Hiroshima in Japan was inhabited by about 3,50,000 people in the year 1945. The coastal town was hardly singed by the heat of the Great World War II. However, in the cursed morning of August 6, 1945, nobody imagined that this sun-soaked coastal town, tinged with the golden glow of the rising sun, was destined to be incinerated by a sea of fire that human civilization had never ever seen or heard before.
A B-29 airplane named Enola Gay dropped the nuclear bomb “Little Boy” over Hiroshima. The bomb exploded as it fell down, destroying most of the city. On August 9, 1945, another B-29 named Bockscar dropped another nuke named “Fat Man” over Nagasaki, having a population of about 2,63,000souls at about 11 a.m.The two bombings killed at least 1,29,000 people – most of whom were civilians.
Over the next two to four months, the acute side-effects of the atomic bombings killed approximately 90,000–1,46,000 people in Hiroshima and around 39,000–80,000 people in Nagasaki. Roughly, half of the deaths in each city occurred on the first day itself. Large numbers of people were heading towards death from the effects of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition, for many months afterwards. In both cities, most of the dead were civilians, despite Hiroshima having a sizable military garrison.About 6,50,000 survivors ofthe atomic explosions, recognized as Hibakusha by the Japanese government, were destined to bear the testimony of the tragic end of the World War II.
The Japanese word ‘hibakusha’ means atomic bomb survivors of the Hiroshima or Nagasaki explosions in 1945 that marked the end of the World War II.As on March 31, 2017,there were 1,64,621 hibakushas’ still alive, mostly in Japan, with an average age of nearly 80 years, bearing the sole testimony of the atomic fallouts. The Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law has categorized hibakusha, according to the intensity of their exposure to radiation. Nearly two third of them have already died of cancer, whereas, thousands are still undergoing treatment in Red Cross hospitals.Besides, the parental genetic damage is another great concern to the future generation of hibakushas.Truly speaking, they are the incarnation of human resilience and fortitude.
To add plight to their hapless situation, hibakushas who have withstood radiation exposure not only suffered ailments but also discrimination because of the stigma labeled on them by the Japanese, primarily out of ignorance about the effects of radioactive contamination. It was bruited that the radioactive exposure was like an infectious disease. They fell victim to discrimination and were found ineligible for work and marriage.There was nothing more appalling than the first silent decadethat the hibakushas had to go through after the atomic explosion. As the Secretary Law was in effect and the US withheld records, even the existence of hibakushas, was brazenly denied.
In 1956, an organization, “The Japan Confederation of A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations”, called Hidankyo. was formed by the hibakushas. The aims of the organization were to pressurize the Japanese government to improve support of the victims and lobby governments for the abolition of nuclear weapons from the face of the earth. Submitting to the pressure mounted by the hibakushas, the Japan Govt. passed the Hibakusha Aid Law and established medical services for them in 1957.
Hibakushas are considered to be extraordinary human beings who have not been phased out by despondence and despair. They have perceived, through their excruciating agony and sufferings, that the nuclear holocaust must not be re-enacted on earth. In the annual Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) review conferences, Hidankyo members do not fail to delineate their traumatic experiences to rekindle the memories of the participating countries and remind them with the impending danger of nuclear wars. Swiss-based International Peace Bureau (IPB), in its nominating letter in favor of Hidankyofor the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize, wrote, “Over 70 years they have made the choice of activism, unceasingly recounting their experiences and struggles and working constantly for a total ban and the elimination of nuclear weapons, appealing to governments and peoples all over the world.”
Unfortunately, despite being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for three times in 1985, 1994 and 2015 respectively, Hidankyo (Japan Confederation A-and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations) has not yet been conferred the highest international peace award. Needless to say, the failure to win the Nobel Peace Prize on the 70th anniversary of the bombing has tremendously disheartened the Hidankyo members. Yet they have vowed to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the world.MikisoIwasa, an 86-year-old senior member of Nihon Hidankyo, said with regret, “Winning the Nobel Peace Prize would have certainly been great. But it is more important to create a world without nuclear weapons where there is no war.”
Sadako Sasaki, recognized as the most famous Hibakusha who was exposed to nuclear radiation at the tender age of 2 years, survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and later contracted leukemia. Her determination to live after suffering from nuclear radiation has been recognized as the epitome of human resilience and fortitude. Inspired by the Japanese legend, “If you fold 1,000 paper cranes (origami cranes) your wish will come true as a wish granted by the God.” Sadako Sasaki after her death has left her legacy. The Children’s Peace Monument, a statue based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki, is dedicated to the memory of the children who died as a result of the bombing. Students and teachers of today’s generation inspired by Sadako story, learn to fold paper cranes.
Hidankyo, the world’s greatest pacifist organization, is still deprived of the Nobel Peace Prize as hibakusha were denied their existence for ten ‘silent’ years after the atomic explosion in Japan. The group with their power of resilience must one day be adorned with the most prestigious prize. Above all, echoing the appeal of Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui it might be said that people of the world someday will listen carefully to the words of the hibakushas, and profoundly accepting the spirit of Hiroshima, must contemplate the nuclear problem as their own. Needless to say, that is the greatest prize that can be conferred on hibakusha, the survivors of the ‘unforgettable fire’.