Translation of Minakshi’s Self-Penned Poem
Madam madam, let me go,
mummy has a fever
my horse is ready, eager
I was singing ABCD
lying on my mummy’s lap,
mummy gave me such a slap!
Papa brought lime sweet and sour
how the cop’s fat wife did glower
Minakshi was born in Oriya Basti, a part of Bhopal where the water is poisoned. Pesticide wastes are leaking into the drinking supply from the Union Carbide factory upstream of this community. Birth defects in local communities are many times more common than in the rest of India.
We first met Minakshi when she was six years old (pictured) but as you can see, she looked as if she was only two. She was badly undernourished and too weak to stand unaided. She suffered from growth retardation and could not walk or talk. A tiny scrap of a thing, she lay bawling in her mother’s arms.
Minakshi’s father is a temple drummer, but hardly earns enough to feed his family. The family live in extremely poor conditions. As Minakshi mentions in the Chingari Bazooka (read here) the small hut was regularly flooded, and she had to sleep under a plastic sheet in the bed pictured to shelter from the rain water during the night.
Before attending our Chingari Rehabilitation Centre, Minakshi moved around on all fours. A few children in her neighbourhood sometimes pointed and called her “dog”, and other names. Fortunately, Minakshi was not the sort to be cowed by such things, but it wasn’t until she started at Chingari that life began to improve for her. Following physiotherapy to strengthen her limbs and speech therapy to lift out her voice she became a little fizzing ball of mischief, tearing about gabbling nineteen-to-the-dozen and making a splendid nuisance of herself.
Once she found her feet there seemed to be no slowing her down. So much did she improve she was able to play basketball and shoot hoops in style. Although she was small in size (she may look only 4, but was 10 in this picture) she had a huge character, during assemblies she could be heard singing in an impossibly loud voice, which was also to be heard protesting mightily whenever she had to have a blood test. She hated injections and once sulked a full hour after receiving one.
Minakshi was regular at Chingari for many years and was going from strength to strength, not only physically but academically too. She progressed so spectacularly that she began attending a standard school in Oriya Basti.
But, like so many other children in Bhopal, Minakshi did not make it to adulthood. She died before reaching her sixteenth birthday in utterly tragic circumstances. You can read the full story here.
For fifteen years before the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal Union Carbide routinely dumped highly toxic chemical wastes inside and outside its factory site. Some were buried, some simply lay heaped on the soil, open to the elements. In all, thousands of tons of pesticides, solvents, chemical catalysts and by-products lay strewn across 16 acres inside the site. Huge ‘evaporation ponds’ covering an area of 35 acres outside the factory received thousands of gallons of virulent liquid wastes.
After the catastrophic gas leak, the factory was locked up and left to rot, with all the chemicals and wastes still there. Union Carbide left the factory and its surrounds without cleaning them.
As each year’s monsoon battered the decaying plant and rain overflowed the huge ‘ponds’, the toxins seeped down through the soil, and filtered into underground channels and pools. Wells drawn from these ground water pools serve tens of thousands of families, living in forty two townships, as 50 monsoons have spread the plume more than 5 kilometres out from the factory.
Studies find that the major underground flow of the toxic water has been north-east, the same direction in which Minakshi’s community, Oriya Basti, lay. Chemicals known to injure the developing foetus, cause organ damage and cancers have been discovered in drinking water nearby.
The people of Oriya Basti were worried about illness and the number of damaged children that were being born. During writing of our children’s newsletter in 2013 Minakshi was unwell for days. On pp 10-11 she gets an injection (which she hated) and says she has a fever and boils.
Two pages later, p 13, has water waist deep in parts of Oriya Basti. Minakshi talks of the boils on her body and there is another fight over water, desperate enough for one person to hit another with a stick drawing blood and causing the wounded one to be taken to hospital. Tomorrow, Minakshi says, the basti will be provided with a tap and clean water at last. But it was 2014 before the tankers came to Oriya Basti. By then Minakshi had been drinking the chemically tainted water her entire life and her mother and father for well over a decade before that.
In 2015 photographer Giles Clarke spent time in Oriya Basti, which was badly ﬂooded by the monsoon. The family’s roof leaked. Minakshi had shown this in the pictures she did for the Chingari Bazooka, as her mother remembers with shame.
Oriya Basti flooded this year as it did in most years. Minakshi became sick with a fever that did not leave her. It was probably typhoid. For an unknown reason her parents this time took her to the goddess temple near Kabarbabja. Our advertisement tells the story of what happened.
Chingari Rehabilitation Centre
The Chingari Rehabilitation Centre, founded in 2005 by two women gas survivors, has so far identified and registered over 1,000 children born damaged due to gas and water contamination. This year alone, 25 children have learned to stand unaided for the first time and 22 can now walk without assistance. 34 children with necks too weak to support their heads are now able to hold them high. 31 can now sit down without discomfort. 11 who could not utter a single word can now speak their names and communicate their needs. 25 are now able to chew and swallow food.
However, stories such as Minakshi’s are not uncommon and with your help we can ensure that the Chinagri can keep up it’s vital work and help even more damaged children.
You can find out how to donate on our donations page