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Survivor Memories – 29th Anniversary

The women-activists of Bhopal are central to taking the struggle forward. The following testimonials were gained from women-activists in the survivors’ groups that led ICJB in 2010.

Vimla Bai, in her early 40s

I got involved because water is poisoned and people were exposed to gas…[O]ur children are getting sick since the water is contaminated, so there are different kinds of problem that have been found in them. Children are weak. We suffer from a burning sensation in our eyes, and also suffer from chest pain, pain in the ribs, cough and cold. Often our cold and cough does not go for 2 – 4 months. We also suffer from stomachache, joint pain, and complaints of white discharge has been found amongst girls and women. Our children suffer from these problems and the treatment from the hospitals does not help. Children, they are 15 – 16 years old, but they look like they are 10 years old, so they are so weak and they have so many problems in their bodies. Some are suffering from breathlessness, pain in the ribs, some suffer from cough and chest pain. There are many and different kind of diseases that have been found. They all are caused due to [contaminated] water. We have so many diseases and we are in a great loss.

Because we got support [from other people] when we started fighting, I have more strength to fight. If we go and fight for our rights, then there would be better treatment for us, so this gives me more spirit to fight.

Usha Dongre, in her mid 30s

…I just hope we all have good water one day, so there will not be children being born like this. They should not be in such a bad condition. Women are suffering from bad and irregular menstrual circulation and they face lot of problems during the delivery.

We have to keep the fight on and we have to fight in the future as well. Even the coming generations have to fight this fight. That is why we get encouragement and we do feel powerful.

Sheela Devi, in her late 60s

These illnesses are increasing and children are being born like this [with birth deformities]. Women are the ones suffering the most from many problems…[T]here are many diseases that have spread after and because of the disaster. Some are suffering from eyes problems and some suffer from irregular or no menstrual cycles. These problems are not going to decrease; they increasing. Women are getting older with their children are being damaged from inside…[M]y husband fell that night as he was walking and after that his limbs stopped working, one hand was damaged, his eye were damaged. He died in 2000, but before he died he suffered. He was almost continuously in bed since the disaster until the time he died in 2000. I had to look after them as he was a six month old baby for 12 years. [I had to] feed him, take him to the toilet. He used to be in bed all the time.

We have not got the justice yet, so this fight will go ahead and every child will become aware and come forward for this fight, and if today parents are having the problems and they are suffering, then their children are seeing the suffering of their parents, so the children will become aware.

Shanti Bai, in her mid 50s

In order to get justice, I have joined this fight. I am a gas victim…[W]e have not been given any justice, that’s why I have joined them, and I am with all the people.

We have been fighting, but if tomorrow we are not there to fight, then they [the next generation] should come in front and fight.

Shameem Bi, in her early 60s

I will fight until my last breathe…Nothing has been done for us so far, so that is why I got involved.

Savitri, in her early 60s

The future of the poor has been ruined. Women lost their children and husbands. Today, if my eldest son had not died, then he would have been 40 years old. Today he would have been the father of four children and we would have been having a good house with good support if he was alive today…[J]ust because of him, there is a fire in my heart 24 hours a day.

The ones who inhaled gas, they died, and the ones who are alive, they want clean water and treatment, so that they can live.

Resham Bi, in her early 60s

Many people died from my community. People have died due to cancer and stomach diseases. Even today people are suffering. They suffer from a burning sensation in their eyes, stomach, and chest. Their limbs are bent and [they have] shakes. I gave birth to two children after the disaster. They both were born dead.

I just think that if this gas had not leaked then all this would not have happened. Even after all this has not been any justice for us, so that is why the fight is still on.

The future of children is being ruined, that is why I have to make sure that what we have suffered from and gone through, they should not face it. All of my children are sick, the children of other people are sick.

Rashida Bi, in her mid 50s

Everything here like soil, water, air is poisoned, and the ones who are alive, they are living their lives as live corpses. Women are the ones who have suffered and struggled a lot as they were the ones that got affected the worst, as women have lost the power of giving birth to babies, and their lives have been ruined from the day they were born until their last breath.

