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Bhopal: Facing 30 – Reflections on a time in Bhopal

Apr 23 2014 by

MOORE 140124 0332 484x322 Bhopal: Facing 30   Reflections on a time in Bhopal bhopal medical appeal

(c) Francesca Moore, 2014. ‘Bhopal Facing 30′

When Colin (BMA) asked me to write a few words on my time in Bhopal, this isn’t what I imagined I would come up with, but this seems most pertinent to my post trip feelings. I hope it’s not too somber.

Lorenza (who assisted throughout the shooting phase of the project) and I left Bhopal over a month ago now, and had a little longer in Delhi and Mumbai before the long flight home. Having returned, I feel cruelly habitualised back into the hum drum of everyday life, and unless I think hard about it or take the time to think of all the hard work I still have ahead of me, the project and my achievements during my time in India seem to fall out of the context of everyday life. That is, until I engage the straggler’s still asking ‘how was your trip’ into deep conversation. Then I reveal to myself the passion and drive I had to raise awareness, in a positive light, this 30 year monstrosity of corporate negligence that seems to have lacked even a fleeting consideration of equal human rights for all, exclusive of social status. An out-of-site out-of-mind mentality, that’s so easily adopted in the Western world didn’t seem good enough for the people affected, and this is what spurred me on to raise awareness of this injustice through my photographs.

When I look back on the project I feel that, even prior to the publication of the book, I have a small visual trigger to make people stand back and listen. I have something of the very simplest form – a family portrait – something that we can all relate to. And question the reason I took these pictures. Understand the concept I am trying to portray. These people are not victims of their own circumstance. They are not victims of their own poverty. The people that I photographed are as good as any other just, unfortunately, subject to a system that facilitated the economic growth of a multinational, governed by the rich and the powerful, at the expense of life and the environment. It is as if the people of Bhopal were less important, or disposable.

It is for this reason I chose to throw this idea upside down and photograph the families with the belief that they are as good as anyone else, anyone that works for Union Carbide for example, or Dow or the Indian Government; Or you or I.

As a photographer it may seem the obvious route for me, but I think the most important thing is that I have been inspired to show those people affected, and that continue to be affected to this day, as equals.

I now have all of the project’s post-production ahead of me, before the art book is produced. There will be further updates of the project throughout the year – and you can choose to sign up for updates via the dedicated project blog, if you wish, at bhopalfacing30.wordpress.com.

I must thank Bhopal Medical Appeal for all their support. I have received a fantastic number of visitors to the blog, and it’s great to know that people are seeing the work or talking about it.

By talking, the issues of Bhopal remain topical to those far from the areas and people affected – this is how I came to go to Bhopal in the first place – and, hopefully, the collective voice calling for justice in Bhopal will one day be loud enough to overcome those culpable.

I would also like to sincerely thank everyone at Sambhavna for their help and support. For the accommodation and food, which for the record is exceptionally tasty home-cooked hearty Indian fair. Never a complaint, and to our delight and gratitude we were able to arrange for our meals to be brought to the Nawab Studio so that we didn’t have to break on those long and busy days – a tasty re-invigorator following a challenging days shooting. Thanks are also due to Lorenza, who assisted the shooting phase of the project throughout, and for the many cups of chai that were delivered to the studio during that time. And for the use of the studio space, where on our final day it was extremely sad to say our goodbyes. And apologies to Nasir, and all the other health workers, whose working space was a little compromised by crowds of eagerly awaiting portrait sitters. To whom I’d never have been able to talk to if it weren’t for my translators, Sanjay and Devendra. And thank you to Sathyu, for approving the project in the first place.

By Francesca Moore

Bhopal: Facing 30 is supported by the Arts Council England. For further information see bhopalfacing30.wordpress.com

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Bhopal to Bridgehampton: A Theatrical Response to Tragedy and Disaster Tourism

Apr 23 2014 by

2nd year drama students at the University of Roehampton will be staging a fundraiser on May the 2nd for the Bhopal Medical Appeal. The performance is based on Paul Antick’s experimental essay ‘Bhopal to Bridgehampton: Schema for a Disaster Tourism Event’. The poster with details of the event can be seen below.

