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The jhaadoos were out for Dow at the Sambhavna Clinic's 6th Anniversary celebrations earlier today. This was the most popular attraction in a carnival which also featured a fashion show, models of the factory, local bastees and a working model of a well, to show how contamination is spreading into drinking water, plus a huge illuminated model of a human body to demonstrate how Ayurveda - traditional Indian medicine - works. In the evening there was a Qawali concert - a concert of music and Urdu poetry. Hundreds of people came with their children and made it a real mela.

The fashion show featured clothes for corrupt politicians, doctors too grand to touch a patient from the bastees, and even a Warren Anderson outfit with a special flap for vanishing into.

All of the day's events - working models, costumes - were achieved on a shoestring budget and lots of creativity.

Click the thumbnail at right for a better view of what
natty neighbours of the Carbide factory will soon be wearing.

Click to enlarge

Sambhavna Clinic 6th Annual Day, Sunday 27th October 2002

Sambhavna's 6th Annual Day celebrations kicked off early in the hot afternoon with a massive children's drawing competition, organised by Amita and Mahindra, both technicians in the Sambhavna lab. Many came from the local bustees, some born to gas-affected parents; there were children of friends and supporters of Sambhavna; children of clinic staff and a group from a local project, the Nitya Seva Shelter for street children. There were also the clinic regulars, who often come to chat with staff, draw or help with whatever is going on at Sambhavna; some of whom have been visiting the clinic since it opened in September 1996.

As about two hundred children got down to getting creative, parents, friends and staff met and talked, just as they do at the clinic itself. Sambhavna has always striven to be a place of refuge and welcome where people can meet and share their stories of struggle and give each other some hope for the future. The atmosphere here was very much one of celebration and looking ahead: people were laughing and joking, children were excitedly running from one display to the other and everyone who came experienced a very different kind of fun education.

Celebrations at the site of the new Clinic

This was Sambhavna's biggest function yet, a true celebration of how they have made a difference and won the respect and trust of so many in the gas-affected communities. The exhibitions, games, alternative fashion show and Qawali music concert were held in an L-shaped series of airy tents on the site of the new clinic to be - the foundation stone of which was laid on the 8th September 2001 (building is due to start in November 2002). The new clinic will be eight times the size of the present building which Sambhavna outgrew a long time ago. Its location right in the heart of the most severely-affected communities is crucial, as many gas-affected people find it difficult to walk the half mile to where Sambhavna is now.

Medical effects of the gas leak

The first tent housed a general exhibition on the medical effects of the gas leak. The collection of autopsy specimens and accompanying photographs were explained by Nishant, a volunteer community researcher at Sambhavna. Most of these were from the immediate aftermath of the disaster and the three years following and were on loan from the local medical college. The actual specimens ranged from a spontaneously aborted foetus on the night of the disaster to a kidney, lungs, hearts, a liver and skin in varying degrees of gas exposure. The crowd around this display was for the most part quiet, the children were curious and the adults attentive. According to a local newspaper report the following day, this was the first time in 18 years that people had been told about the medical effects of the gas so clearly.

A guided tour of the Clinic's work

The next tent was an introduction to Sambhavna: their beliefs, vision and experience; who they are and how they work; their current activities and future plans; their successes, failures and limitations, as well as reports of income and expenditure statements. Sambhavna has always maintained a policy of transparency with its accounts available for all to see and visitors welcome at any time. Their momentous efforts have been recognised and rewarded by many including most recently the Mead 2001 Award. This and other awards were also on display, a reminder of just how much has been achieved so far although if you talk to any one of the staff they will quickly reel off how much there is still to do, all too aware as they are of the sheer scale of the problems experienced by survivors (Sambhavna has registered around 11,500 people to date and there are an estimated 120,000 - 150,000 still in need of immediate medical attention with around 10 - 15 people dying every month as a result of exposure in í84 and the compounded effects of living neglected in such a toxic environment.)

Seven foot high human body explains Ayurveda

Mohsin, Aziza's son (Aziza assists in the gynaecology clinic and educates women in the communities) and Dr Deshpande, Sambhavna's Ayurvedic doctor made a 2D, seven foot polystyrene body, displaying the main areas of the body affected by the gas (pretty much all of them). These were linked to light switches that lit up the affected body part and the most effective treatment Ayurvedic for that condition, some being a combination of allopathic and Ayurvedic medication. This huge twinkling body attracted much interest; many would never have seen a human body displayed in this way and had great fun with the lights.

Shirodhara, an Ayurvedic therapy, has brought sustained relief to many gas-affected people suffering from anxiety, depression, aching limbs and post-traumatic stress disorder. Biju, Sambhavna's Panchakarma Chikitsa therapist for men, demonstrated this ancient technique of directing water (from a pot with a hole in the bottom) to specific points on the forehead. Next to him was Alka, who gives Panchakarma Chikitsa therapy to women. She explained some of the different herbs used at Sambhavna, their medicinal properties, and how they should be used, including wheat seedlings which are very effective in treating safed pani (literally white water), excessive vaginal secretion - a common side effect of the gas among women but also one of the most taboo. Many women and girls feel that they cannot talk about their problems for fear of bringing shame upon themselves and their families, and being labelled as unmarriageable. Alka was also in charge of ensuring that nobody went without a nutritious snack of two types of sprouted beans with fresh lime and salt served in banana leaf bowls.

Children learned about yoga...

Children didn't only get to draw. Many did Yoga in the next tent with Nivrita, Sambhavna's Yoga instructor - a treatment that has become more and more accepted since it was first offered at the clinic. Many of the gas-affected are Muslim and used to believe that Yoga was only practised by Hindus. Sambhavna has gone a long way to change that; they hold regular Yoga camps in the communities and many registered at the clinic report sustained relief from their respiratory problems through Yoga practice.