Whatever is happening in Bhopal, should not happen anywhere, so for this we started our struggle. People from other countries and cities should not have the life that we are forced to live with, and even their coming generation should not be ruined like ours, so our struggle is moving so fast this way.

Ram Bai, in her mid 40s

Because of factory, poison is being found in the water. We have seen that children are suffering from itching after drinking this water and suffering from other skin diseases, they are even weak. Boys who are of 20 years age, they can’t even lift weights of 15 – 20 kilograms. We were given information that this water had poison in it.

Since we already have fought once, if we fight any other fight, we won’t walk back. If there are people with me, then I will keep fighting in future as well.

Om Wati, in her early 60s

My daughter died because of the gas. She died on July 25, 1985, and she died on my lap…She was one year and nine months old. She was admitted in Hamidia hospital for five months before she had died. She had died at the hospital itself. Her skin was coming off her body because of the gas and she even had a hole in her heart. She looked like someone had poured hot water on her. She was looking like that even the night of the disaster…

[H]er whole body was kind of burnt, her eyes were swollen and she turned white the next morning of the disaster.

Actually when people from organizations talk about actions and go for it, I say to them that even I have lost my daughter and others are suffering, so I want to come with you to keep the fight on. I do not care what will happen to me, since there are many other people involved in the fight, we all will face whatever happens to us, so I just keep in mind that if they die we too will die, and that is why I am moving ahead with them.

I just think that it is better to die than living a life like this. My two sons are disabled, what would I think, as both of my sons are almost dead because of the gas. I believe that they might die even before me, so what will happen with the children of the new generation? These two children are disabled and we have to think about their futures. The woman who is sitting there, her son has a hole in his heart. What would I think when all the people in my family are suffering like this? And the new generation is like this, then on whose support we will live our lives?

Children are being born disabled, their body parts are being damaged and ruined. There is nothing left for the future, so we are worried about that. We have lived our lives. We did not have a good life, but we are quite worried about their lives, like what kind of future are they going to have?

I got involved because I want justice…[A]ll I can do is just to be with them [other activists] and support them and walk with them.

Nasreen Bi, in her mid 30s

This fight actually has made us feel powerful as we have seen a lot…[S]uddenly I have spirit that has comes in me. For instance if somebody has caused loss to someone, then people feel sympathetic and are kind to the ones who are suffering. When it comes to sympathy and kindness, I can even hold your chappals and walk with you.

 

Nasreen’s friend: And when we get angry, then we won’t even let you stand on your legs.

Nafisa bi, in her mid 40s

If this gas had not leaked, then there would have not been this much of passion and anger in the women. The gas leaked and brought anger in us. Pain with our children is our anger, this is not only the question of our house, it is the question of all of Bhopal. We go ahead to get justice.

Munni Bi, in her mid 50s

These children [younger activists], they have sacrificed everything for the fight. They are even not working…[T]hey are doing all this for the welfare for other people.

Meera Morey, in her mid 20s

I feel very bad because people who died when the gas leaked in 1984, they died and it was better for them, but the ones who are sick, and are disabled, they are suffering more even after 25 years. Still there is a lot of poison in them. People are still dying like this.

My father, he died after the disaster, about six to seven years ago, since he was severely affected by the gas. His lungs were completely damaged from inside, and my mother is always sick. Even her condition is often critical.

I get strength after seeing people’s spirit. Also after seeing the waste that Dow has spread here; the waste that they had buried under the ground. Every monsoon it comes through the water from tube-wells, hand-pumps. People are getting sick after drinking the water and going to hospitals. Their utensils are being spoiled and people are suffering from various diseases. Women are the ones suffering from most of the diseases, and after seeing this we get more anger and strength. That is why women are in front and have spirit. This is where the strength comes from. And this should not happen to anyone that is what we want.

[The next generation] should get involved, because the people who are fighting now, they will die someday. There have been many people who have died while fighting. We are getting future generation ready so that this fight can be taken forward.

