We just spent a week at the Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal. I offered up my photographic services voluntarily, and was requested by Sathyu, who runs the clinic, to a) photograph the ayurvedic medicinal garden – this grows the plants for the traditional medicines used in the clinic (alongside western medicines). It is entirely organic and not surprising to hear that the recorded levels of fauna are higher here compared to other areas in Bhopal (there is a particular abundance of birds and insects). And b) to teach the clinic’s community health workers to capture and edit video in order for them to educate the people residing close to the Union Carbide of their ailments and, specifically, what should be reported to the clinic for treatment.
Having arrived on a weekend, the first thing we did after settling in was to tag along with a couple of other volunteers to visit the Union Carbide site. I became fascinated with the wall that was erected to contain the factory and the disaster site – a wall that supposedly determines the boundary between what is safe, and what is not (for reference the site has never been cleaned up, and continues to house the residual toxins from the methyl isocyanate gas leak, hazardous to human and environmental health). The most astonishing thing about the wall is the level of degradation and the amount of areas that provide easy access to what is deemed ‘un-safe’. There are cavernous holes at ground level, steps and ledges that lead up and over the wall, there are security gates left open, parts that are knee high. The perimeter wall has rows and rows of residents’ houses backing on to it. Children clamber the walls or pass through the holes – it’s an appealing grassy spot for a game of cricket. Families graze their livestock within the walls. The animals’ patties are dried against the wall for fuel to burn. From the height of a small child you cannot see the remains of the abandoned factory, you can just see that the grass is greener on the inside. From this perspective, there is no danger.
Mesmerised by this situation, I decided to document the entire boundary wall of the Union Carbide site, from the perspective (and height) of a young child, say six or seven years old… I’ll spare the details for now but this will be something to develop once back in the UK.
Here are some highlights from the garden;
All Images © Francesca Moore
With thanks to Sathyu, and all at the Sambhavna Trust Clinic, for your kind and welcoming hospitality. It’s a truly inspirational place.
For further reading see www.bhopal.org. I can also highly recommend ‘It Was Five Past Midnight in Bhopal’ By Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro. We picked up a copy when we arrived in Mumbai, and seldom put it down again.
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