Our partners at Amnesty International USA are holding a rally on Tuesday, June 24, 2014 at Dow Chemical in Washington, DC to urge the company to comply with a summons issued in the ongoing criminal case concerning the 1984 gas disaster in Bhopal, India. The Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal has summoned Dow to appear on July 4, 2014 for a hearing in Bhopal.
ICJB would like to recognise the achievement of Alex Masi, the winner if the 2012 FotoEvidence Book Award, who spent a considerable amount of time in Bhopal documenting the lives of the victims of the disaster. The culmination of his efforts is the publication of his book, “Bhopal Second Disaster”, to be launched on the 26th of August, 2012, at VII Gallery in Dumbo, NY. We caught up with Alex to talk to him about his work in Bhopal.
ICJB:How did you learn about the Bhopal campaign and what made you want to center your work on it?
AM: In January 2008, I traveled to India to visit some of the country’s most polluted places to collect images on various issues affecting society’s poorest and under-represented people. My topics ranged from extreme poverty to industrial hazards, from child labor to rural life, from water contamination to birth defects, and urban slum dwellers.
I first visited Bhopal in April 2009. After learning more about the disaster, I decided to begin documenting what I call the ‘Second Disaster’ – the water pollution affecting the residents living near the abandoned industrial site of Union Carbide (Image inset), and its effects on children.
ICJB: Could you tell us a little bit about your book –“Bhopal Second disaster” which is to be launched in October?
AM: The book is the result of the 2012 FotoEvidence Book Award. It showcases many of my images documenting the problem of water pollution, the activities of Sambhavna Trust and Chingari Rehabilitation Center, as well as daily life in Bhopal, 27 years after the disaster.
In addition to the images it includes an interview where I talk about my long-term project and a foreword written by Indra Sinha, the illustrious author of ‘Animal’s People’, a touching novel focusing on Bhopal – shortlisted for the prestigious 2007 Man Booker Prize.
‘Bhopal Second Disaster’ will be sold through FotoEvidence, its publisher, after its launch on August 26, 2012 in the VII Gallery in Dumbo, New York, with an exhibition of my work together with 4 other finalists. The book will initially be released as a hard cover (12×8 inches) and later on in an Ipad version.
To stay tuned as the exhibition and on the book launch, connect to my Facebook Page
ICJB: What impact do you anticipate the book will have?
AM: While producing my long-term photographic work in Bhopal, I strove to portray my subjects with intimacy, meaning and depth. I wanted to convey emotions, to stimulate our deeper and most innate feelings, our senses of justice, compassion and brotherhood, in the hope of becoming an active catalyst for the promotion of awareness, action and change for the people of Bhopal.
I sincerely believe that publishing my collection of images from Bhopal in this book: ‘Bhopal Second Disaster’, will allow me to reach, inform and engage a larger public than ever before, in positive and proactive ways.
I believe that photography is a powerful tool to inform and challenge the audience on a personal, intimate level. Images can foster direct action by passionate and committed individuals, as well as by governments, policy-makers, groups and organisations.
ICJB: Your next project is your own charity – “A better tomorrow”. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
AM: That’s true, I am in the process of registering ‘A Better Tomorrow‘ as a ‘Small Charity‘ in the United Kingdom – attracting funds not exceeding a total of 5000 UK£ per year, before being able to apply to The Charity Commission for England and Wales, and become an official Charity.
In April 2011, The Photographers Giving Back Awards, based in Sweden, offered me a grant of 5000 USD, entirely aimed for the creation and implementation of a plan benefitting Poonam, and to also help her family overcome extreme poverty.
A collection of ‘Limited Edition Art Prints’, ‘Open Edition Prints’ and donations, will fund Poonam, Jyoti, and Ravi’s education until Year 12, and beyond to college, as well as a number of socio-educational initiatives for the children living in Oriya Basti, and in the other water-affected colonies of Bhopal.