Leela bai, in her early 50s

I actually get strength after seeing other people –strength to fight, strength to go ahead. For instance, if people like you can come from so far, then why can’t we people from Bhopal fight here itself. We can at least fight, which is better than nothing! We get our strength after seeing people like you, because since you people are supporting us, we should do something as well

After seeing people, their problems, their children’s problems, how come this much of strength can come automatically?! If the gas had not had leaked, then our children from here would have been fine, life would have been happy, and we would now have had that many problems. We would have been earning well, but because of pain, I feel so anger inside.

Leela Bai, in her early 70s

Our condition is so bad. We are fed up with drinking poisoned water. We have not been able to get anything and also there is no hope for us to live, you can see what our condition is!

[Strength] comes naturally, why wouldn’t we fight for our rights? But some people they are not intelligent, they do not know what they should do and what they should not, but I am clever enough and I know what to do. We should fight for our rights in our way.

Leela Bai, in her late 60s

Women are getting sick because of drinking this water, children are being born disabled because of this water and there are even many other types of sicknesses that have been found amongst the people. That is why I got involved with this organization.  

The strength to fight comes by itself…Women usually are home, their children are sick all the time and their husbands can’t work, so then you can think what women are going through because of all this. So that is why women panic and think what should we do, where would we go, how can we bring up and look after our children? So that is why women are coming in front [of the struggle]. Whatever  the government is doing is wrong, neither they are giving us water, nor medicine, nor any way by which children can study in all these communities. There is nowhere the people can get medicine from, so what will the mothers do when their children are sick? So that is why women think that there should be something for their children so that they can go ahead in their lives and this is why the women are going ahead and in front to fight.

We will tell our children that if we could not win, then you should make sure that the fight never ends and keep the fight on.

Kaniza Bi, in her early 40s

I feel sad when I hear about problems of the people in my community and its surrounding communities, because even my family is struggling and fighting with these kinds of problems. My husband died because of the gas and I had a son that died because of gas. All the people in my family are sick. My eldest daughter, she is sick. One of my other daughters who is younger to her, even she is sick. She has been sick since she was 4 – 5 years old. She suffers from severe headaches. Because of this, she can’t even think properly.  She is always lost and confused. She does not even know what she is doing. She has been hospitalized for the last 10 days, but she has been on medication for the last three months. Still her condition is so critical.

It is quite difficult for me to face all this and I personally feel that what has happened in Bhopal should not happen anywhere in the world. The people of Bhopal who have been struggling, they are neither dead nor alive, they are just struggling and fighting for a life of dignity, so such a bad disaster should not happen anywhere in the world which has forced people of Bhopal to live like this.

Kailashi Sharma, in her late 50s

I feel very sad. Nobody takes responsibility for all this. If one had taken responsibility for all this. I wish if I had died then, but since I am alive, I will fight.

It does not matter how disabled we are, whether we can’t see from our eyes, even when our knees are not supporting us and our hands and legs are not supporting us, even then when it comes to fight, our body supports us. I myself suffer from blood pressure and am a heart patient, but I just keep all this aside and go to fight.

Hazira Bi, in her mid 50s

We should be given the right to live. We are fighting for the coming generations, so that they do not suffer like this because of the corporations and the government. Union Carbide and Anderson should be punished for what has happened in Bhopal and the government should give us justice.

We want to have a right to live before we die.

The new generation has seen that young people are dying, children are born with disabilities born and people are suffering from diseases like cancer. So those young people and the coming generation is realizing that if we do not struggle and fight, then this generation too will be like this and be damaged completely. So after thinking this, the new generation is coming forward and standing to fight.

Gulab Bai, in her early 30s

I joined this fight because we are drinking poisoned water. First we were exposed to gas..and now we are drinking poisoned water and because of this, children are being born disabled. Some of them have their hands joint. Children of some people cannot walk and speak.

To make sure that the coming generations do not face the problems we have faced, [the younger generation] should get involved…[T]here should not be any problems in the future for our children. In future children should not be born disabled, and the problems that we already have faced, they should not face those.

