What is a Memorial ? :Bhopal Gas Tragedy

There is an interesting article in an Australian newspaper about the protesting Bhopal Gas Tragedy survivors. They called off their strike after meeting with PM Manmohan Singh. One of the things that the government has promised is the building of a memorial.

Survivors of the Bhopal disaster have called off a week-long hunger strike after India’s Prime Minister promised to clean up the disused site, provide fresh drinking water for local people and build a $A30 million memorial to the dead.

Memorials are something that mankind embraces to celebrate happy or sad occasions. In olden times memorials were built to comemorate all kinds of occassions. But in recent times we have memorials to celebrate sad occiasion. Well, mostly.

World over controversies erupt whenever memorials are demanded and proposed. No wonder that the WWII memorial in the US was built a whole 15 odd years after the Vietnam Memorial. Was it worth building the memorial so late in the day ?? Very few veterans from WWII are still alive today. I find it more of an insult to their memory that it took 60 odd years for the USA to build one. The same fiasco is working its way for the Ground Zero Memorial.

However with the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Memorial proposal, it’s not the same. If the government wants to do something real, they should get the Union Carbide officials of that time extradited to India and stand trial. It is ridiculous that one of the worst chemical tragedies of the last century happens in India and the people responsible, aka the US based Union Carbide care a damn shit. The compensation given is peanuts. A lot of it has been siphoned off in various ways.

Why dosent India demand the extradition of the officials ?? Shouldnt have this been one of the points on the agenda during the recent Bush visit to India ??

And what will this memorial really achieve ?? Will it become a brick and mortar memorial to glorify the ineptitude and complete lack of “balls” on the part of the Indian government to demand justice and make sure we get it ?

The memorial has a lot of interest to me as an architect. Right through architecture school one comes across competitions and design proposals for memorials of all kinds. Just after the 1992 riots in Bombay, our design studio was asked to design the “Memorial to the Unknown Citizen”….a.k.a the common man who died due to the foolishness of religious politics.

As an architect, the challenge then is all about image, feelings and emotions that will be aroused when the public, sees, feels and experiences in a complete sense the “memorial” per se.

What will the Bhopal memorial stand for. Will it stand for the hundreds who lost their lives without ever knowing what hit them. Will it also express the pathos and suffering of those who lived through the horror, with their lives completely shattered. Or will it be a living testament to those who werent even born then, but today suffer from the after effects that afflicted their parents.

Should the designer take high ground and say that all the perpetrators are forgotten and we are “holier than thou” and will have a memorial that shows the triumph of the survivors over the tragedy.

These and other issues should be raised and debated in the days to come before we just build another memorial !!