My local initiatives will focus mainly on the education (and training) of needy children living in the water-affected colonies of Bhopal. In the beginning, this will be carried out by commissioning small, specific projects to a trusted NGO in Bhopal. I am in talks with The Bhopal Medical Appeal to understand whether Chingari Trust could take on such collaborative role.
‘A Better Tomorrow’ is therefore a small personal initiative, which I wanted to make official, presenting a modern approach where I will be able to give something back, as a photographer, by selling my own prints from this city, in order to help my subjects in a more direct way.
*All the images published with this interview are copyrighted to Alex Masi.
Mullo Bai, 65, gas affected and her mother Jamvati, 82
I left my house with my mother and 18 other women from my neighbourhood to be part of the rail roko. At 11:00 am we all reached Barkhedi crossing. We sat on the tracks for almost an hour and there were thousands of people all around us. We were all shouting slogans. There were lots of police and then a few female police started dragging women towards the blue police truck.
When police started dragging the women two men pleaded with the cops not to drag women like that. The police did not listen to anyone and must have dragged 3-4 women into the police vehicle. Then I saw total chaos break loose. There must have been 100 cops with lathis who just started to beat up women. They did not bother to see who they were hitting they continued with lathis and whoever came in their way got hurt. During all of this one of the police lathis hit me in my right eye and then came the second lathi which hit me in the back of my head. I saw blood coming out I realised that I had to leave and also had to get my mother out as she is very old and it would be hard for her to run.
I grabbed my mother’s hand and then my mother was hit by a police lathi on her head. My mother fell down and she was bleeding profusely. Her entire sari was covered with blood. There was so much blood and it seemed like someone had slaughtered a goat. Then three men came and they picked up my mother gave her some water and put her in an auto. I took her to the nearest private hospital (Mansi Hospital) and she got eight stitches. The hospital asked me for Rs 200 and I told them I had no money to pay them. I was so afraid that if my mother’s injuries were not looked at she just might die from excessive bleeding.
This hospital is situated on the main road and I saw many policemen running on the streets chasing men and even women with sticks. I pleaded with them to stop their violence. I asked them if they would kill us today by beating us. Then two policemen who were blocking our way let both of us leave. After walking 20 steps we were stopped by more policemen and they asked what had happened to us. I told them it was due to their lathis that my mother’s head was bleeding and I had a black eye and swelling on my face. Then the police sent me to the emergency vehicle for dressing of my wounds. I received two stitches on my head and I was asked to go home.
We must have reached home by 3:30 pm and for next two days we did not go to the government hospital. We have been scared that police are going to come pick us up and will take us to jail. We have been reading in the newspapers that police have filed charges against 1,500 people and they have been picking up men from their houses at night. We didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment. We had just gone to ask for our rights and we sat on the tracks peacefully. I did not even think that police would beat us so brutally.
At around 10:30 am about 45 women from my neighbourhood left to join the Rail Roko agitation. We all reached the tracks by 11:20 am and there were many women laying on the tracks and we also laid down on the tracks. I was surrounded by many women and there were so many people that all men were sitting beside the track. I was sitting with all the women from my neighbourhood as well and we were also listening to slogan chanting happening on the PA system. Then police started asking us to leave the tracks and started dragging one of the women who was wearing blue clothes. They were dragging her into the police vehicle and while she was being dragged one of the police women kicked her as well.
I saw a young girl in black clothes was pulled and dragged by two female cops and put into the police vehicle. I continued to sit and so did everyone and when police asked us to leave we told them that we will not leave until our demands were met. Then all I could hear was sound of lathis around me and women around me being beaten up. I also got hit twice. A lot of women were running and I also started to run with them but then I fell. There was massive stone pelting happening from both sides. I cannot remember much, but I do remember that two young boys took me to the 108 emergency vehicle. Inside the vehicle there were 3 policemen. The nurse dressed me up and asked me to leave the vehicle. I could barely see because both of my eyes were swollen and I was in intense pain.
