Normalization of a Disaster (2020 )

Full HD Video, Color, Sound

08:35 mins, 16:9
Baghjan, Assam

People who grow up in Assam are acquainted with the word ‘disaster’ at a rather early age. Bearing an uncanny synonymity with the phases of monsoon in the region, it’s a word that has been enforced into the local psyche through a systematic acquaintance, right from innocent topics in lower school textbooks, up to repeatedly sensationalized primetime headlines in local media outlets on television screens and newspapers. People come to accept the Brahmaputra Valley floods as a mere consequence of living in the region, with the effect of such events being brought down to a stagnant, almost hypnotic state of normalisation.

With every disaster, there is a clear split of demographics as observed. There are the victims and the survivors of the disaster, those who suffer the most, facing the brunt of the disaster’s repercussions. Then there are the front-line workers who orchestrate the management of the aftermath. Disasters such as the Baghjan Oil-blowout bring forward the third kind of associates, the curious onlookers, the ones who make such disasters an object of spectacle to be posed, pictured, and shared with their digital network: the disaster tourists. These disaster tourists reinforce the state of normalisation within the populace and reflect upon the daily lives of the unaffected neighbours.

The Baghjan Oil Blowout happened on 27th of May 2020, which caught fire through a massive explosion on 9th of June 2020 after leaking gas in the atmosphere for two weeks, continued to burn for 6 months, before being finally doused on 15th of November, 2020. This artificial disaster in an Oil-India Limited owned site has caused the displacement of more than 1600 families who were in the vicinity of the site of gas blowout, and are currently being sheltered in makeshift relief camps in nearby areas. The haphazardness in organization within such camps prevent any kind of social-distancing protocols, and the villagers have mostly been left to themselves to cater for their individual and collective needs. The assessment of environmental damage caused by the blowout to the adjacent ecological hotspots of Dibru-Saikhowa National park and the Maguri Motapung wetland areas are yet to be done.