I meet @anupamkar0009 in Ashish’s home, he is in his teens and lives in Bango village. He is volunteering with @ashishbirulee to document the medical conditions that Nuclear Radiation exposure has caused to the tribal villagers in the villages surrounding Jadugoda. We travel on his bike, me sandwiched between him and his father, heading to the village school. Upon meeting the principal, he outright denies that there are any children with disabilities in his school. Whereas, in a medical camp held last year, at least a few such children were documented. We then head over to the village.
The village is quaint, men have gone off to their paddy fields, a man sits on the road and bathes himself in the runoff water from the recent downpour. We park the bike and enter the yard of a blue walled house. Clothes are drying out, a faint sour smell emanating from them as they have been getting wet and dry in the intermittent rains.
As we enter the house, I see Sanjay sitting cross-legged on a charpai, a smile beaming from his face. He is 12 years old and developed severe muscular dystrophy at the age of 4. This condition means that his movement is severely restrained and so is his speech. “He has been like this for the past 8 years, restricted to this cot. One of us has to be here constantly, we cannot leave him by himself,” says his grandfather. I try to converse with Sanjay, but all he manages are muffled sounds. I show him some of the pictures that I have taken of him and he laughs with joy. Photographs, I think, connect people across languages, age groups, and cultures.
I’m in Bango village near Jadugoda, Jharkhand where I have cycled from Ranchi and am visiting households where children suffer from disabilities due to nuclear radiation poisoning.
Across the muddy street is the house of Parvati Gope, a 17-year-old girl who suffers from Lumbar Scoliosis, an S curve formation of the vertebral column. Parvati’s photos have been widely used by the anti-radiation poisoning movement and I recognize her from the handouts I had seen earlier. Her father mentions annoyingly, “Everyone comes and shoots her pictures and videos, but no one ever does anything about her condition. She needs to be treated and we need money for medicines. I cannot afford her medicines forever.” His apprehension is palpable and he tells me how difficult it is to have a child with a disability in a remote village.
The next house is that of Rakesh Gope, a school-going 13-year-old boy also suffering from muscular dystrophy. Only, in this case, he is extremely active and walks, albeit with severely arched feet and soles. He also has difficulty talking. He has a brother and a sister, both without a disability. The saving grace is that he goes to the same school as his siblings and that normalizes his life to some extent. “How long can we provide for his medicine? We don’t even know how long he will live,” his father opens up to me about the miseries of providing for his son’s medicines with a meager farming income. He makes Rakesh walk and run for us, parading his condition for me to shoot. As bad as I feel to watch, I realise it is necessary to document this.
By now, I am beginning to feel that there is something is wrong, something amiss in this village. There are too many cases of disability being detected in a very small area.
I can feel myself sinking slowly, seeing so many cases of physical deformities in a small population of about 2400 people, in just one village. The curiosity of seeing radiation poisoning’s effects has turned into a growing knot in my stomach as I helplessly document one case after another.
Word of my visit to families with physical deformities spreads in the village and more families come to Kartik’s home. Kartik is 3 years old and suffers from muscular dystrophy. A girl whose right leg is substantially shorter than the left one, a lady and another man, unrelated, who are hearing impaired since birth, mothers who have faced miscarriages or suffer from sterility all of them come to meet me. They want me to document their stories, each with a hope that at least I will relay their story to the Government and help them get some compensation.
We see rain clouds taking over the sky and speed away to Anupam’s house from there. The downpour begins just as we make it to the house. We see chicken flutter towards a shelter, women, and girls washing clothes at the hand pump run to take cover. A shepherd makes a makeshift umbrella from the leaves and twigs that he was carrying back, while his goats walk, surprised at the sudden action in this lazy village. A lady comes from inside the house offering me a glass of water as I stand under the overhang of his tiled roof.
I think for a moment, debating in my head whether I want to drink the radioactively polluted water of Bango village, and then take large gulps of it. I even amuse myself by shooting a video about it. But not for one second did the gravity of the situation leave me. Here I am, thinking twice about drinking the polluted water, whereas these villagers have been drinking, washing, bathing and farming in this polluted water and soil and air for 40 years.