The students have also recorded a video message for the Worker’ Memorial Day event in Bhopal. If you would like view it please follow the link: http://youtu.be/q5S8UZCfMAY

Bhopal to Bridgehampton Bhopal to Bridgehampton: A Theatrical Response to Tragedy and Disaster Tourism  bhopal medical appeal

‘Disaster Tourism’, Theatrical Performance & Talk, Roehampton University, 2nd May.

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Congratulations to the Brighton Marathon 2014 runners

Apr 7 2014 by

Many congratulations and thanks to all our runners in Sunday’s Brighton Marathon for their hard work and commitment in training and fundraising for Sunday’s race. Money raised will contribute significantly to funding free treatment at Sambhavna and Chingari Clinics. Thanks also to all those who sponsored our runners with donations and inspired them to persevere throughout their training regime. Weather conditions were good, dawning cloudy and not too hot for the runners as they attempted the 26.2 mile route across the city.

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Alex Green goes past some of our supporters in Shoreham during the Brighton Marathon

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Jackie Rymell on her way to a great finishing time at the 2014 Brighton Marathon

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Tara (Ratty) Twyman running in the 2014 Brighton Marathon. She also ran for the Bhopal Medical Appeal last year!

This year we had 14 runners who have raised over £3000 with more yet to come in. You can sponsor them on our Justgiving page here

Do you feel inspired to run for  the BMA in our 30th Anniversary year? We still have places in this year’s London 10K run which is taking place on Sunday 13th July 2014. For more information or to sign up, get in touch here or call us on 01273 603278.

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‘City Of Lakes’. New video of Autorickshaw’s song for Bhopal (all proceeds from song to Sambhavna Clinic)

Apr 1 2014 by

Please have a look at Autorickshaw’s great new video for their song ‘City of Lakes’. All proceeds from this song go to the Sambhavna Clinic and we cannot thank Autorickshaw enough for their effort and their generosity.

You can find the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BydB4_tUnP8

 

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Don`t they deserve clean drinking water?

Mar 19 2014 by

At the 29th anniversary, last December, a young reporter and law student, Sonam Saigal, visited Bhopal to witness for herself the terrible, ongoing disaster which sees the ground water, for miles around, contaminated with highly toxic chemicals dumped by the Union Carbide factory.

In Sonam’s own words: “I was born after the Bhopal Gas Tragedy took place, didn’t know about it for years. But when I did get to know, I just kept reading and watching the news about it. Last year, something ticked off and I said I must go and see what’s actually happening out there. As a journalist, the least I can do is see, ask and write. But all of this is already being done, so what is my contribution? Therefore, I decided to take the legal route. I am a law student and will complete my education next year June. The laws of the country has failed the victims too, but for now I am trying to find some refuge for them under its ambit. And the fight continues with one more to fight for them.”

 

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The Bhopal Gas tragedy in 1984 rendered tens of thousands of people living near the guilty, but not convicted factory, orphans. Sonam Saigal narrates the ordeal of the people living their fate,  by consuming the long declared ‘unfit for consumption’ water.

At five past midnight on 2  December 1984, the Indian pesticide plant of the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) in Bhopal, leaked 27 tons of the deadly gas methyl isocyanate (MIC). Half a million people living in the vicinity were exposed to the gas that night and 10,000 are believed to have died within 72 hours. Up to 25,000 people exposed to the gas are estimated to have died till date in one of the world`s worst industrial disasters. Twenty nine years later, the survivors of the tragedy are still struggling for their basic rights to clean drinking water, besides medical relief and adequate compensation.

It is appalling that 346 tonnes of toxic waste is still lying in the factory premises as the government authorities have not been able to decide on the best way to safely dispose it. The soil and groundwater in the neighbourhood of the factory site is highly contaminated and the water has been declared unfit for human consumption, but in the absence of clean and safe drinking water, people are forced to consume it.

In Kanchi Chola, a gas affected area, Jyoti Ben, a local resident, says, “We know this water is unfit to drink but what do we do, we don’t have an alternative source of water. Year after year we are promised clean drinking water by the local councillors of the area but nothing is being done.”