I started to walk and covered one eye with one hand as it hurt too much to keep it open. Then I saw one of my neighborhood women and I called her towards me. She could barely recognize me and it was them who brought me back in an auto. I have been so scared of the police that I did not even go to the government hospital to get any treatment. I can barely afford the private doctor but I have been paying him Rs 200 to come and visit the house every day so that he can give me injection for pain.
At 10.30 I reached there with about 20 women and lay down on the tracks. Some policemen said the photo session is over and now you can go – your work is over. We said we will not go. Bhaiyya was there. I saw smoke and heard a loud blast. After this the train blew its horn and put on its headlights. The women who were lying on the tracks got frightened and stood up. A policewoman with short hair told us not to shout slogans. The ADM came and told the police to drag the women and put them in the police vans. He then asked, who is your leader and we replied that we do not have any leader, we have come with our demands.
When Namdeo went a little further from us, the police hit Poonam who was sitting near me and is about 60 years, she was hit on the head with the baton. She started bleeding. Three women took her to the cabin. Then Basanti was hit on her hand. I told them to stop all this and also got hit on the hand. They hit Bibbo aged about 65, on the head; I saw blood and started feeling dizzy. They hit another woman who was with me on her legs. With all this, I panicked, at the same time stones started raining. Three or four boys came and surrounded us to rescue us from the lathis and took us away from there. From Aishbagh police station I again came back to the cabin. I took Poonam, Bibbo and Basanti to the No. 108, a madam was there and I told her these people are bleeding please give them some treatment. At the same time five policemen came with minor injuries nor were any of them bleeding, but they were the first to get attention. I asked the madam to put bandage on these old women, she told me to shut up.
Another policeman came who was hurt and he said “first put bandages on the mothers”. Then my nephew who is about 13 years came and said a bomb has gone off and a boy has been hurt in the leg. I started feeling sick and just sat down.
I reached near Aishbagh railway crossing at about 10.45. There already was a big crowd which had stopped one train. Tara Bai came and gave the banner. The women were sitting peacefully. The boys were shouting slogans. After that we talked with the ADM. He said that your symbolic protest is over; now get up from the tracks. I told him that our protest is indefinite, arrange a meeting with the CM, we will discuss the matter with him and then decide. Then the ADM reached out his hands to catch hold of me and all the women who were sitting on the tracks came and stood around me. The ADM said you people will not listen and then walked away. Then I went to the announcement auto where they were announcing that the protest is peaceful and will continue till the demands are met.
Then I went back to the tracks and Safreen came and told me that the police have snatched the mike along with the cord. I told we’ll see about that later. The media people came to me, the slogans continued. There was no inkling that there would be stone pelting. Then a sound came like a cracker bursting, I was standing near the engine, Rashida was near the gate. Somebody said that it was a bomb. People started getting up started shouting ‘Run’ ‘run’. I asked the women to keep sitting but they also shouted ‘run, run’. Some men and boys came near the engine and said that women are being beaten up. I asked the women who were near me to go and see what is happening. At that time there no fire anywhere. Women started to scream. I took some of the elderly women towards the road, took some 10-15 women and made them sit behind the bushes. I saw that the police were beating the women on the tracks with batons. After that the stone pelting started – from both sides, like rain. I then sent the women under the train. The policemen were picking up stones. I took the women from under the train towards Pul Boghda, to the temple and from there to the old ‘Galla Mandi’ and they went away. By that time the police were running on the road with batons, and were throwing tear gas. I waited with the women at the temple. I saw a vehicle on fire. After that Rachna called and said that we have to go and meet the CM, to meet her within 15 minutes. I then went through Barkhedi to Patra and from there to Dwarka Nagar.