 

Champa Devi Shukla, in her late 50s

My husband and two children died. I had to make my heart strong enough so that I can up bring other children in my family, and when I saw people in my neighborhood –the strength came after seeing all this. I even talked and tried to make them [people in my neighborhood] understand that even after losing most of the members in your family, it does not mean that one should give up and stop living. So this way I encouraged and made them aware  Today people are with us in the struggle and fighting the battle to live their lives.

I have been seeing people dying since 1984, and I could not forget the scene that I had seen that night. I get angry when I see children being sick and suffering in the communities. It is not their fault, they all are innocent. Where did they go wrong that they are suffering so much?! Union Carbide, Dow and our Governments are equally responsible for this.

Anger in me kept growing with time and also with the problems that kept coming in front of me. Then I decided that I will fight…Today after 25 years, we still have that power…I feel angry when I see disability and diseases in the whole society and today they are forced to live their lives like this. What was their fault? They all were innocent, and what can we do?

Baidan bi, in her mid 50s

Since we have suffered so much, strength to fight comes by itself, and now when we have organizations, we follow them. Now whatever the problem is, we face them…No matter what will happen to us – if they want to jail us or punish us, we don’t care. We are not scared at all.

 

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"Beat the bitches with lathis"Police brutally beat old ladies with cudgels

Mullo Bai, 65, gas affected and her mother Jamvati, 82

I left my house with my mother and 18 other women from my neighbourhood to be part of the rail roko. At 11:00 am we all reached Barkhedi crossing. We sat on the tracks for almost an hour and there were thousands of people all around us. We were all shouting slogans. There were lots of police and then a few female police started dragging women towards the blue police truck.

When police started dragging the women two men pleaded with the cops not to drag women like that. The police did not listen to anyone and must have dragged 3-4 women into the police vehicle. Then I saw total chaos break loose. There must have been 100 cops with lathis who just started to beat up women. They did not bother to see who they were hitting they continued with lathis and whoever came in their way got hurt. During all of this one of the police lathis hit me in my right eye and then came the second lathi which hit me in the back of my head. I saw blood coming out I realised that I had to leave and also had to get my mother out as she is very old and it would be hard for her to run.

I grabbed my mother’s hand and then my mother was hit by a police lathi on her head. My mother fell down and she was bleeding profusely. Her entire sari was covered with blood. There was so much blood and it seemed like someone had slaughtered a goat. Then three men came and they picked up my mother gave her some water and put her in an auto. I took her to the nearest private hospital (Mansi Hospital) and she got eight stitches. The hospital asked me for Rs 200 and I told them I had no money to pay them. I was so afraid that if my mother’s injuries were not looked at she just might die from excessive bleeding.

This hospital is situated on the main road and I saw many policemen running on the streets chasing men and even women with sticks. I pleaded with them to stop their violence. I asked them if they would kill us today by beating us. Then two policemen who were blocking our way let both of us leave. After walking 20 steps we were stopped by more policemen and they asked what had happened to us. I told them it was due to their lathis that my mother’s head was bleeding and I had a black eye and swelling on my face. Then the police sent me to the emergency vehicle for dressing of my wounds. I received two stitches on my head and I was asked to go home.

We must have reached home by 3:30 pm and for next two days we did not go to the government hospital. We have been scared that police are going to come pick us up and will take us to jail. We have been reading in the newspapers that police have filed charges against 1,500 people and they have been picking up men from their houses at night. We didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment. We had just gone to ask for our rights and we sat on the tracks peacefully. I did not even think that police would beat us so brutally.

Meena, 40

At around 10:30 am about 45 women from my neighbourhood left to join the Rail Roko agitation. We all reached the tracks by 11:20 am and there were many women laying on the tracks and we also laid down on the tracks. I was surrounded by many women and there were so many people that all men were sitting beside the track. I was sitting with all the women from my neighbourhood as well and we were also listening to slogan chanting happening on the PA system. Then police started asking us to leave the tracks and started dragging one of the women who was wearing blue clothes. They were dragging her into the police vehicle and while she was being dragged one of the police women kicked her as well.

