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A night to remember

ICONIC FRAMES: On life and death. Photo: G. Sribharath

ICONIC FRAMES: On life and death. Photo: G. Sribharath  

An exhibition documents the 30-year fight for justice for survivors of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Thirty years ago, on December 2, 1984, when toxic gases leaked from the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, Bismillah Bee ran for her life from the fumes with her three-year-old son Sajjad in her arms. She can’t recall today how long or how far she ran, except that she didn’t even know when her son had breathed his last against her body. The peach sweater Sajjad wore that night is one of two artefacts at the ‘Celebrating Resistance’ exhibition on at Studio Palazzo in Chennai.

Curated by the Remember Bhopal Trust (RBT), which is striving for a People’s Museum in Bhopal, the exhibition also contains the chains and locks used in 2008 by the Children Against Dow Carbide group, who tied themselves to then Prime Minister Manmohan’s Singh’s house in protest against the toxic waste that still pollutes the lands and water in neighbourhoods around the plant. Artefacts such as these, donated by survivors of the tragedy and a detailed documentation of the 30-year fight for justice, from handbills, placards, posters, to legal documents, will populate the Museum, which hopes to be open by December 3 this year, says RBT trustee Nityanand Jayaraman.

The Museum was originally slated to be housed entirely within a bus that would travel to toxic hotspots across the country, displaying the Bhopal story as well as collect artefacts from similarly-affected places too. While funds have not permitted this, the stationary Museum in Bhopal will contextualise the local experience within a national framework, says Nityanand. “The Museum is specifically to tell the people’s version of the tragedy, not Union Carbide’s or the Government’s. Curator and Washington Post correspondent Rama Lakshmi has spearheaded the collection of these objects of personal memory and their exhibition.”

The artefacts ,now in Chennai, were previously at the Kiran Nadar gallery in Delhi and will travel back to Bhopal in time for the Museum opening.

Studio Palazzo is also home now to a collage of Raghu Rai’s black-and-white photographs of the tragedy, right from the plastic sacks full of skulls unearthed around the site, and preserved foetuses aborted from pregnant women affected by the tragedy, to the iconic picture of a baby buried in debris. Several of the images were shot even 17 years after the tragedy. Alongside hang photographs of abandoned factory equipment and various protest marches, by Australian photographer Maude Dorr, and photographs of children born with severe congenital deformities, by French photographer Micha Patault. Both Maude and Micha have tracked the tragedy for years and their work is now used in Chennai to raise awareness about the Bhopal saga in colleges and schools over a three-month-long forthcoming campaign.

The exhibition is on till November 14 from 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 9:43:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/bhopal-gas-tragedy-remembrance/article6590961.ece

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