Q&A: Megan Sai Dogra, ‘Assist Bhopal’

Megan Sai Dogra, a University School of Milwaukee junior, helps victims of a 1984 tragedy in India with her “Assist Bhopal” documentary.

What was the Bhopal tragedy?

On the morning of Dec. 3, 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the Indian Union Carbide Limited pesticide plant, creating a dense cloud over a resident population of about 500,000. That night, 6,000 people died. Over time, 25,000 fatalities have been directly attributed to the catastrophe. Today, an estimated 120,000 people suffer from chronic illnesses resulting from this accident. Union Carbide has never cleaned up the area. Gas is still leaking into groundwater and contaminating the soil, causing congenital defects in subsequent generations. Most common are cerebral palsy, mental retardation, deformed limbs, blindness, deafness and autism, sometimes in combination.

How did you become involved? 

My parents are both immigrants from New Delhi, and we visited India a number of times during my childhood. I was shocked at the level of poverty there, compared to my privileged lifestyle in Mequon.

You raised $24,000 for the Chingari Rehabilitation Centre, which provides free medical care to 400 kids affected by the aftermath. what inspired you?

Dr. Lalita du Perron, associate director for the Center for South Asia at UW-Madison, spoke at a school assembly about the humanitarian work she does in India. When she mentioned Bhopal, it struck a chord. She helped me get in touch with the clinic. I persuaded my parents to take me there during my spring break in 2014. I met with mothers who survived the disaster. They believed the damage was done and they could move on with their lives. Then they began having disabled children.

What gave you the idea to do a documentary?

I had taken an iMovie course the summer before my freshman year of high school, and had already made a documentary. I knew a film would be the best way to create a window to see what I saw in India. I carried a Canon camera and a tripod. As I met with survivors, I asked for permission to record their stories so I could share them with my community.

What exposure has the documentary had?

It was screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2014. It was an official selection at the All American High School Film Festival 2015, and it was screened at AMC in Times Square in October 2015 and the International Student Film Festival Hollywood in 2015. I’ve organized two major fundraisers, and other students have helped with smaller fundraising efforts.

What are your future plans?

Eventually I would like to be a pediatrician. I plan to revisit the clinic in spring 2017 to check in with survivors, and to continue to support these children at whatever cost and for as long as I possibly can. I am the voice of these children.

Condensed and edited from a longer interview.

‘Point of View: Megan Sai Dogra’ appears in Milwaukee Health, a special issue from Milwaukee Magazine.

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