“Don`t we deserve clean drinking water, the most basic necessity?”, asks Kajal Ben of the same area. “Relatives don`t come to our house to stay, as we can`t even offer them clean drinking water. They fear their children will fall sick. Even if someone comes to our house, they bring their own bottle of water, it is very humiliating.”

Post the tragedy, the water available in their homes has a layer of oil on it. You can skim the oil off the water. No amount of boiling or any other tactic helps remove the toxins.

In 2009, a comprehensive survey was conducted by a local NGO, ‘Sambhavna’ in 15 communities surrounding the UCIL plant site in Bhopal that revealed that the drinking water supply in majority of these communities to be insufficient or, in many cases, contaminated with toxic chemicals. Thousands of residents are lacking access to clean drinking water as the water supply system, installed by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, is in poor condition while groundwater from private hand pumps and bore wells is of poor quality and/or contaminated with chemicals.

The water supply system consists of large water plastic tanks that are either refilled by surface pipes or by tanker trucks. The system is not properly maintained; many water tanks are broken, water pipes are often ruptured and the water supply from tanker trucks is irregular. Residents try to use private hand pumps and bore wells to meet the demand. However, these private water sources do not provide sufficient water and the water is often of poor quality. In the dry season, many wells stop providing water as the groundwater table lowers. During monsoon, the ground water accessed by hand pumps and bore wells is often muddy and potentially contaminated with coliform bacteria due to sewage water infiltration from the surface. Furthermore, there is serious chemical contamination of groundwater in much of the investigated area.

The current water supply situation within the communities included in this survey is unacceptable. The supply is clearly insufficient and the chemical contaminants present in groundwater has concentrations massively exceeding WHO drinking water guideline values, posing potential health risks to thousands of residents.

Shakira Be from Kazi Camp says, “We have received compensation for injured and the dead. What about medical compensation for those who died after the tragedy due to gas-related diseases? A man in this area died of cancer sometime back. It is difficult to prove that the cancer was caused by drinking toxic water for many years?” She continues, “In the house next door, Nasir, a 23-year-old boy died because his liver stopped functioning. How do you prove that his liver was affected because of the water he was drinking?”

In a preliminary study that was jointly carried out by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur, and the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), Hyderabad, during 2009-2010, it was estimated that “the total quantum of contaminated soil requiring remediation amounts to 11,00,000 MT [metric tonnes].

“We have to fight for our basic rights. My children who were once healthy cannot even run a few yards without feeling breathless. All the children in my family are born with some sort of breathing problem,” says a teary eyed Anjum Be who lives in New Arif Nagar.

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) who did a survey in 2009, published a report titled, ‘Contamination of soil and water inside and outside the Union Carbide India Limited’. It stated heavy metals and pesticides were detected in all samples of soil, ground water, vegetables and breast milk around residential areas adjoining the factory premises. Chronic effects of exposure to chemicals cause nervous disorders, increased liver weight and liver tumours. Other chemicals present in water cause depression of central nervous system, respiratory tract and eye irritation, anaemia, skin lesions, vomiting, headaches, anorexia, weight loss, atrophy of the liver, blood dyscrasias, porphyria and chromosomal disorders.

The report further said that the lead present in water can cause several health problems, such as disruption of the biosynthesis of haemoglobin and anaemia, rise in blood pressure, kidney damage, miscarriages and subtle abortions, disruption of nervous systems, brain damage, declined fertility of men through sperm damage, diminished learning abilities of children, behavioral disruptions of children, such as aggression, impulsive behavior and hyperactivity. Lead can even enter a foetus through the placenta of the mother. Because of this it can cause serious damage to the nervous system and the brain of unborn children

Babulal Gaur, who was the Minister for Bhopal Gas Relief and Rehabilitation, had dismissed the CSE report saying, “Who are they to give us advice?”

Preliminary epidemiological data from 100,000 patients at the Sambhavna Clinic, a fully equipped medical centre near the factory site, run by Satinath Sarangi and wife Rachna Dhingra, who have been longtime crusaders for the Bhopal gas victims, suggests birth defects are up to seven times as frequent among those affected by contaminated water as compared to the general population.

