Suha Priyadarshini Chakravorty
Of the modern day marvels that mark the fulcrum of ‘power equations’ and ‘development’ globally, nuclear power finds itself in the most coveted zenith. It is in this context that mining of Uranium is critical to the unfolding of such ‘power equations’. Uranium was not a useful element when it was initially discovered during the 18th century but it was after the success of the atom bomb during the World War II that it became a key ingredient towards generation of not only cheap electricity but also nuclear power. Among the numerous radioactive elements that contaminate the earth’s surface and that of the atmosphere when mined, uranium is abundantly available in the Jharkhand region and is therefore uncontrollably mined and milled. The region also faces additional problems of radioactive waste management. It is in the wake of this uranium mining in the East Singbhum district of Jharkhand that the psycho-social, political, economic as well as the physical health of the ethnic communities had been suffering in the region for long.
Winner of the Grand Pix of 8th Earth Vision (at the Earth Environment Film Festival), the documentary by Shriprakash, ‘Buddha Weeps in Jadugoda’ remains one such vignette of displacement and dispossession (as a result of uranium mining) that takes one through a journey of the quintessential adivasi land of Jadugoda (originally known as ‘Jaragoda’) in the state of Jharkhand. The name ‘Jadugoda’ according to a version was only a replacement to the former since the natives believed that evil spirits and black magic has now grasped the thick-forested land they once called home, so much so that their land was cursed despite being resourcefully rich.
Set against the backdrop of the land of Jadugoda, (situated in the eastern peninsular area of the Indian sub-continent in the state of Jharkhand) portrayed in a visual essay of forests and rivers and home to adivasis (such as the Santhals, Hoas, Oraons, Mundas) the film bears testimony to the land that has now come to witness one of the deadliest decays of modern-day inventions. Rich in minerals and natural resources, the tribal region continues to suffer state repression and exploitation of both its natural as well the human resources. Displaced from their ancestral land by force and made to live in inhabitable radioactive environment, the adivasis have their voices heard through the film.
The film smoothly delves into the dynamics of radioactive mining and the way it engulfs the entire tribal community. The extent of their exploitation becomes even more visible as the lenses zero in on to Kalipada Murmu, a native who recounts that the community is not even once warned by the UCIL management of the detrimental after effects of uranium mining. Mangal Soren maintains that they are not provided with precautionary devices such as masks or respirators to protect themselves from the harmful radiation while mining as casual workers. He additionally holds, “Only the engineers get the masks and respirators.” The adivasi men, women and children suffer from birth deformities, congenital diseases, hyperkerotosis, skin diseases, tumors, downs syndrome and other abnormalities that are but the result of radiation. It is principally in this region that the number of disabilities out-numbers the national average. Also peculiar to the region is the problem of sterile couples together with the rampant rate of natural abortion due to excessive radiation. The UCIL authorities have an altogether different version on the occurrence of the aforesaid diseases when R.N. Singh, a supervisor says, “It is due to alcoholism and the extreme unhygienic conditions the tribal people live in that they suffer from diseases like cancer.” The film further elucidates another major quandary in Jadugoda, i.e. the management of radioactive waste; the way in which radioactive waste is dumped into the Subarnarekha river at Jadugoda, from even distant mines of Hyderabad and Mysore. As the camera pans on the rainwater overflow at the tailing dam it is seen that as it enters the rice fields, those in turn get washed away with the radioactive substance thereby facilitating radiation to enter the human body through the food chain. Dr. U.C. Mishra’s (Bhaba Atomic Research Centre) remarks, “You can handle uranium by bare hands and nothing will happen to you,” remains a significant prototype of the functioning of the so called scientific research centers in India and that of responsibility of the Indian government.
The film through its occasional rejoinders in the form of sharp tribal songs coupled with crisp dialogues set against the bright contrast of the tribal culture manages to underscore the high voltage drama of the black overtones of the socio-political struggle of the adivasis. The film thus not only reflects personal narratives but also remains phenomenal in articulating the plight of people living in the Jadugoda region; the saga of their ‘landlessness’, ‘alienation’ and ‘exploitation’ in enunciating their vision of belongingness and commitment to the land that has now turned into monochromes of surrealism.