Tag Archive: Sambhavna Clinic


What Not to Wear

Josh tells me that thıs ıs a rant – ‘A more ıntellectual rant than some of mıne, but stıll a rant’, he says. I meant ıt to be a mullıng-over of somethıng I’ve been thınkıng about ever sınce we began workıng at the Sambhavna Clinic ın Bhopal – ıt’s stıll not really fully formed, and I thınk ıt needs more nuance perhaps, but I would lıke to open thıs one up to debate ıf anyone wants to joın ın..?

What Not to Wear

Durıng our stay ın Indıa there were many thıngs that I found problematıc, and amongst those were the roles and behavıours consıdered approprıate for women. An example of thıs that affected me personally was the ‘need’ for women to cover themselves up ın publıc – not neccassary entırely, but generally upper arms, shoulders, ankles-upwards and some sort of flap over the bum (ıe by wearıng a long top). Thıs wasn’t always the case – dıfferent groups of women wear theır sarıs dıfferently, for ınstance, and what I assume to be a ‘tradıtıonal’ dress ın parts of Karnataka was essentıally a halterneck. But as a general rule, a lot of women’s bodıes were very covered up. Unlıke ın Nepal where there was a real mıxture, ın the majorıty of places we vısıted (apart from Mumbaı), women do not wear western clothes – there ıs a choıce of sarı, salwaar kemeez, or burqa. Whıle clothıng worn by men we met/saw was also not hugely varıed, men seemed to have the opportunıty to be more ‘revealıng’, as ıt were. Partıcularly ın the south, where many men wear mundus whıch are lıke sarongs and can be worn long or half length whıch rıses above the knee.

I do not thınk that walkıng around town ın hot pants and a bıkını top ıs a demonstratıon of lıberatıon for a woman. Rather I see that as lınked ınto a whole other type of oppressıon – that of ınternalısıng the objectıfıcatıon of bodıes and women’s bodıes ın partıcular whıch comes hand ın hand wıth Western advertısıng, standards of beauty, celebrıty culture, etc. I take ıssue wıth men who do not shave theır own, when they tell me to shave my legs. I am much happıer ın a bıg T-shırt than ın a crop top. My clothes tend to cover me. However, I don’t agree wıth the cultural enforcement of coverıng up, whether ıt be haır or knees or the whole of your body. I thınk that ıt suggests a whole bunch of thıngs about both women and men  wıth whıch I fundamentally dısagree. I thınk ıt suggests that women can easıly be reduced to theır bodıes, that thıs ıs the overwhelmıng element of a female self, and ıf uncovered would be the only thıng notıceable. It also suggests that theır bodıes are objects of temptatıon – ıt remınds me of a medıeval text a read at unıversıty that descrıbed female sexualıty as a pıt of horror and pustulatıon ınto whıch men fall. Wıth regards to men, ıf ıt ıs ‘neccessary’ for women to cover themselves then one can ınfer that men are uncontrollably drıven by theır sexual desıres when encoutered by female flesh. My ıssues wıth  heteronormatıvıty asıde (men only desıre women?), ıf ıt ıs women who have to cover themselves, and not men who have to conscıously check thıs lecherous and ‘ınherently male’ behavıour, then ıt must be women who are the guılty partıes.

All of thıs ıs nonsense, and whılst I have no fıgures to back thıs up, I assume that growıng up ın an area whıch ımplants all these prejudıces ın one’s mınd could even lead to more actıons whıch confırm them, lıke gettıng groped on a traın. The ‘women only’ carrıages on traıns ın Indıa seem to suggest that thıs ıs more lıkely. After only a couple of weeks, even I found myself starıng at the bums of women who weren’t wearıng long tops or sarıs (whıch were very few). But whether ıt ıs true or not that growıng up ın such areas leads to prejudıces and whether those prejudıces affect people’s actıons, ıt defınıtely undermınes a sense of equalıty between genders.