I saw a young girl in black clothes was pulled and dragged by two female cops and put into the police vehicle. I continued to sit and so did everyone and when police asked us to leave we told them that we will not leave until our demands were met. Then all I could hear was sound of lathis around me and women around me being beaten up. I also got hit twice. A lot of women were running and I also started to run with them but then I fell. There was massive stone pelting happening from both sides. I cannot remember much, but I do remember that two young boys took me to the 108 emergency vehicle. Inside the vehicle there were 3 policemen. The nurse dressed me up and asked me to leave the vehicle. I could barely see because both of my eyes were swollen and I was in intense pain.

I started to walk and covered one eye with one hand as it hurt too much to keep it open. Then I saw one of my neighborhood women and I called her towards me. She could barely recognize me and it was them who brought me back in an auto. I have been so scared of the police that I did not even go to the government hospital to get any treatment. I can barely afford the private doctor but I have been paying him Rs 200 to come and visit the house every day so that he can give me injection for pain.

Tarabai

At 10.30 I reached there with about 20 women and lay down on the tracks. Some policemen said the photo session is over and now you can go – your work is over. We said we will not go. Bhaiyya was there. I saw smoke and heard a loud blast. After this the train blew its horn and put on its headlights. The women who were lying on the tracks got frightened and stood up. A policewoman with short hair told us not to shout slogans. The ADM came and told the police to drag the women and put them in the police vans. He then asked, who is your leader and we replied that we do not have any leader, we have come with our demands.

Poonam (60) hit on head

When Namdeo went a little further from us, the police hit Poonam who was sitting near me and is about 60 years, she was hit on the head with the baton. She started bleeding. Three women took her to the cabin. Then Basanti was hit on her hand. I told them to stop all this and also got hit on the hand. They hit Bibbo aged about 65, on the head; I saw blood and started feeling dizzy. They hit another woman who was with me on her legs. With all this, I panicked, at the same time stones started raining. Three or four boys came and surrounded us to rescue us from the lathis and took us away from there. From Aishbagh police station I again came back to the cabin. I took Poonam, Bibbo and Basanti to the No. 108, a madam was there and I told her these people are bleeding please give them some treatment. At the same time five policemen came with minor injuries nor were any of them bleeding, but they were the first to get attention. I asked the madam to put bandage on these old women, she told me to shut up.

Another policeman came who was hurt and he said “first put bandages on the mothers”. Then my nephew who is about 13 years came and said a bomb has gone off and a boy has been hurt in the leg. I started feeling sick and just sat down.

Namdeo

I reached near Aishbagh railway crossing at about 10.45. There already was a big crowd which had stopped one train. Tara Bai came and gave the banner. The women were sitting peacefully. The boys were shouting slogans. After that we talked with the ADM. He said that your symbolic protest is over; now get up from the tracks. I told him that our protest is indefinite, arrange a meeting with the CM, we will discuss the matter with him and then decide. Then the ADM reached out his hands to catch hold of me and all the women who were sitting on the tracks came and stood around me. The ADM said you people will not listen and then walked away. Then I went to the announcement auto where they were announcing that the protest is peaceful and will continue till the demands are met.

Then I went back to the tracks and Safreen came and told me that the police have snatched the mike along with the cord. I told we’ll see about that later. The media people came to me, the slogans continued. There was no inkling that there would be stone pelting. Then a sound came like a cracker bursting, I was standing near the engine, Rashida was near the gate. Somebody said that it was a bomb. People started getting up started shouting ‘Run’ ‘run’. I asked the women to keep sitting but they also shouted ‘run, run’. Some men and boys came near the engine and said that women are being beaten up. I asked the women who were near me to go and see what is happening. At that time there no fire anywhere. Women started to scream. I took some of the elderly women towards the road, took some 10-15 women and made them sit behind the bushes. I saw that the police were beating the women on the tracks with batons. After that the stone pelting started – from both sides, like rain. I then sent the women under the train. The policemen were picking up stones. I took the women from under the train towards Pul Boghda, to the temple and from there to the old ‘Galla Mandi’ and they went away. By that time the police were running on the road with batons, and were throwing tear gas. I waited with the women at the temple. I saw a vehicle on fire. After that Rachna called and said that we have to go and meet the CM, to meet her within 15 minutes. I then went through Barkhedi to Patra and from there to Dwarka Nagar.

