Just four hours before the world's worst industrial disaster took
place, Inayat Mohammad had gifted his wife Bano Bee a sari. The
45-year-old man died that very night, perishing in the 1984 Bhopal
gas leak. And his widow, now 60, has not worn the sari till date.
That same night, Bismillah Bee had run madly, with her
three-year-old son in her arms, fleeing the gas leakage. Badly
affected by the fumes, she was told Sajjad is under treatment.
Only after 40 days did she come to know that her son had died in
Bano Bee's sari, Sajjad's sweater and pants, the walking stick of
one Hafiza Bee's husband, an army medal, a bridal dress, a mangal
sutra, wooden legs, bangles, milk bottle, spectacles and a pencil
box will be kept in India's first People's Museum being developed
Along with these objects, the survivors of the gas tragedy will
narrate their own story. There would be a headphone and visitors
will not only see the objects displayed but also hear the story of
a particular victim or survivor.
However, it would not be a government-built effort, but a
community-run museum with the concept of "nothing about me,
"The Madhya Pradesh government is also working on a museum on gas
tragedy, but neither have survivors been asked nor have they any
idea how it is being built. And the biggest thing - the government
has no moral right to memorialise because it is complicit in the
injustice meted out to the communi tolty," Satinath Sarangi of the
Bhopal Group for Information and Actiond IANS.
On the intervening night of Dec 2-3, 1984, tonnes of poisonous
methyl isocyanate had leaked from the then Union Carbide factory
in Bhopal, killing over 3,000 lives instantly, around 25,000 over
the years and affecting around 500,000 people, according to
As the fight for justice presses on after 27 years, objects
related to the movement like chains and locks, rakhis, posters and
banners will also be exhibited.
The survivors are now developing their own travelling exhibition,
which they hope will be a permanent museum in the city later. A
trust, Remember Bhopal Trust, has been set up for the museum.
The survivors have enlisted Rama Lakshmi, a museologist, who has
worked on two such projects in the United States.
Rama Lakshmi told IANS, "The museum exhibiting a people's movement
is being built for first time in the country, although in many
Western countries we find many museums telling the stories of
She shares that museums are "safe sites for unsafe ideas." They
can wrestle with history, identity, conflict and aspirations in a
way that books, films and plays cannot - like the provocative
exhibition on race in the US, the Apartheid Museum in South Africa
and the Holocaust museums around the world.
"A museum at the Bhopal Union Carbide site can help us understand
everything that is wrong and right with contemporary India, and
how our social movements articulate demands for justice," the
Rama Lakshmi, who has been working on the project since January
this year, comes to Bhopal every month from Delhi and spends a
week here. The museum project has also brought together survivors
and activists who are fighting for justice under different
"For a good future, the past should be remembered. Unfortunately,
we are forgetting the past and the government wants that either we
do not remember it or we remember it as they want. But with such a
museum, we would be able to preserve our past," Abdul Jabbar of
the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sanghathan told IANS.
The travelling museum will be ready by April 2012.
"The bus, which will have different objects, photographs and
recorded stories along with several other things, will also have
survivors inside it. It will not only tell stories of the
survivors through objects but survivors will also be present as a
fact," Rama Lakshmi explains.
The museologist informs that in April, the bus will be in Bhopal
for a one month. Later, for a year it will tour the country. In
every city, it will stop in the evening and cultural programmes
will be presented by artists on the tragedy.
After 12 months, when it returns to Bhopal, a permanent museum
will be commemorated.
"Because it will be a travelling museum, not only will it reach
directly to the people of India but will also connect with several
other movements going on in the country. We not only want the
empathy of the people for the survivors but that they take
inspiration from their ongoing incredible fight for justice," Rama
(Shahnawaz Akhtar can be contacted at email@example.com)