So when people say that as a woman you should cover your shoulders/ankles/bum when ın Indıa so as to ‘respect the the culture’, I sımply cannot agree. Ignorıng my questıons about ‘homogenous’ culture, I do not have respect for a mındset whıch I belıeve oppresses both men and women. Thıs doesn’t mean that I don’t respect ındıvıduals who follow these rules, but I have no desıre to ‘ show respect’ for a cultural element whıch I don’t respect…

Of course, ıt’s not just about ‘culture’, but also about relıgıon – ıt ıs part of certaın relıgıons to dress ın certaın ways – but I wısh to challenge thıs as well. Just because ıt ıs supported or enforced by a relıgıon or an ınterpretatıon of a relıgıous text doesn’t stop ıt from beıng a set of values. Why should they not be challenged lıke any other set of values?

When we were ın very conservatıve Bhopal, I had less problem wıth coverıng up because we were workıng ın a medıcal clınıc and challenges to one’s sense of proprıety are, I should ımagıne, not conducıve to comfortable and healıng surroundıngs. So I would tıe a shırt around my waıst and wear a baggy t-shırt. But elsewhere I felt less desıre to do so, sımply out of prıncıple. Whıle ın the UK, I wear baggy clothes ın part as a response to the form of oppressıon whıch suggests that to ‘be a woman’ you should show your fıgure and skın, ın the Indıa the opposıte ıs true whıch compels me to dress dıfferently.

It would be possıble to argue that ıt’s not my place to make thıs sort of challenge as I am an outsıder to the country and ‘the culture’, but I am not suggestıng that anyone forcıbly ımpose my value system (as can be seen ın France wıth theır headscarf ban whıch I personally thınk ıs completely stupıd – battlıng the oppressıon of women by crımınalısıng them? Please…), nor am I suggestıng that I am a ‘lone femınıst crusader ın a land of oppressıon’ by wearıng a sleeveless top. I would also lıke to poınt out that I would defend the rıght of anyone to wear what they lıke, whether ıt be headscarf or crop top, whılst sımultaneously defendıng my own rıght to questıon why they do so.

Ultımately, when ıt came down to the practıcalıtıes of lıvıng ın Indıa, I wasn’t sure I wanted to draw anymore attentıon to myself than I already dıd by beıng whıte and havıng blonde haır. Despıte the heat, I dıd not wear vest-tops, although I dıdn’t wear dresses or kemeezes to gıve my bum a second layer of cover. Call ıt a compromıse…

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If anyone is thinking about going to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, they should. But be prepared. We have a few tips which might be helpful.

First and foremost, read the volunteer handbook on the BMA website. It’s full of useful stuff!

Getting there. Sambhavna has a ‘H’ after the ‘B’ which you need to pronounce if you want to be understood. If rickshaw drivers and general stand-arounders still give you a blank look, ask for the ‘Peoples Hospital’ on Berasia Road, and turn down the alleyway next to the Reliance petrol station. Or call the Clinic, although mobile phones are very difficult to source when you’re a foreigner in India nowadays.

Don’t think, like we did, that you can walk from the station to the clinic. The map in the Lonely Planet is, as usual, a bit crap – don’t believe its scale! It’s much further than 1km!

When you catch a rickshaw to the clinic from the train station, do not pay more than Rs50. From Pt.6 it should be Rs30. Rickshaw drivers will probably try and sting you (as usual) for up to Rs200.

If you can bring your own laptop, do.  There probably won’t be a computer available during the day, but after 3pm, several become free.

Have patience with the internet, the computers and power cuts. Either you will learn this patience, or you will literally tear your hair out in frustration. Maybe consider taking up yoga…

Because the area is predominantly Muslim and generally conservative, it is frowned upon to wear anything that shows your shoulders. Plus, if you’re a woman, it seems you’re not supposed to ‘reveal’ your bum by not covering it with both trousers/long skirt and long top. I’ve been trying to formulate my responses to this as a blog, I’ll keep you posted…

There is always work to do in the garden. The gardeners are very friendly and it is the kind of job where you can look back in satisfaction at the end of the day and know you’ve completed a whole task (which is otherwise more difficult to achieve).

The water used in the sinks/shower etc is recycled for the plants. Therefore, bring organic body products – e.g. soap and hair wash. You can buy ‘Medimix’ from the local corner shop – but that only works as soap and detergent. It leaves your hair unpleasant.

