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Bhopal gas tragedy: These photographers clicked the iconic Bhopal gas disaster girl

1984 Bhopal gas tragedy: Pablo Bartholomew's colour photo of a child being buried by family members the day after a gas leak in Bhopal won the 1984 World Press Photo of the Year.

December 03, 2021 / 11:51 AM IST
Bhopal gas tragedy: Protesters holding Pablo Bartholomew's photo of a child being buried which became a symbol for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.

Bhopal gas tragedy: Protesters holding Pablo Bartholomew's photo of a child being buried which became a symbol for the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy.

Thirty-seven years ago, just a day after a gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal killed thousands, photographer Pablo Bartholomew was at ground zero, documenting the aftermath. He was working with a French news agency at that time and he continued to photograph as the tragedy unfolded over the next year.

Among his photos, the one popularly known as the Bhopal gas disaster girl — featuring a toddler being buried by a family member a day after the incident — went on to win the 1984 World Press Photo of the Year. The photograph had become a symbol of the tragedy.

Another photographer, Raghu Rai, also took photos of the same child but in black and white. Speaking about his experience of clicking pictures at the Bhopal gas tragedy site hours after thousands died after a toxic gas leak, Rai had said, "There was a high possibility of journalists and photographers being physically affected by the chemical contamination. But then, there is always an element of risk in any assignment.”

Both Rai and Bartholomew came across a burying party and standing at different angles took a picture of an anonymous man burying a child. Wiping away the dirt to get one last look the two photographers captured the moment just before the grave was filled.

Rai, who worked with a leading magazine at that time said, "It was a heart-rending situation. His was an innocent face and usually, when you see a dead person, their eyes are closed, but that child had his eyes wide open and his family members were giving the last caress to him.”

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Speaking about what they felt while clicking the now-iconic photo, Bartholomew said, "You just can’t be a gentleman photographer...To spread the word and to let the world know about a tragedy, you have to reconcile with disaster and then just shoot." While for Rai, a perfect picture "is the one that captures the real feelings and strengths of a particular situation”.
Ankita Sengupta

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