Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Selective histories

Tonight, hundreds of people are gathering outside a derelict factory to mark the 24th anniversary of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

I was first acquainted with the incident in 2005, after viewing the WPP winner for 1984. Later, I learnt about a photographer named Raghu Rai, who did plenty of work covering the aftermath of the disaster.

So, over the last 24 years, plenty of things have been written about the incident. Plenty of photos have been taken. The activists are still out in full force. Thirst for justice doesn't go away, it seems. But, who talks about Bhopal anymore?

My point is simply this: this was the world's worst industrial accident. And yet, I believe more people know about Chernobyl.

I'm not about to start comparing death tolls and such -- we shouldn't remember things based on the number of people who died. We've never really done things that way anyway. If we did, 9/11 (slightly less than 3,000) would barely register on the radar, and the genocide in East Timor (around 300,000) would be a really big deal. What about the Bangladeshi famines? Four million in 1943, slightly over a million in 1974.

Ah hell, its late and I'm rambling. I'm saying all this because I spent the last hour hunting for photos about the Mumbai attacks for the magazine -- and I just know, not including the people who have been directly affected by it, that all this will fade away from our collective memory in a matter of time, because that's just the way we do things.

Magnum Photos: Raghu Rai

INDIA. Bhopal. 2002. Muhammed AZIZ returns to the cemetery where 4.000 people were buried in the first days of the 1984 disaster.

INDIA. Bhopal. 2002. These women have all lost their husbands in the Bhopal tragedy. They now live in one-room tenements in a seperate widows' colony in the outskirts of the city, built by the state government.

INDIA. Bhopal. 2001. Skulls discarded after research at the Hamida Hospital. Medical experts believe that the toxic gas inhaled by the people of Bhopal may have affected the brain.