 from complications caused by direct result of exposure to MIC (Methyl Isocyanate) gas.

It was Dastagir’s clear devotion, presence of mind and the urge to selflessly save the victims that saved the lives of hundreds and thousands of people affected by the tragedy. Although he does not appear in the memorial erected at platform no.1 that pays tribute to those who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty on the fateful night of December 3, 1984, Ghulam Dastagir deserves all eulogy for his sacrifice.

He is a HERO in the true sense of the term.

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