I remember Monika Shukla saying “beat the bitches with lathis”

Safreen, 16

At 11.00 Nafiza and I along with Yashmeen and 3 other women reached Barkhedi gate and went to the tracks. We sat on the tracks for some time and then came to the auto. Yashmeen and I sat in the auto, Hazra had told us to be in the auto. Yashmeen was announcing, I went to the tracks and sat with the other women, both the gates of the level crossing opened. The police were telling the people to go away. We said we will not move. We saw Rashida Bee talking to the Collector and Hazra Bi speaking to one constable. Then Yashmeen came and said the mike has been snatched – she told this to Rashida Bee, she asked us to go back and she is coming. I then went to Hazra Bee, she was asking the men to go back, some of them were drunk (I can recognise two of them) Hazra Bee was keeping these men away from the women with a small stick. A man in civil dress, aged about 40, wearing white shirt with stripes came and started calling the police. Hazra was keeping the men away and so I called her back. The man in the striped shirt and other police men called the blue police van. Nafisa, Hazra and I felt that they were going to arrest, so we lay on the tracks and the other women also lay down. The man in the striped shirt pulled me; two women came and put me in the van. In the scuffle with the man in striped shirt, I lost my phone. Inside the van I told the police that my mobile has fallen please get it back. The police refused and they held my hand and made me stand up. They brought two more women and after that they brought Hazra Bee, asked her if she has my mobile and she replied no. Nafisa Bee was also brought to the van. I saw that the stoning had started and two police women were pushing Nafisa into the van. I said, Mummy come up inside, they are pelting stones, she came inside and the van started. The doors were open and I jumped out. Outside there was stoning. When I reached the tracks some women were near the engine. I searched for Yashmeen and the mobile; I went and sat with the women who were near the engine. Sitting there I could see that the stoning was from both sides. The women started to move from there. From the Aishbagh side people were throwing stones at the police. I was seeing this from the gate. I saw some people overturning a police vehicle. I saw a woman who was hurt on the head and was bleeding. A woman was taking her to the 108. Two media persons were saying that the police are being beaten up. Soon after I heard gun shots and every body shouted, they are firing. When coming from Barkhedi towards Aishbagh, I saw the police beating the people with batons and removing them from the tracks. I met Rashida Bee who was pacifying the women. She was asking everybody not to throw stones. I was also with her. The people asked us not to go further, we came towards the Aishbagh side of the gate and Aapa spoke to Satyu. When we reached the lane we saw boys running, they were saving themselves from the stones. Near the small bridge we met Shoaib, Naeem and Amir from Budhwara. Then all of us, Yashmeen, Shoaib, Naeem and Amir went searching for the mobile. When we reached the tracks there were lots of police near the gate and they did not allow us to go forward. We saw smoke coming from Barkhedi side and all of us came back to Rashida. We spoke to her about where to go and she told us that it is peaceful at all the other places and that we should go to Nishatpura, that Sathyu has been told. After this we reached Dwarka Nagar by walking on the tracks.

Rashida Bee

By 9:30 a.m. there were 5,000 people near the railway crossing. I got there about 9.45 a.m. just after the crowd had tried to stop the Punjab Mail. The SP (Superintendant of Police), TI and six police (4 male, 2 female) started trying to remove people. It wasn’t yet time and the crowd let the Punjab Mail go. I got there after the train had gone through. Lathis (long clubs) were being shown (brandished) but no one was being beaten. I went and lay down on the tracks.

It was 10:30 a.m. when I lay on the tracks – we were saying to the police that we would begin the action at 11 o’clock. Why were they waving their lathis at the public? The police would not allow our protest. They tried to pull me up.

