For most of us, problems with electricity involve a few hours of inconvenient power cuts, and a delay in completing the day’s tasks efficiently. But the consequences of its production are rarely explored. The Travelling International Uranium Film Festival India, held recently at the Suchitra Film Society, sought to address the flipside of energy production and consumption.
Some of the films screened included: Into Eternity (UK), Return of the Navajo Boy (USA), Climate of Hope (Australia), and Buddha Weeps at Jadugoda (India), among others.
Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda by filmmaker Shri Prakash — the only Indian film included in the festival — documents the complexity of solving the questions of nuclear hazards faced by the adivasi people of Jadugoda, a village in Bihar with an underground uranium plant.
Pointing to what’s lost
The footage, taken over a span of three years from 1996 to 1999, is taken skilfully and reflects the filmmaker’s sensitivity. The juxtaposition of the rich symbiotic relationship of the adivasis with nature on the one hand and the unscrupulous depletion of the very source of their culture on the other, succeeds in driving home the point about what has been lost in the race for technological advancement.
The first few scenes of the film span the lush greenery of Jharkhand and reveal the reverence the adivasis have for nature. Further into the film, we also understand that some of the adivasis do know that part of the cause for poor harvests is the uranium mine. Activists repeatedly raise their voices against breach of their human rights.
“Initially, it was very difficult for me to shoot there. People wouldn’t talk about what they were going through. But now after having shown them other documentary films, they are aware and have succeeded in making their voices heard by collective protests against building of tailing dams,” says Shri Prakash. According to Shri Prakash, most of the time, displacements are a result of the government having to build more tailing dams for nuclear plants, resulting in destruction of arable lands.
Testimonies of village residents in the film reveal that they are not educated on the safety measures to be followed when handling radioactive material of any kind. Barrels containing radioactive material are loaded onto vehicles with bare hands. “All they know is that the wound caused by stepping on a radioactive stone takes longer to heal. The authorities maintain that there is no harm in handling nuclear material,” says the director.
The women of the village pay a heavy price. Unable to bear children as a result of their exposure to radioactive material, they are ostracised by their own families.
The film shows that the soil of tradition holding the roots of adivasis’ culture seems to be perpetually eroding, and while their efforts at salvaging land are untiring, the fact remains that the damage cannot be undone.