The Remember Bhopal Museum is a survivor-led effort at collecting, archiving and exhibiting memories, artifacts and oral histories of the experience of the communities affected by the aftermath of what has come to be known as the world’s worst industrial disaster. The museum was inaugurated on the 30th Anniversary of the disaster.
Government Museum or Survivors’ Museum?
The Madhya Pradesh government proposes to build a memorial at the site of the contaminated Union Carbide factory. But survivors say that the government has not held any formal consultations with them about the memorial plan. In fact, survivors question the moral right of the government to build a memorial at the site, especially because they regard the government as being complicit in the injustice meted out to them over the years.
The central goal of the Remember Bhopal Museum is to resist any attempt by anybody — government or industry — to rob the survivors of their active voice in museum or memorial projects.
First Indian Social Movement in a museum
The Remember Bhopal Museum is perhaps the first museum in independent India that is collectively curated by a community of survivors and activists and tells the story of a contemporary people’s movement.
The museum displays artefacts, oral histories, photographs, protest songs and campaign posters that have emerged in the movement for justice.
Survivors have given to the museum personal objects that are often their last tangible link to those who died because of the gas leak. Many others have recounted their harrowing tales of survival and struggle. The museum’s narrative is shaped by their stories and objects.
The museum is currently housed in a rented building, owned by a gas affected family, around 2.5 km away from the Union Carbide factory.
The activities of the museum and the trust are consistent with the values of the survivors’ struggle here in Bhopal and that is why it is essential that the museum does not accept any government or corporate funds.
The museum has accepted small, individual donations, and has also received funding from environmental and activist groups in India and abroad.
Desired goals of the museum
Survivors want the Bhopal museum to be a tool in their continuing struggle for a life with dignity and justice, and not be an institution that freezes and immobilizes their story in history. To that end, the museum’s narrative will be kept fluid and will evolve with time.
The museum will send a signal to the government about the kind of museum the survivors want, and prevent any official appropriation of the narrative.
It will inspire other people’s movements and museum experts in India to curate the stories of contemporary social/environmental/land struggles.
And the museum will also alert the larger museum community in India about the need to acknowledge the contemporary social struggles as “museum-worthy”, and include these stories in their rarified galleries.