If you get ill, do not hesitate (as I did) to speak to the doctors. They are more than happy to help. Maybe before that you could consult the gardeners who are a wealth of knowledge on herbal remedies and will surely point you in the direction of various leaves, roots and seeds.

Keep in Shahnaz’s good books! She is a fixer of problems: officially the ‘Librarian’ she does a multitude of things, including coordinating the volunteers. She can always offer work archiving, which is an endless task…

Visit the Union Carbide site. Sanjay can help you out with that for a small fee. He is a very good guide and I would recommend him. Ask Shahnaz for his email address.

If you want help at Sambhavna, you have to ask – otherwise people just assumed you’re getting on with whatever it is that you’re doing. People won’t just offer it, but when you ask there’s usually at least one person who will be able to help. It can be a bit frustrating that no-one really helps, but of course everyone’s busy and if you keep asking someone will eventually have time.

If you have any further questions, post a comment on this with your email address and we will get back to you.

Learning the Ropes

The resultant hangover from New Year’s Eve led to a slow first day at the Clinic – luckily everything was closed, so we were free to get to know the place a little better.

The Sambhavna Clinic, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention and haven’t been to our justgiving website (which, incidentally, is here – http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal), is the only place in Bhopal where the victims of the 1984 gas leak can receive free health care. On the 3rd December on that fateful year, 40 tonnes of toxic chemicals including mustard gas burst from its cracked concrete casing in Union Carbide’s pesticide factory. The official statistics of how many were killed within the first 72 hours is 1-2000, but the reality is somewhere between 15-20,000 people. One of the most common causes of death was drowning, as the irritation the gas caused in people’s lungs prompted them to produce sufficient fluids to drown them. In others’ bodies, the blood completely coagulated, causing death presumably by heart attack… The list of excruciating deaths goes on and on.

Yet, as Dr Gupta explained to us when we interviewed her for a documentary we are putting together, the ones who died had it easy, in a way. They don’t have to live with the ongoing pain and suffering that afflicts over 100,000 people in Bhopal.

A haven in the midst of the grim city pollution and the weight of ongoing suffering is the Sambhavna Clinic. Sambhavna can be read two ways – as a Sanskrit/Hindi world meaning possibility, or as Sama Bhavna which means similar feelings or compassion. The clinic offers a holistic approach to healthcare, providing allopathic (western), ayurvedic (traditional methods involving herbal remedies and massage) and yoga.

The way that we initially got involved in the workings of the clinic was through the garden. I think the gardeners were quite pleased to have people swing pickaxes at the ground as it meant they could dedicate themselves to more skillful jobs. Josh found this particularly satisfying as he has been complaining for months about how he is fading away…

We had arrived with several ideas as to what we wanted to do while we were at the clinic, but it seemed a bit arrogant and unrealistic to turn up with a fully fledged plan. So we spent our first few days trying to get to know some people (mainly other volunteers) and figure out a plan. Now we are decided – make a short documentary for the BMA website (www.bhopal.org) about the clinic, write at least one article for publication in the UK (2011 marks the 15th birthday of Sambhavna), continue to work in the garden several mornings a week, and head to the Chingari Trust where children born with physical and mental difficulties as a result of the gas leak spend their afternoons. We’ve also, on an unrelated note, been re-writing an article that Josh wrote (with a bit of my help) previously, for the Plane Stupid e-book to be published some time in the future. Here it is in its original form, for anyone interested – http://www.ctrlaltshift.co.uk/article/plane-stupid-blog-%E2%80%9C-where-would-all-workers-go%E2%80%9D