In 2012, the Supreme Court had set a three-month deadline for the Madhya Pradesh government to ensure supply of clean drinking water to victims of the tragedy living in settlements around the factory, who have been forced to drink contaminated water for almost 30 years now. The people had been subjected to a “double whammy of diseases,” first because of the gas leak and then because of groundwater contamination, the court had observed.

A report filed by the Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR) in Lucknow had collected 26 samples from around the factory following the apex court’s directive seeking a report on the level of groundwater contamination in the affected areas.

The survivors of the gas disaster had been claiming that the groundwater in areas around the carbide plant was highly contaminated and residents of those localities were drinking that water. Hazardous chemical waste left behind by Union Carbide in the factory premises and solar ponds created to dump chemical waste of the factory was said to be causing contamination of underground water due to seepage, particularly during rainy season. According to the IITR report, the results of the levels of chlorine and nitrate in the samples were found to be higher than permissible.

Today, more than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused directly by exposure to MIC or by the subsequent pollution caused by the UCIL plant site. Unsheltered chemicals have been stored on-site for decades and these chemicals continuously leach into soil and groundwater. As a result of the inaction to remove these chemicals, contamination of soil and groundwater in the surrounding communities have become a source of many health problems among residents within these communities.

Mohammad from Bafna Colony says, “New pipes were installed in our homes about five months back. But there is no water supply. Only a few areas have started getting clean water supply. I lost my parents in the gas tragedy, I don’t want to lose my children now or see them grow unhealthy because we have no access to clean drinking water”.

After consuming polluted water the quality of health care in terms of investigation, diagnosis and treatment continue to be abysmal. A proper protocol for treatment of each gas-related ailment has not been evolved even 29 years after the disaster speaks volumes about the apathy of concerned authorities. In short, for all practical purposes, more than five lakh survivors of the disaster continue to remain orphans within the Indian polity.

The Bhopal gas tragedy continues to affect the third generation of people with undiagnosed diseases and consumption of toxic ridden water. The victims still await treatment and justice in the form of clean drinking water and compensation.

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What’s On In Bhopal 2- from volunteer Ian Jarvis

Mar 11 2014 by

RIMG0002w Whats On In Bhopal 2  from volunteer Ian Jarvis bhopal medical appealWhat’s On in Bhopal 2

In my last note to the BMA, I concluded with the thought that spreading the word is the most important thing you can do to help. That is another reason for your visit. By coming here you will learn much more about the current state and problems as well as what the local people are doing about it. Coming here will give you an experience that will help to make it more genuine every time you speak about it and that will transmit itself to others.

So there is a balance to be had between what you can do and what you will learn. After my previous trip, in 2011, I wrote a book called 3 Months in Bhopal which is still available as a kindle from Amazon and all profit goes to the BMA. I gave talks about Bhopal, the disaster and the then current position, mainly to business groups and used the book to raise money. By this very simple means I raised about £2,500 – not to boast but merely to point out what is possible with this new awareness that you will have. Before I went I could not have given a convincing talk about it.

Another thing that is important to remember is that Indian society, norms and ways of doing things are different to yours. Wherever you come from. They are not worse, they are not better – just different. And, in the main, just like your ways, they work for the society in which they exist.

I mention this because I often hear volunteers saying that something is poor or inefficient, and maybe in some cases that is justified and just maybe there are some not so obvious reasons why.

*****

 

If you are a regular reader here, you will realise that I failed in my promise to update you at the beginning of February as it is now the end of February! I will be leaving tomorrow (1st March) to spend two weeks in Vietnam on a bodywork workshop. I will be returning after that though, and plan to work at Chingari. I have been over there a few times, just to visit, and chatted with Sanjay, the head physiotherapist and he has said he will welcome my support again. In fact on one occasion he tried to give me a little boy to treat!

When I get started there I will send another . . . no, I won’t promise this time! It will probably be the end of my stay there, when Colin reminds me.

So what has been happening here in the last two months?