I remember Monika Shukla saying “beat the bitches with lathis”
At 11.00 Nafiza and I along with Yashmeen and 3 other women reached Barkhedi gate and went to the tracks. We sat on the tracks for some time and then came to the auto. Yashmeen and I sat in the auto, Hazra had told us to be in the auto. Yashmeen was announcing, I went to the tracks and sat with the other women, both the gates of the level crossing opened. The police were telling the people to go away. We said we will not move. We saw Rashida Bee talking to the Collector and Hazra Bi speaking to one constable. Then Yashmeen came and said the mike has been snatched – she told this to Rashida Bee, she asked us to go back and she is coming. I then went to Hazra Bee, she was asking the men to go back, some of them were drunk (I can recognise two of them) Hazra Bee was keeping these men away from the women with a small stick. A man in civil dress, aged about 40, wearing white shirt with stripes came and started calling the police. Hazra was keeping the men away and so I called her back. The man in the striped shirt and other police men called the blue police van. Nafisa, Hazra and I felt that they were going to arrest, so we lay on the tracks and the other women also lay down. The man in the striped shirt pulled me; two women came and put me in the van. In the scuffle with the man in striped shirt, I lost my phone. Inside the van I told the police that my mobile has fallen please get it back. The police refused and they held my hand and made me stand up. They brought two more women and after that they brought Hazra Bee, asked her if she has my mobile and she replied no. Nafisa Bee was also brought to the van. I saw that the stoning had started and two police women were pushing Nafisa into the van. I said, Mummy come up inside, they are pelting stones, she came inside and the van started. The doors were open and I jumped out. Outside there was stoning. When I reached the tracks some women were near the engine. I searched for Yashmeen and the mobile; I went and sat with the women who were near the engine. Sitting there I could see that the stoning was from both sides. The women started to move from there. From the Aishbagh side people were throwing stones at the police. I was seeing this from the gate. I saw some people overturning a police vehicle. I saw a woman who was hurt on the head and was bleeding. A woman was taking her to the 108. Two media persons were saying that the police are being beaten up. Soon after I heard gun shots and every body shouted, they are firing. When coming from Barkhedi towards Aishbagh, I saw the police beating the people with batons and removing them from the tracks. I met Rashida Bee who was pacifying the women. She was asking everybody not to throw stones. I was also with her. The people asked us not to go further, we came towards the Aishbagh side of the gate and Aapa spoke to Satyu. When we reached the lane we saw boys running, they were saving themselves from the stones. Near the small bridge we met Shoaib, Naeem and Amir from Budhwara. Then all of us, Yashmeen, Shoaib, Naeem and Amir went searching for the mobile. When we reached the tracks there were lots of police near the gate and they did not allow us to go forward. We saw smoke coming from Barkhedi side and all of us came back to Rashida. We spoke to her about where to go and she told us that it is peaceful at all the other places and that we should go to Nishatpura, that Sathyu has been told. After this we reached Dwarka Nagar by walking on the tracks.
By 9:30 a.m. there were 5,000 people near the railway crossing. I got there about 9.45 a.m. just after the crowd had tried to stop the Punjab Mail. The SP (Superintendant of Police), TI and six police (4 male, 2 female) started trying to remove people. It wasn’t yet time and the crowd let the Punjab Mail go. I got there after the train had gone through. Lathis (long clubs) were being shown (brandished) but no one was being beaten. I went and lay down on the tracks.
It was 10:30 a.m. when I lay on the tracks – we were saying to the police that we would begin the action at 11 o’clock. Why were they waving their lathis at the public? The police would not allow our protest. They tried to pull me up.
Now there were more people. The goods train with the diesel tankers was seen coming from Pul Bogda side. The train continued coming forward blowing its horn. It was stopped before it reached the level crossing gate and then lots of police arrived. They came and stood near the train. It was 11.45; women kept coming and sat on the tracks. The police were saying start the train. The train started moving; there were at least 1,000 people. As soon as the train started, I lay down again and the train stopped. Two women constables picked me up and put me beside the tracks. All the women came towards the train and lay down on the tracks. There was Rahisa, women from Taufeekh Bagh, women belonging to BGNPBSM, women from the shanties along the railway track all came where I was being held by the police. Men, boys and children all came shouting “Hamme hamara haq chahiye – Sahi muawjaa chahiye”. “We want our rights – We want proper compensation”.