The body of volunteers here expands and contracts. When we arrived there were 8 of us, and this has now dwindled to 4, though 2 people did come for 3 nights (which doesn’t really count). The youngest, Erik,  was here for his winter break from 6th form college – I was quite impressed by this. Will, the oldest, is a lobbying liberal jargon-junkie. Through his organisation Beyond Bhopal, he has significantly helped in the pursuit of clearing up the Union Carbide site (which might happen in the future), but seems overly committed to working through the EU on almost all issues… Lorraine, the Scot we have already mentioned, previously worked as a nurse in a Glasgow prison. While here she has cleaned the kitchen top to bottom and wants to do community health work while she is here, but secretly wants to go and open an organic yoga/meditation retreat plus restaurant on the beach in Thailand. Ben, the four-layer-wearing-at-all-times (even at 25 degrees) Belgian, has dedicated himself to translating the BMA website into French – an epic task which confines him to a sunless interior (hence the layers). Brenna has just left, but lived here for 5 months helping in the panchakarma (massage) room and documenting plants from the garden. We have already mentioned Adriano, the Italian anarchist, who was only in our lives for a few intellectually combative hours.

We are only just getting to know the staff, other than Shahnaz, the librarian, whom we’ve gotten to know quite well. “Librarian” is, quite frankly, an understatement when you realise how much work she does. Plus, she often finds time to translate for us, which is brilliant.

The library itself is chock-full of fascinating stuff, from a chronology of the disaster up to 2005, through Where There Is No Doctor and community health work books, to multiple newspaper articles relating in one way or another to Bhopal. A whole mine of information.

On Wednesday we were introduced to the way the clinic organises. Friday meetings are generally where this happens, although we were invited to the Wednesday one – people share their ideas, bring up problems and make criticisms. And by “people” I mean everyone, from the managing trustee, to the physicians, cleaning staff and office workers. A different person chairs each meeting, though “chairing” seems far more like “crowd control” as everyone gets to voice their views!

After spending the last few months growing increasingly tired of sight-seeing, and frustrated at our lack of activism, we feel that the next few months (after this we’re headed to Orissa to do research into anti-GM campaigning) the opposite may be the case!

Bhopal: NYE

As usual the Lonely Planet maps wasn’t quite scaled right. We should have learnt this by now, but upon leaving the Bhopal train station we still hadn’t. So after been quoted ridiculously high tuk-tuk prices, we walked to the Sambhavna Clinic. Our first lesson turned out to be that virtually no on knows where the Clinic is! Even when you are at the turning to it. Mental note number one: local media outreach could be better.

In a totally random coincidence, as we walked the final stretch we heard a voice shout in  lovely Scottish accent, “you wouldn’t happen to be Josh and Lucie would you?” It was the woman who had given us our cholera vaccine in the UK – she (we now found out/remembered her name is Lorraine)  had mentioned at the time that we might meet her in Bhopal, but it had seemed very unlikely.

When we arrived, we were confronted by an Italian anarchist, Adriano, asking us if we wanted “anything special from the alcohol shop”. We told him beer would do, but he refused, telling us “that is not special enough”.

We got settled in, had a few beers, which having failed to buy anything special Adriano had brought back, and headed out to our New Years party at Sathyu’s house, who is the managing trustee of the Sambhavna Clinic. Having not really met anyone yet, this was a interesting opportunity to do so – everyone was letting their hair down. Indian dancing, if the performances there are anything to go by, is exuberant and, in the case of the men, surprisingly effeminate.

The majority of our night consisted of talking about politics and in my case particularly about the potential limitations of Anarchism, with the classic reply of “But where has Marxism ever worked?”

Given that since arriving in Nepal, we had only drunk a total of 3 beers, buying a bottle of whiskey was always going to lead to sillyness. Again in my case, this culminated in me peeing (in a toilet) as the clock hit midnight. By my watch it had been midnight about 30 seconds ago, and so this seemed like a good break from ideology discussions.

The journey home, chaperoned by the professor of dark matter at Oxford University, was a bit of a ridiculous affair. We eventually found a tuk-tuk into which the Italian anarchist was bundled to take his 3am train. As for us, the men who had been following us on their motorbike turned out to be people from the party and happily found us transport home.

This was our slap-dash and not very representative introduction to life in Bhopal…

Firstly, Happy New Year. We have now completed our outward journey to the Sambhavna Clinic (thank-you for all the donations) in Bhopal, which is where we spent NYE – we arrived to an invitation to a party. What a way to be introduced to the staffing body!