Now there were more people. The goods train with the diesel tankers was seen coming from Pul Bogda side. The train continued coming forward blowing its horn. It was stopped before it reached the level crossing gate and then lots of police arrived. They came and stood near the train. It was 11.45; women kept coming and sat on the tracks. The police were saying start the train. The train started moving; there were at least 1,000 people. As soon as the train started, I lay down again and the train stopped. Two women constables picked me up and put me beside the tracks. All the women came towards the train and lay down on the tracks. There was Rahisa, women from Taufeekh Bagh, women belonging to BGNPBSM, women from the shanties along the railway track all came where I was being held by the police. Men, boys and children all came shouting “Hamme hamara haq chahiye – Sahi muawjaa chahiye”. “We want our rights – We want proper compensation”.

The railway crossing gate was open earlier but was brought down and closed. The Collector arrived; he was accompanied by the riot police numbering about 50 and two women constables. A man in plain clothes wearing white shirt came and said, come and talk to the Collector. I told him that I have seen the Collector and if he wants to say anything he will come here. He said you should go to the Collector. Then I stood up and shouted slogans. All during this time the train was hooting (its horn) continuously. Our auto with the mike was near the crossing gate. I went to the mike and announced, please do not blow the horn and frighten the people, people are sitting peacefully, blowing horn will frighten them, we want co-operation from the police, you are also gas affected. We are doing everything peacefully, you also maintain peace. After that I went amidst the women and asked everyone to sit down. I asked everybody to shout the same slogan. Somebody was shouting ‘Anna Hazare – zindabad.’

The Collector called me from the other side of the railway gate. I went and he said, get about 10 people and come and meet the Chief Minister. I replied that this is not something I can do individually; we will have to consult among ourselves. He said; take 10 people from here and come. I replied that we have been writing letters for the last 1 to 2 months but the CM did not give us any time. I will have to discuss this with the other organisations and any decision can be arrived at, only after that. The Collector asked me to call Rachna Dhingra. I asked for 10 minutes. I tried several times to call Rachna, but was not able to. Jamal Ayyub came and said to the Collector and to me that some journalist can be asked to contact Rachna. But that also did not happen. Jamal Ayyub said we cannot do this on our own. While all this was going on, the police surrounded us from two sides. During this time thousands of people were sitting on the tracks, from Pul Bogda to Barkhedi crossing. Then the police opened both the gates. They lifted the people by pulling their hair and the male police dragged the women on to the metal (stones) lying on the side of the tracks – Hazra, Nafisa, Baano Bi – four or five, women were hit by the police, they started bleeding. Some women went into the cabin near the tracks. Then the police started caning the boys. Many boys removed the women from the cabin and from the tracks, at this time the lathi charge by the police was going on. The public was running away. I fell down and some people ran over me. Then the public picked up stones, and it started raining stones. The police also started pelting stones. I told the people not to throw stones but nobody was listening. Stones were being pelted by both the public and the police. The police started to run towards Pul Bogda. Three or four vehicles of the police came with RAF jawans and burst tear gas without warning anyone.

I called Sathyu on the phone who said, Aapa somehow try to stop all this. On Sathyu’s advice I came in between the police and the public. By that time a white colour jeep was on fire. I then went towards the road and asked people with folded hands to maintain peace. Some boys stopped pelting stones. After that when I went to the gate and 50 to 60 women again came and sat on the tracks. The police started to fire from Pul Bogda side. Some of the boys in the crowd went towards the train and said they will set it to fire. I told them the whole bagh will be on fire. The boys said, put the Pulzar motorcycle under the goods train. But I intervened and somehow managed to turn them off. They stoned the rail engine and broke its window panes. The public scattered due to the firing. By that time more police had reached, and were pursuing people into the lanes and into homes and beating them up. I have seen all this. Then I got a call from Sathyu saying that we have to meet the CM. So I started walking on the tracks towards north. The riot continued behind me.