...and had fun with the Jhadoo game

In contrast to the calm of Yoga came the excitement of the jhadoo (broom) game. Handling the mass of children desperate to knock down Dow was not easy! Considering Carbide merged with Dow only last year, the Dow name is well known to many of the gas-affected and their children. They had to swing a jhadoo, with 'aim and power', in the words of Sathyu, Sambhavna's managing trustee, in order to knock down the poor unfortunate cardboard cut-out representing Dow which fell pathetically at the feet of a triumphant survivor with her jhadoo held high. The children didn't tire of this game for hours and made lots of noise at Dow's repeated downfall.

3D model of factory explains water contamination

Ritesh, one of Sambhavna's community healthworkers had spent days building a 3D model of the Carbide factory and surrounding bustees. He talked hundreds of people through the contamination process explaining how concentrated carcinogens, mercury and other life-threatening chemicals seep deeper into the groundwater and spread over a larger area each year (anywhere between 300 and 700m), further contaminating the wells, soil and air of the local population. A mini working well ensured big interest from all, from tiny children who looked too small to walk to gas-affected adults who struggle to stay standing for long.

Snakes and ladders game and model bastee

Women's health is given special priority at Sambhavna which was reflected in the handmade snakes and ladders game - a demonstration of women's health education that Sambhavna's female community healthworkers take into the bustees. Aziza, Masarrat and Gudoo recreated a bustee setting, complete with small houses made of grass and almost life-sized plaster of paris models of a Sambhavna healthworker and women gathered in the community. An accompanying audio tape educated listeners about breast examination, water contamination and how to tackle medical and social problems.

The alternative fashion show drew a huge crowd

Much planning and excitement had gone into the alternative fashion show directed by Mahindra, Sambhavna's pathology worker, who also made all the special Bhopal fashions. As the sun set on the T-shaped catwalk, Sambhavna staff paraded the season's outfits to thumping bass and enlightening commentary from Nivrita and Amita. Around a thousand people gathered, jostling for space next to friends and calling to others. There was a long wait while various staff could be seen darting from backstage to the commentary area, finalising the music, commentary and order. There was as much preening, adjusting and pre-show nerves as any "real" fashion show.

The well-dressed exploiter

The show opened with Manuradha who modelled a beautiful brown striped safari suit complete with extra large pockets representing all the elements of the corrupt system that exploits the impoverished gas-exposed for their own ends - the middlemen, the salaried class, the companies and the industrialists, the business community and so on. Her bulging pockets for were overflowing with money swindled and misappropriated from various sources. Next came Alka as the typical 'leader'/politician making money in the name of the survivors. She wore a stylish fur cap with secret front pocket to stash away all her "hard-earned" money. Pranay became a Dow public relations executive with a forced "perma-smile" baseball cap that covered his face all too easily.

Smart casual look for drug dealers

Masarrat Natasha sashayed down the catwalk as a medical officer in a classy safari suit with large back pocket detail - just right for all those harmful and indiscriminately prescribed drugs that plague Bhopal survivors as well as the drugs which only get as far as the black market. Mahindra's moment came as an impoverished survivor when she showed off a natty Bhopali-style handbag with a big hole in the bottom - her partner modelled an equally fetching shirt with pockets with holes - further representations of the bottomless pit of corruption that survivors are constantly trying to get out of.

Gloves for the hands-off doctors

Aziza was stern in her stride as she showed off a pair of long gloves - symbolic of the typical doctor from Bhopal clinics and hospitals who regard themselves as too far above the survivors to even touch them. Visitors to Sambhavna have broken down in tears saying that in all the years since the disaster no doctor has even taken their pulse.

The survivors' chemical protection suit

Naveen, who works in Sambhavna's documentation centre stepped out in a protective paper suit and gas mask - "the daily need of survivors who live in the vicinity of the Dow/Carbide plant with its massive and fast-growing levels of contamination."

Haut couture a la Warren Anderson

Last to show off the latest Bhopali fashions was Shekhar, who assists part-time at the clinic. He strode confidently down the catwalk in a white suit, sipping from a champagne glass and sucking on a cigar; this was Warren Anderson fashion: the outfit was only complete when Shekhar pulled the hood of the jacket right over his head and face and he went into hiding. By the time the models reappeared for their final "cat" walk, the crowd was going crazy, whistling and cheering, some dancing. The models stood together and waved and were called back for another encore, stopping for the press photographers on their final walk backstage.

An evening of Qawali

And there was more to come! The Qawali concert, a traditional Urdu form of music and song, was the climax to Sambhavna's Annual Day. The two lead singers, both Sufis named Layeeq, thrilled the crowd and sang a few songs especially for the children. After a tame start the two singers began to challenge each other with poetry and satire and worked up to flinging cutting insults much to the delight of the crowd. The Layeeqs and accompanying musicians (playing two upside down plant pots and a harmonium) left a wild audience screaming for more despite several encores.

A celebration of hope and possibility

Many in Bhopal who were not exposed to the gas maintain that the tragedy is over, that people are no longer suffering and believe that the city should 'move on' and forget what happened. Sambhavna works passionately against these kind of ignorant attitudes and believes that survivors need to understand why they continue to suffer, why their problems in many cases are getting worse, and what is happening in their environments if present and future generations are to shake off the multiple taboos of being gas-affected and regain control of their health and lives, and a sense of dignity and self-worth. This 6th Annual Day achieved so much in this respect - the staff and friends of Sambhavna celebrated with the people of the communities who they treat at the clinic and in which they work; and educated young and old alike through having fun. This was for all a celebration of hope and possibility for the future and a reminder that "many little efforts in many small places by many ordinary people can change the face of this world".