Photography Life & Style

Avani Rai’s photographs portray real stories of pain and conflict

In focus A photograph at the gallery

In focus A photograph at the gallery   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Heart-breaking frames

Avani Rai’s memories of the worst industrial disasters that struck Bhopal are through her father Raghu Rai’s images. She had been to the city but never photographed and in October 2019, she got an opportunity to visit the Chingari Trust (founded by Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, gas survivors and also recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2004) in Bhopal. Rashida and Champa have been working for the congenitally disabled children born in the same families affected by the tragedy and the subsequent water contamination. “It’s not about the victims who inhaled less gas and dying slow death, but the next generation of children being born with distorted limbs, damaged brains and incurable disabilities,” she says. Avani’s haunting and heart-breaking photographs from this week-long trip to Bhopal and from her Kashmir visits were on display at Goethe Zentrum.

The frames present a heart-rending stories of how the children have been affected by the aftermath of the deadly site. Avani reveals the affected families are paid between ₹600 and ₹1200 (maximum a family can get). “We never want to go back in the past and introspect. These children cannot look into your eyes, cannot talk, eat on their own or cannot sit up because their spinal cord is damaged; They are almost vegetables. These families are very poor and ₹600 is not a compensation that one can give. The mothers cannot work or do anything else except take care of the child.”

Her trip to Bhopal was part of an assignment to photograph the Chingari rehabilitation centre. Everyday she would visit the factories to know the cityscape of Bhopal and the gas leaks and also bastis to visit the families. “I wanted to go to homes to understand the kind of spaces they were living in and their economic background and the kind of families they belong to . I also went to Sambhavna Clinic started by one of the victims. These real stories of Bhopal will shock the world and there are people who are alive to tell the facts.”

Avani was in Delhi photographing the protests, election and the results.

Referring to the protests, she says “We are seeing something like this for the first time. It is inspiring to see how people have come together to stand for what they believed.” She was in Shaheen Bagh on Day 2 of the protest with a couple of friends from Reuters and New York Times. “I was there even when there was no shamiana.”

Finally, is there any pressure of being Raghu Rai’s daughter? Admitting she initially was nervous, she says “There is no pressure anymore. I have a brain and agar pressure hota toh stupid photo keenchungi. I am happy without the pressure and he (Raghu Rai) is also proud that I am going to shoot. He doesn’t say ‘Wow you have arrived’ but speaks of an image and an experience.”

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 8:03:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/avani-rais-photographs-on-bhopal-and-kashmir-portray-the-real-stories-of-pain-and-conflict/article30840720.ece

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