We have about a week to catch up on and then we’ll move onto blogging about Bhopal for the rest of the month.

On a totally different issue, if you have an interest in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict you should really read Ilan Pappe’s ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’. Lucie has already recommeded it, but we would now like to quickly state why we found the book so useful. Pappe seeks to document the methods of establishment of Israel, through a highly detailed account of the end of 1947, and more particularly 1948, the year of the Nakba.  His account in fact counters (although he never explicitly states this) the term ‘Nakba’, which means ‘catastrophe’. The depersonalisation of a faceless ‘catastrophe’ is exactly what did not happen. Using material from the Zionist founding-fathers, especially Ben Gurion, he demonstrates how to counter the Zionist myths that Israel was founded in a barren land, where those that did live there voluntarily left. Instead, he presents the clear facts that it was always the intention of the Zionist movement to de-populate Palestine as extensively as possible reaching their ends through extreme violence, intimidation and lies.

He documents dozens and dozens of villages that were foricbly expelled, and the brutal techniques for doing so. Often, the population would be gathered together, the men (those aged 10+) would be seperate from the women and children, those involved in any anti-Israeli activities (including the 1936 uprising against the British) would be identified and shot. After hounding the remaining people from the village, the houses would be looted and then destroyed. Finally, mines would be planted amongst the debris to prevent people from returning.

The title of this book comes from the fact that Pappe argues that similar to later ethnic cleanings, such as in Serbia, the creation of the Israeli state is another example.

It is understandable that Pappe wishes to document as many villages as possible, but at times it is overly detail heavy. Nonetheless, a fascinating book that anyone should read who wants to get historical understanding of the current conflict.

For a better review read: http://www.isreview.org/issues/57/rev-pappe.shtml

Photos and map updated

Check out our photos – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joshandluciesoverlandadventure/ – we now have uploaded up to the end of Tibet.

And our the google map of our route is up-to-date – http://maps.google.co.uk/?mid=1293461677

You can always find links to these at the bottom of the main page – just scroll all the way down!

Finally, if you are feeling generous this Christmas, you can always donate to the Bhopal Medical Appeal – http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal

We have reached our target!!

Very quick. Having set out to raise 500 pounds for the Bhopal Medical Appeal (www.bhopal.org), we have now reached it. Thank-you to everyone who has given money – whether that was 5 pounds or a hundred, it is all hugely appreciated.

However, if you were planning on donating, please don’t let our success stop you. I have always thought it would look nice to see 110% or more. So if you haven’t already, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal

One other update. At the bottom of our page you will see a link to our google map. This tracks all the places that we have stopped at (as well as most the places the Trans-Siberian stopped at). We’re trying to update this regularly.

Hopefully there will also soon be a link to our flickr site with all our photos there – so watch this space (I’ve always wanted to say that).

Fundraising Appeal

Now that you’re interested in our journey, we would like to remind you that through our overland adventure we are trying to raise some money for the Bhopal Medical Appeal (www.bhopal.org). We are headed to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal once we get to India.
Please support our trip by giving a donation, however small. We have a modest target of 500 pounds which we have almost reached!
Check out http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal

Thankyou!

One of the places we’ll be staying on our journey is the Sambhavna Clinic, in Bhopal, India.

Human-caused climate change is increasingly proving itself to be the greatest environmental and humanitarian disaster facing civilisation. Climate change is the reason that we have chosen to make this journey overland rather than by flying. It is the same profit-driven interests which are perpetuating climate devastation which allowed the gas leak in Bhopal to occur in 1984, killing over 25,000 people and affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands. See www.bhopal.org for more details.

The Sambhavna Clinic, situated in the worst affected area of Bhopal, is the only centre offering free and rational treatment to anyone who might need it. The work they do is absolutely necessary and completely incredible.

We will volunteer there for at least a month to offer any help that we can, but we understand that most people do not have the time to offer their voluntary services. Therefore please support us in our low-carbon efforts by donating to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, which funds the Sambhavna Clinic.

Check out http://www.justgiving.com/joshandlucieheadoverlandtobhopal

Thanks!