The railway crossing gate was open earlier but was brought down and closed. The Collector arrived; he was accompanied by the riot police numbering about 50 and two women constables. A man in plain clothes wearing white shirt came and said, come and talk to the Collector. I told him that I have seen the Collector and if he wants to say anything he will come here. He said you should go to the Collector. Then I stood up and shouted slogans. All during this time the train was hooting (its horn) continuously. Our auto with the mike was near the crossing gate. I went to the mike and announced, please do not blow the horn and frighten the people, people are sitting peacefully, blowing horn will frighten them, we want co-operation from the police, you are also gas affected. We are doing everything peacefully, you also maintain peace. After that I went amidst the women and asked everyone to sit down. I asked everybody to shout the same slogan. Somebody was shouting ‘Anna Hazare – zindabad.’
The Collector called me from the other side of the railway gate. I went and he said, get about 10 people and come and meet the Chief Minister. I replied that this is not something I can do individually; we will have to consult among ourselves. He said; take 10 people from here and come. I replied that we have been writing letters for the last 1 to 2 months but the CM did not give us any time. I will have to discuss this with the other organisations and any decision can be arrived at, only after that. The Collector asked me to call Rachna Dhingra. I asked for 10 minutes. I tried several times to call Rachna, but was not able to. Jamal Ayyub came and said to the Collector and to me that some journalist can be asked to contact Rachna. But that also did not happen. Jamal Ayyub said we cannot do this on our own. While all this was going on, the police surrounded us from two sides. During this time thousands of people were sitting on the tracks, from Pul Bogda to Barkhedi crossing. Then the police opened both the gates. They lifted the people by pulling their hair and the male police dragged the women on to the metal (stones) lying on the side of the tracks – Hazra, Nafisa, Baano Bi – four or five, women were hit by the police, they started bleeding. Some women went into the cabin near the tracks. Then the police started caning the boys. Many boys removed the women from the cabin and from the tracks, at this time the lathi charge by the police was going on. The public was running away. I fell down and some people ran over me. Then the public picked up stones, and it started raining stones. The police also started pelting stones. I told the people not to throw stones but nobody was listening. Stones were being pelted by both the public and the police. The police started to run towards Pul Bogda. Three or four vehicles of the police came with RAF jawans and burst tear gas without warning anyone.
I called Sathyu on the phone who said, Aapa somehow try to stop all this. On Sathyu’s advice I came in between the police and the public. By that time a white colour jeep was on fire. I then went towards the road and asked people with folded hands to maintain peace. Some boys stopped pelting stones. After that when I went to the gate and 50 to 60 women again came and sat on the tracks. The police started to fire from Pul Bogda side. Some of the boys in the crowd went towards the train and said they will set it to fire. I told them the whole bagh will be on fire. The boys said, put the Pulzar motorcycle under the goods train. But I intervened and somehow managed to turn them off. They stoned the rail engine and broke its window panes. The public scattered due to the firing. By that time more police had reached, and were pursuing people into the lanes and into homes and beating them up. I have seen all this. Then I got a call from Sathyu saying that we have to meet the CM. So I started walking on the tracks towards north. The riot continued behind me.
When the collector was talking with me, somebody burnt an effigy on the other side of the gate. There was a cracker in it. The collector told me that I am letting bombs go off. I told him it was just a cracker and went to the other side and managed to get some water and put the fire out. The Collector then said that I will not be able to manage the public and they will manage the situation. To which I told him that on 3rd December people usually burn effigies, he said you people will not understand.