It was Sajid's furry, orange babygro stretched out inside the black museum case that triggered the agony.

Oblivious of the people crowded around, his mother, Bismilla Bee, started shaking with loud sobs, rising and falling, as the painful memories came flooding back.

Her son died 30 years ago last week in the babygro, choking on the poison gas that spewed from Union Carbide's pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. She donated it to the museum, but when she saw it on display her grief became suddenly overwhelming.

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Bismilla Bee was at the official opening of the Remember Bhopal Museum to mark the 30th anniversary of the horrific disaster. The museum, curated by survivors and activists, features a series of other tragic reminders: a battered doll, an old cricket bat, a bridal dress, a walking stick and a pair of crutches.

It is also full of moving testimonies. Bhopal resident Ruby Parvez talks about how she still cries and trembles when she thinks about that awful night. "We were sleeping and I felt a burning sensation in my eyes, and felt dizzy," she says.

"The burning sensation increased and we started to feel breathless. We started to panic, seeing heavy smoke. Our neighbour said, 'wake up, there is a gas leak and we have to escape or we will die'."

Ruby Parvez fled, vomited and lost consciousness for a couple of hours. Her cousin, who was with her, died, along with many other relatives.

Another Bhopal survivor, 67-year-old Gangaram, was sleeping with his blanket over his face. "When I came outside, thousands of people were running," he recalls.

"I started running in the same direction as everyone was running. From my house to the bus stand, there were dead bodies, dead bodies, dead bodies and only dead bodies."

The museum was set up to pre-empt an official memorial planned by the Madhya Pradesh government on the site of the deserted Union Carbide factory. It is opposed by survivors, who blame the government for some of the injustices they have suffered.

One of those behind the idea for the new museum is Rashida Bee. She fell asleep in Bhopal on December 2 1984, and woke with her eyes watering. "It felt like someone was burning chillies," she says. "We didn't know what was happening."

Outside, people were running, screaming that everyone would die, and her whole family got up and ran. "My eyes were tight shut. I could not open them because of the pain. Whenever I did manage to squeeze them open, all I saw were piles of corpses scattered around."

People were running over the bodies, and Rashida Bee joined them. "That's when I heard an announcement saying that gas had stopped leaking from the Union Carbide factory. That was the first time I heard the name of Union Carbide."

Her friend, Champa Devi, was woken at around 12.30 in the morning by a neighbour saying everyone had to leave or they would die. "We rushed out of the house in whatever clothes we were wearing," she says.

She got a lift to the hospital, which was overwhelmed. "Corpses were piled high, like sacks of wheat in a stack. Anyone who fell or fainted was thrown on the pile. The doctors had no clue how to deal with the situation or what medication to offer."

Her son, unable to bear the agony of constant chest pain from the gas leak, committed suicide in 1992, and her husband died of bladder cancer in 1993. Her daughter was paralysed six months after the accident.

"I felt my life was empty and barren, and I was in a state of mental paralysis," she recalls. "But seeing the families around me, I soon realised there were many like me who had lost their loved ones to the gas. Life would have to go on. That's how I decided to dedicate the remaining days of my life fighting for justice for the Bhopal gas victims."

Now Champa Devi and Rashida Bee are two of the veteran leaders of the movement for justice for Bhopal survivors. They won the international Goldman Environmental Award in 2004 and donated the $125,000 prize money to setting up the all-women Chingari Trust, which runs a health clinic for children of Bhopal survivors.

"It is the willpower of all the women combined that has never let us down," declares Rashida Bee. "When tragedy brings suffering in your life, you should have confidence, and be strong. Keep fighting and you will find that you will win in the end."