Hiroo Iso, 71, from Japan is an angry man. One August morning, 67 years ago, his father had gone to the factory, his older sister to the factory instead of her school, his mother was doing laundry and his one-year-old brother was asleep.
“At around 8.15 a.m., an airplane dropped the new kind of bomb on Hiroshima. The explosion was so blinding that for a few seconds I could see nothing. Our roof was gone and the windowpanes were shattered,” he said. Since the age of four, he has carried with him his identity as a survivor of the devastating attack, a Hibukusha, or survivor of the Hiroshima- Nagasaki atomic bomb explosion.
One of the handful of Hibukushas, he, along with other survivors, has travelled to 23 countries, to spread the message of abolishing nuclear weapons.
His anger is rooted in the fact that despite testimonies by surviving victims, affirmative change is nowhere in sight.
“They were welcoming and gave us a patient hearing, but after we left, nothing has happened,” he says in Japanese, as his friend Yukiko Inaba artfully vents out his frustration in English.
He is part of the group of the only surviving victims of an atom bomb. With their numbers dwindling, the question is: after them, who?
“Since the factory where my father worked was destroyed in the attack, we moved to our grandparents’ house in coastal Japan. We were driven to penury. We took two trains and a ship to get there.
Soon, my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she spent ten years in the hospital before she died. When we burnt her body during the cremation, nothing happened to the cancerous lump,” he says.
“Those who did not die due to burns, wounds and radiation got atomic bomb sickness,” he added.
Even today he suffers from radiation effects.
“My body releases only half the amount of thyroid hormones the body of a normal person releases and I have to get my liver tested every six months,” he says.
His sister’s daughter died of cancer recently and though his children and grandchildren seem healthy now, he says one can never be sure about the effects of radiation as they manifest with age.
Mr. Iso, who left Hiroshima at the age of four, never wanted to come back. But, he returned at the age of 50 when he decided to narrate his experience to affect change.
“I never wanted to go back, but now I live there,” he says.
He was speaking at the international peace symposium on nuclear victims organised by the post-graduate Department of Human Rights and Duties Education, in collaboration with the International Association for Religious Freedom’s South Asia Coordinating Council (SACC) and Religious Freedom Young Adult Network at Ethiraj College on Friday.
“Most of the survivors are old, sick or tired, and it is extremely difficult for survivors to travel. We worked for over a year to get Mr. Iso here. The message is that human beings cannot co-exist with nuclear bombs,” says Thomas Mathew, former president, International Association for Religious Freedom and chairman, SACC.
Sriranjini Sivasubramanian, head of department, S. Latha, assistant professor and head, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice Administration,
Tamil Nadu Open University, J. Mayuran, representative, organisation for Eelam refugee rehabilitation, and Tenzin Phuntsok, president, Tibetan Student’s Association also participated.