People are screaming, oh yes, they are screaming
People are running, oh yes, they are running
People are crying, oh yes, they are crying
People are dying, oh yes, they are dying
People are you and me, oh yes, they are you and me
What would you do if you did not know what was happening to you and you were struggling to breathe? What would you do if you felt your eyes would pop out and you would die? You would run till there is no end wouldn’t you? That is what happened in UTC for the Sunday evening worship on November 30, 2014, in remembrance of what happened in Bhopal 30 years ago. Chairs were strewn around and the entire cast of the Renegade Arts and Theatre Society (RATS) ran into the stage in the Zigenbalg chapel from different corners. People could not make out for a minute as to what was happening. There was a lot of crying and desperation. It was the cry from Bhopal reminding everyone that “We all live in Bhopal.”
The Renegade Arts and Theatre Society in association with Visthar, Bangalore and the Chingari Trust, Bhopal presented their latest play “We all live in Bhopal” and intergrated it into the UTC evening worship on Sunday. The play reminded everyone of the worst industrial incident in modern India. It brought back memories and educated people on the scale of corporate greed and ill governance and the fragility of human life. Some in the congregation were youngsters in college when Bhopal happened while others were not even born. Today even some youngsters in Bhopal are not aware of what happened 30 years ago!
Rev. Dr. David Selvaraj, the Executive Director of Visthar and the director of the play introduced the play and the cast. Mr. Sudhir Selvaraj, the play wright talked of the research that went into the play and what it intended to do. The play had real characters, played by people from all walks of life in Bangalore. Champadevi Shukla and Rashida Bee, two survivors, Warren Anderson, former Union Carbide chief and two activists, Sathyu and Rachna, among others, all came alive in front of the congregation. It was not just a tribute or remembrance but rather an awakening into the continued suffering of ordinary people in Bhopal for the past three decades. We all live in Bhopal was an effort for people in the play to talk to people in the audience and relive the horror that happened and could happen again to anyone in any part of the country.
Intercessory prayers and confessions were offered to bring the congregation into the mood of prayerful interrogation. Rev. Ernest Deenadayalan, distinguished alumnus of the college, renowned social activist and director of "Other Media" gave a fitting reflection on the Bhopal gas tragedy. There was suffocation in the Ziegenbalg chapel brought about by the remembrance of thousands of people who died and lakhs of people who suffered and continue to suffer. Pictures of the horror were displayed at the entrance to the chapel.
At the end of the service the cast were allowed to interact with the congregation. Moving reflections from students and teachers followed. “I lost my voice for a minute. I wonder how people in Bhopal can have a voice when they have been shouting for decades”, “Thanks for reminding us that Bhopal happened. The media has been successful in wiping out Bhopal from our collective consciousness”, “I remember that I was in Bangalore when the Bhopal tragedy happened”, “Aren’t there similar disasters happening closer by and even in Bangalore?”, “How have the actors in the play internalized Bhopal?.” So on went the reflections and questions. The cast which included young and old replied about their own experiences and how Bhopal and the ordinary people there had inspired them to take up the fight against the corporates and the government and how the fight has to be continued.
Three decades on, survivors still drink contaminated water and breathe poisonous air because no one accepts liability for cleaning up the mess. Bhopal continues to endure high rates of cancer and other illnesses. The play and worship ended in a high octane series of voices, which all spoke as voices from and for Bhopal. After all, “We all live in Bhopal!”