Bhopal verdict a sham; more rehabilitation needed: Bartholomew
His heart-wrenching photograph of the frozen gaze of a little child, buried neck-deep, went on to become an iconic symbol of the Bhopal gas tragedy that killed over 15,000 and left lakhs with long-standing disabilities.delhi Updated: Jun 13, 2010 12:16 IST
His heart-wrenching photograph of the frozen gaze of a little child, buried neck-deep, went on to become an iconic symbol of the Bhopal gas tragedy that killed over 15,000 and left lakhs with long-standing disabilities.
But 26 years after the world's worst industrial accident, photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew is a disappointed man, calling the recent verdict on the disaster a "sham".
"The verdict was a sham," he said, commenting on the judgement. Seven people, including former Union Carbide India Chairman Keshub Mahindra, were sentenced to two years imprisonment each by a Bhopal court in the case.
"But the issues are much larger. The actual problem has been the delivery of relief. There were rehabilitation programmes that were started, which were then suddenly stopped, nobody knows why. Forget the monetary compensation, even medical relief for the victims was questionable," the award-winning photographer said in an interview.
"Today, the real challenge is about rehabilitation of the present generation in Bhopal with the poisonous chemical still present in its air," he said.
Bartholomew said the turn of events related to the tragedy raises many questions about the entire governing system of the country.
"The present state of affairs raises many many questions about the nation and its state and where you are within it, and that I think is rather frightening," said the recipient of World Press Photo of the Year award for 1984.
While recalling his experience of trying to report the 1984 Bhopal gas leakage from behind the lens, he said it has been a driving force in his life in many ways.
"The entire incident and that defining image of that child actually encouraged me to go on further and in many ways has been a driving force in my life. Though the experience scared me, it made me aware of the many ramifications which still continue and the world just doesn't seem to learn."
At well over two decades, the massive tragedy might stand as a piece of history today, but every moment of it is still etched in Bartholomew's memory.
"I was in Patna on that night when I first heard the news on radio and had ignored it initially. But as the toll kept on rising, I saw a bizarre footage on TV of dead bodies being wheeled on handcarts in large numbers and that was what woke me up and I made up my mind to go to Bhopal," he said.
He reached Bhopal on December five, two days after the incident. "When I got to the hospital, bodies were lying everywhere outside and it was a horror to look at the bodies of little children as most of them had been deformed or mutilated.
"Since photography had been restricted there, I had to go to the cremation ground where truck full of corpses were being brought from the hospital and this is where I saw this little child, half buried, with that tiny face wearing a strange frozen, blank look which had somehow really moved me," he recalled.