For myself, I have done about 600 sessions as I prepare to leave. I have been working very much with the routine of daily sessions of half-hour duration as it is easier to fit in and the patients are used to that system. It has been interesting to see how it works and for some types of case it has been really good while for others I would like a gap between sessions and sometimes I would really like longer ones. But it has been a positive experience working here.

I have been chatting to the doctors as people are, apparently, asking when I shall return! I actually have no plans for that but would like there to be some legacy. I can keep doing treatments and helping a few people at a particular time in their life but it ends when I leave. I think I have done enough to show that there may be another level of service that Sambhavna could provide as a more remedial style of bodywork. They will have to consider that, though, and whether or how it might be achieved.

*****

A couple of days ago, Aziza, the nurse on duty, said “you have a patient waiting, an old man.” That ‘old man’, I said is a year younger than I am! That set me to thinking about the appearance of people here because this is not the first time for this sort of remark.

What is it that makes some people ‘older’ than others? Often not just in appearance but also in attitude and behaviour? I would guess that poverty has much to do with it, especially here. Then how about expectation? Lifestyle, family and work, nutrition, opportunity and the way s/he is treated?

Maybe there is an entire book in those thoughts.

*****

Most of the volunteers and researchers have now gone. There are just myself and Katrina plus Deven who is a long-term volunteer and should really be an employee. Harshit leaves today but will be living in Bhopal as do both his sister and girlfriend. Also today we are joined for a brief visit by Fideli, a friend of Thorsten’s from Sweden.

It was nice and quiet at first when they went, fairly closely together. One week we were some 10 and the next three! But now it IS a little quiet sometimes and the repartee and learning about the habits of people from other countries is missing. And, of course, sharing communal international cooking evenings on days when Jayshree, the evening cook, cannot come.

Heidi left first to attend a film festival of ‘environmental’ films in Goa where she was also helping to organise. She will be back at her university in Salzburg now.

Thorsten was next, the big Swede, finished in the garden and planning a return trip for the 30th anniversary remembrance. He lives in Gothenberg in a community living environment so is doubtless regaling them with stories of life in Bhopal and the strange volunteers he has been living with.

Fran and Lorenza returned to the UK where Fran will continue the work of compiling and designing her book. Just before they left we all went around to the home of Sanjay Verma where they cooked a pasta dish (Italian roots!) and Sanjay added some Indian food so it was a bit of a mixed food event. Sanjay does much translating work here and lost his entire family in the disaster – his brother died fairly recently of illness inflicted by gas and water. He is surprisingly cheerful and getting on with life. He had acted as translator with Fran and Lorenza which is how they knew him so well.

Bruno was last of them to leave in this batch. He was staying for some days in Mumbai (Bombay) to attend a conference. He has been here doing social research as he teaches in a university in Portugal. He has interviewed many survivors whilst here and will compile a report or book to use on the course and maybe publish.

As you see, we have been an eclectic mix of people, personality, nations and interests. So it is quite likely that you would fit in with a random group. I often feel that random groups are the best for learning about yourself as well as the rest of the world!

*****

Finally, a note if you plan to come here from mid-December to late February. It IS cold. It may not rank with UK or northern Europe winter temperatures but the thing that makes the difference is that there is no heating anywhere. So do bring some warm clothes to wear.

In addition this year it has been wetter than ever before. We have had about 6 major storms in the last few weeks and one of my patients walked in today and said, “It is like the monsoon!” Hopefully that will not be the case next winter.

And, don’t forget, there are volunteer opportunities in your own home, just contact the BMA and talk.

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Bhopal Film Screening

Feb 27 2014 by

FREE FILM SCREENING: BHOPALI

Thursday, February 27, 2014 7-9pm

The Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry St, Edinburgh

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WHO:

The Bhopali and Scottish Communities in Solidarity

WHAT:

An opportunity to discuss social responsibility. A platform for change. A group of activists and friends seeking justice for those affected by the worst gas disaster in history.

WHEN:

December 3, 1984 – Present

WHERE:

Bhopal, India – Edinburgh, Scotland

JOIN US:

Facebook Group: Scottish Friends of Bhopal: Saathi Groups

Email: paulina.bhopal.saathi@gmail.com

 

   

 

 

 

 

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