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Bhopal revisited


CLOSE ON the heels of the feisty allegations against Pepsi and Coca-Cola by a non-governmental organisation that they contained toxic pesticides, come assertions by noted filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan that it was almost a crime to be born in an underdeveloped country. "Multinationals attach little value to those who inhabit the third world," he said during the inauguration of a photographic exhibition by Raghu Rai. Celebrated photographer Rai had made history when his camera poignantly captured the dire straits of the people of Bhopal in the aftermath of the Union Carbide gas leak. His photograph of the burial of an unknown child has become the icon of the world's worst industrial disaster. Now he is back with a new film roll, and his pictures say it all.

Eighteen years later, Bhopal is still a pitiable story, the suffering of the people is as intense and what exaggerates the tragedy is that it is fast receding from our memory. But international organisation Greenpeace is using all its resources to ensure that this does not happen. Its campaign to bring justice to the people of Bhopal seems relentless. A year ago it commissioned Raghu Rai to return to the tragic city and summarise the existent situation there. He was chosen for two reasons; the exhibition was to travel all over the world and Raghu Rai's international stature would help. Second, it was covered ground for Rai who has often said that the conditions in 1984 were so stomach-turning that he could barely click. "What I saw was to change my life. It was an unprecedented scene of chaos. What startled me most was the silence of death. Thousands of people had already died thousands more than those who died in the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. I vowed then and there to do all I could to show the world what happens to people when corporations are not held liable for their operations, when they are allowed to cut costs and safety standards when they operate abroad."

The exhibition which is now on at Durbar Hall Art Gallery had earlier travelled to Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and France, besides Mumbai, Chennai and New Delhi amongst many other cities.

The photographs featured here are contemporary; there's Sukhdev Dubey whose lungs have not been normal since the gas leak; Mohammad Arif who needs replacing of lungs; a frail Ghous Mohammad who has entered the evening of his life and doesn't remember where his youth got left behind. Fresh shots reaffirm that the calamity is far from over. Greenpeace photo editor had to censor some of the pictures before the travelling exhibition reached foreign shores, as they were too stark. In Mumbai, a young visitor fainted on seeing a picture of a young girl who was locked in a house on the day of the disaster and since then has been physically shrinking each day. Says Ganesh Nochur, a campaigner with Greenpeace "There are many Bhopals happening in slow motion but they don't get the profiling that Bhopal got".

Titled `Portrait of a Corporate Crime,' the exhibition is brought together by Design and People.

SUNANDA KHANNA

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