The true nuclear wasteland extends to unborn babies in Saurav Vishnu’s “Tailing Pond.”

When countries go to war, the ravages are obvious for the world to see. The people who suffer — soldiers, civilians, women, children, the elderly — represent the disenfranchised, the marginalized that stretch beyond arbitrary borders. The wealthy are protected, their homes seldom destroyed. And if, in the rare instances they are in danger, they have mobility at their disposal. They can get up and go unlike the poor who can only stay or crawl. It’s a damning indictment of humanity. However, when countries prepare for war, the harm done to those same people is hidden and quiet, yet no less destructive.

The stance of perpetual war readiness and the destruction it inflicts on a country’s citizens is the subject of a recent documentary from ShortsTV, Tailing Pond. Produced and directed by Saurav Vishnu, the short film documents the destruction India’s nuclear weapons program has inflicted on a small village named Jadugoda. The film opens with a dramatization of an unknown medical emergency. A young man’s wife is sick and her husband bangs on the local doctor’s door in the middle of the night. With the doctor riding on the seat, he bicycles over fields in the countryside. We find his wife pregnant and writhing in pain.

The doctor informs the husband that the baby is deformed. “The eyes, nose, mouth, and ears have not even formed properly,” he informs the distraught father.

Outside, townspeople have begun to gather, speaking in hushed, uncertain voices. One man says, “I don’t know what plight has come over the village. Some evil force.”

In 1951, the Indian Government discovered uranium reserves in Jadugoda. A newly independent country made the fateful decision to pursue nuclear weapons on their own, establishing a national program. The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) began harvesting uranium in earnest in 1967 and by 1974 India successfully tested its first nuclear bomb. As the program grew, so did a massive tailing pond in Jadugoda, where nuclear waste, known as slurry, was dumped. Everything from underground water sources to nearby streams and rivers were contaminated as a result of leakage. During monsoon season, overflowing water spilled out of the tailing pond. Farm animals died. Trees withered and fell. And the women of Jadugoda began to give birth to deformed babies.

Children swimming in poisoned water. (CREDIT: ShortsTV)

Families in Jadugoda suffered immeasurable pain resulting from polluted water used for drinking, bathing, and cleaning. Tailing Pond features families in which nearly every child suffers from some form of physical deformity or birth defect. They are desperately poor and barely capable of subsisting from day to day. Unfortunately, rather than receiving help from UCIL and, by extension, the Indian Government, families in Jadugoda are victims of gaslighting from the company and left to fend for themselves. Accountability is a joke.

Tailing Pond clearly demands UCIL be taken to task. They are responsible. However, the central question the film puts forward is: How could this be allowed to happen? Is the allure and cache of being a nuclear power enough to knowingly harm a country’s citizens? For an answer to that, we can turn to the repository for the darkest impulses humanity has to offer. The internet.

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Recently, video from a 2020 clash between Indian and Chinese soldiers in Ladakh, a disputed area of Kashmir administered by New Delhi but also claimed by Beijing, began making the rounds on social media. In it, scores of Indian and Chinese soldiers are seen flooding an unidentified gorge, stomping through a river bed, heading straight at each other. When the skirmish first occurred, footage was released. Some of this can be seen here in this South China Morning Post video:

Apparently, it wasn’t to Beijing’s liking so Chinese media put out a new version, presumably showing that the Indian side was the aggressor. You can see that in this NDTV clip

Now, putting aside who’s right and who’s not (especially since in the long run, it doesn’t really matter. As they say, it takes two…), it’s clear that one thing is on display. A mind numbing amount of chest-thumping, mine-is-bigger-than-your, macho bravado — disguised, of course, in that perennial lie of lies — patriotism. They’re soldiers, you’ll say, it’s their duty. Fair enough. It still doesn’t diminish the role their actions play in the pantomime played out between their respective governments. On the contrary, it only reinforces the stance that anything and everything must be done in the interest of protecting national interests. 

Meanwhile, the obtuse cheerleading done by both sides, online and off, only fans the flames.

Watch the videos then take a moment to watch them again. What you see there in all its banal aggression is the ultimate reason why innocent children in Jadugoda are born deformed. The posturing — namely manufacturing conflict in order to maintain a perpetual state of military readiness — comes at the expense of the disenfranchised. Thanks to Saurav Vishnu, that much is clear now. In the end, the soldier and statesman are inseparable in their guilt and complicity.

Tailing Pond offers a rare look at the actual tragic implications of being a nuclear “power” and the extent governments are willing to go in order to ensure continued membership in the club. It provides a viewpoint rarely, if ever, seen and reveals the final, missing piece of the puzzle – the human cost of nuclear nationalism.

WORDS: Marc Landas

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