Outside the village of Jadugora, a few miles from the town of Jamshedpur in India, kids kick a ball around in the fields. Their friends watch from the sidelines cheering them on – but they don’t join in.
If you take a closer look, you’ll see Munna. He’s 8 – he can barely walk. His legs and feet are misshapen, twisted, and giving away beneath him. The boys next to him cannot stand at all; their limbs lie crumpled beneath their bodies, contorted by a mysterious disease.
They are the unlucky ones. What happened to them?
The answer to that is the subject of a powerful documentary made by Saurav Vishnu, a native of Jamshedpur, who wanted to tell the world what happened to the children of Jadugora.
It’s called Tailing Pond. Saurav Vishnu joined DesiCollective to tell us about his film and share his experience making it.
Click below to listen to a podcast of the interview.
So what happened to the people of Jadugora?
The story goes back to 1951, when the Government of India discovered uranium reserves in Jadugora. Uranium is used to make nuclear weapons. It was a fortunate find for India – a country trying to assert itself as a global power by developing its very own nuclear weapons program after independence.
Jadugora, in Eastern India, in a state now known as Jharkand, is the ancient home of tribal people who’ve lived off the land for centuries. But after it was built in 1967, the mining plant owned by the Uranium Corporation of India (UCIL), took a devastating toll on the health and lives of the villagers in Jadugora.
In Tailing Pond, Saurav investigates the horrifying effects of uranium poisoning and the refusal of a government to acknowledge its role in this manmade plague.
Tailing Pond refers to the pools that store uranium waste.
As slurry from the ponds began to seep and contaminate the soil and groundwater, exposure to this highly toxic radioactive waste began to destroy the lives of families living by the uranium plant. Thousands of children in the villages began to fall ill and die. Women had painful pregnancies that resulted in stillbirths, babies were born with birth defects, and children who survived began to develop skeletal deformations and illnesses that were fatal.
Saurav told us that it took 5 years and over 160 hours of footage to make Tailing Pond. But it was not an easy experience for him to edit the footage knowing that the children he had filmed were no longer alive.
A clip in the film shows the company chairman claiming that the deformed children were not native to Jadugora but imported from somewhere else. In the last 30 years the government has refused to acknowledge its responsibility to the villagers saying that uranium is safe to handle and radiation exposure does not affect anyone’s health.
Saurav managed to rope in American actress Cynthia Nixon, who is known for her stellar performance in numerous Hollywood films including ‘Sex and the City,’ to provide the voiceover for Tailing Pond.
The documentary has been screened at numerous Indian and international film festivals and won best film at both the New York Indian Film Festival, and the Jaipur International Film Festival. Due to the help of ShortsTV, it’s now officially in consideration for the 93rd Academy Awards in the Documentary – Short category.
The villagers of Jadugora paid an awful price for the success of India’s nuclear program. Tailing Pond is their story.
The word Jadugora in Hindi means enchanted land. But the magic spell is broken. The villagers have suffered for generations. The Indian government knew and did nothing. They could have prevented this human catastrophe. It’s time for the Indian government to show accountability for the human toll in Jadugora.
Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents and a Producer at DesiCollective
Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Producer at DesiCollective. A Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development, Anjana was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.