Remember Bhopal Museum
An independent museum about the Bhopal
disaster at the Union Carbide plant
of 1984, run by a survivor organization and featuring many personal stories about the disaster itself, and especially about the fight for justice afterwards. Not especially rich in artefacts, but very touching and quite well laid out for such a small outfit.
More background info:
For background about the industrial disaster itself see under Union Carbide plant
The museum is the work of the Remember Bhopal Trust (for yet more NGOs/charities see also under Union Carbide plant
). It is “survivor-led” and fiercely independent. Being “[c]ollectively curated by a community of survivors & activists” it prides itself on not giving a “sanitized, official version” and on “keeping history safe”. (All quotes from the museum's pamphlet handed out on-site.)
From all this it already becomes clear that it is not only independent from but actually opposed to the government line. The Trust rejected official plans for a memorial at the old factory, as it considers the Indian government complicit in the “corporate crime” and the injustice being done to the Bhopal
victims and survivors.
It's thus also not too surprising that the museum, in order to maintain its full independence, refuses to accept corporate or government funding, while still relying on donations, but only from individuals and activist groups.
The Remember Bhopal Trust was founded in 2012 and the museum was opened on the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster on 2 December 2014. It's the first and so far only museum of its kind. It collects and archives memories and narratives, and aims at keeping the latter “fluid” rather than settling for a static, official version of the story, so it may evolve further with time.
They also run educational programmes for schools and colleges and have provided travelling exhibitions to tell their stories in other places.
What there is to see: The museum is housed in a relatively small, rather nondescript three-storey building within a residential area, but a big sign above the door marks it clearly as what it is.
and in the back courtyard various slogans
are painted onto the whitewashed walls, including quite radical ones such as “Dow Chemical Must End Toxic Terror in Bhopal
” or another going as far as calling the disaster “genocide
” (which is definitely going too far).
Inside, the museum exhibition is split between the ground floor and an extra upstairs section. The main downstairs exhibition room features several blown-up black and white photographs from the disaster, including very graphic ones, some of which are well-known, some not so. Especially recognizable is the famous image of a pale little girl in her shallow grave, with empty burned-out eyes, which was taken a day after the disaster (a shot that went on to win the World Press Photo award for that year).
In addition to the photos and short captions and texts (all in English and Hindi) there are dozens of audio stations with telephone receivers on which you can listen to recordings of the stories of survivors and eyewitnesses, including doctors at the overwhelmed hospitals at the time.
Since the museum had been specially opened for us (as it was Christmas Day it would normally have been shut, but our guide thankfully engineered the special opening), I felt a little under time pressure (so as not to take up too much time of the volunteer who had opened the door for us) so I didn't listen to all the audio material, but just sampled a few select ones (they were all meaningful and fairly easy to understand). But I guess you could spend a lot of time here going through the lot.
Artefacts on display in this part of the exhibition include a doctor's stethoscope and various items of clothing that were worn by child victims that fateful night, which were later donated to the museum by surviving relatives.
The exhibition then focuses more on the aftermath
and the campaigns for justice
. Numerous political posters are on display, many quite poignant, e.g. one that calls for then Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson (see under Union Carbide plant
) to be hanged! A photo shows a sit-in by Bhopal protesters one of whom holds a banner saying (to the US
) “You want Osama, give us Anderson!”.
Also covered is the issue of the long-term medical effects
and child birth defects
attributed to the contamination from the former Union Carbide plant
. Several individual stories are told here, some illustrated by objects such as gaiters, crutches or psychotropic drugs used by long-term suffering victims.
Particularly interesting I found a “toxic map
” of India
. On this were marked the locations not just of Bhopal but various other places that also suffer from chemical industrial contamination, even if not on the massive scale of Bhopal. But it shows that the chemical industrial “playing with fire” is widespread and that accidents like at Bhopal could happen again too. A folder next to the map provides more detailed information about the various locations
Dotted around are little stations where “Did you know?” texts on sticks provide further detailed information – which is often highly illuminating, e.g. regarding medical treatments for the kind of chemical poisoning that occurred in Bhopal (and that was mostly not available at the time).
As we were going through the upstairs exhibition rooms, there was a power cut, so we had to use torches to at least read the informational texts, but taking photos was no longer really possible, so the latter parts of the museum are under-represented in the gallery below.
Back downstairs by the entrance is a small stall with items, such as coffee mugs with the Remember Bhopal logo on them, which you can buy as souvenirs – and where you can also make a donation.
All in all
I found the museum quite impressive. Small as it may be, and not on a par with the hi-tech, multimedia-heavy commodifications
you find in the West, but full of touching details and valuable information on top of the illustration through photos and (somewhat sparse) artefact displays. It's definitely a must-see place when visiting Bhopal, that much is certain!
north of the centre of Bhopal
, about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) north-west of the former Union Carbide plant
in a newly built residential district west of the large market area. The official address is: Sr HIG 22, Housing Board Colony, Berasia Road, Karond, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh 462001
Access and costs: a bit off the centre, so some form of transport is required; nominally free, but donations welcome.
Details: The location of the museum is rather hidden. I found the museum signposted from the market area to the east of the museum, but that alone may not help enough to track down this hidden gem. So get someone to find it for you – i.e. it would be best to take a taxi or other private-hire mode of transport to get there with a diver who knows where he's going. When I went, it was as part of a longer Union-Carbide disaster themed tour, so transport was included. Getting there independently shouldn't be expensive though.
Admission is nominally free, but donations are welcome … you can also purchase something from the small museum shop.
I couldn't find any official opening times posted anywhere, so you'll either have to take your chances (pick a sensible weekday time) or phone ahead (or have somebody phone them for you): + 91 9589345134.
Time required: between half an hour for a cursory visit and perhaps more than two hours if you want to listen to all the audio material and read everything that's available here.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Obviously a look at the actual former factory that was the source of the gas leak, or even an exploration of the grounds of the plant, would make for the ideal combination. But getting into the compound may not be so easily possible. Officially you need a special permit – see under Union Carbide plant
See also under Bhopal
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
see under Bhopal
- Remember Bhopal Museum 01 - sign over the door
- Remember Bhopal Museum 02 - inside
- Remember Bhopal Museum 03 - main exhibition room
- Remember Bhopal Museum 04 - apparently these are still lying around inside the plant
- Remember Bhopal Museum 05 - child victim clothes
- Remember Bhopal Museum 06 - campaign posters
- Remember Bhopal Museum 07 - upstairs exhibition room
- Remember Bhopal Museum 08 - psychotropic drugs
- Remember Bhopal Museum 09 - corroded drinking vessel
- Remember Bhopal Museum 10 - gaiter of a child disabled at birth due to the gas
- Remember Bhopal Museum 11 - other contaminated places all over India
- Remember Bhopal Museum 12 - highlighted slogan
- Remember Bhopal Museum 13 - slogans in the back yard
- Remember Bhopal Museum 14 - slogan out at the front entrance