When the collector was talking with me, somebody burnt an effigy on the other side of the gate. There was a cracker in it. The collector told me that I am letting bombs go off. I told him it was just a cracker and went to the other side and managed to get some water and put the fire out. The Collector then said that I will not be able to manage the public and they will manage the situation. To which I told him that on 3rd December people usually burn effigies, he said you people will not understand.

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Dharna day 21, 16 August 2010: Among the parliamentarians

Rachna and Shalini set out early morning for the Parliament. They have been visiting the Parliament since last week in order to get endorsements from different Members of Parliaments. A week later, both of them seem to know a lot more of the Parliament and its many curves and lanes. At the same time, their faces have become familiar to lot more people. No wonder, when one is missing among the duo, the other is often asked by the security guards and other staff, ‘how come you are alone today, where is your friend?” Finding friends in this giant and seeming cold building is no mean task. And this is what both these ladies have been trying to do for the last six days- finding friends for Bhopalis among the Parliamentarians.

The experience so far has been bitter-sweet. Today was no different. They waited outside the Parliament for the person who was supposed to help them with the entry passes. After many unacknowledged, unreturned calls they decided to contact someone they met a day ago in the Parliament. He is Personal Secretary to a MP and he had been very forthcoming with his support. On a single call he ensured we get the passes. Our first stop being the alley near gate 2 close to Lok Sabha Gallery. ‘Abhi aapka stock poora nahi hua madam?’ asked a PS sitting next to us. We smiled and mentioned how we are trying for some more endorsements in order to have representations from different political parties. Two-three more PS sat next to us, discussing among themselves the status of politics, how parliamentarians are now demanding a salary raise from Rs 80,000 per month to Rs 1,60,000 and making playful bet on who would win the elections in Bihar this time and amidst all this euphoria remembering to give us a meaningful nod whenever a MP passed by. Soon we collected ten more endorsements.

We then decided to visit the office of Ms. Sushma Swaraj, senior leader BJP. To our dismay we learnt she won’t be able to meet us due to her prior engagements. Nonetheless, we met a MP in her office who endorsed the petition immediately. It was already lunch time and MPs were rushing to Central Hall where entry is restricted to Parliamentarians and senior journalists. But there are other places where general public can try their luck for instance, elevators where so far we have met two parliamentarians. On an average we get some two to three minutes to explain our cause. In most cases we do not leave till the MP either reads the petition and endorses it or dismisses us with some standard statements like- I will read and get back, I will see you on my way back, or leave it in my party office. Such statements are indicative of their reluctance to engage any further. We take the cue and leave.

We then went to third floor where most party offices are. Checking every name plate and peeking into the office if there was any sound from inside we also learnt which parliamentarians take their lunch in the party office and which never set their foot in. This is how we had stopped at the office of a national party twice in last four days. On both occasions the senior leaders were having their meals inside. We were asked to talk to the MP on his way out however all our patience gave way when the MP dismissed the petition asking us to return only with a petition on the letter head used by Parliamentarians. He retorted, “What will be the beauty of my signature. My name will be reduced to one among the many. Get a letter head and I will consider.”

Well, Mr MP you might have the authority to sign but the decision to seek your endorsement is still ours and so we silently decide to leave in search of not so egoistic and not so egotistic MPs. Our experience has taught us there are many who put the cause before where will my name be in the list of endorsers.

Meanwhile Parliament was adjourned for the day. We now have a total of 62 signatures with representations from 19 political parties. On our way out we met Jayant Chaudhary, a young Parliamentarian from RLD, who gave us a patient hearing but asked us to collect the endorsement next day from his office. We went to meet Sandipto Bandopadhyay, MP- Trinamool Congress at his house and he asked us to wait till Ms. Mamta Banerjee returns. Ms. Banerjee being the party leader needs to be consulted for any political endorsement. Finally we left the petition for Mr. Dara Singh Chauhan, MP- BSP at his house and returned to Jantar Mantar, our home for last 21 days where, unlike us, most of the Bhopalis spent a quiet day. Once back with our friends we get busy with planning for tomorrow. Hopefully, Tomorrow will be another day!

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Dharna day 20, August 15: Indian Independence Day for rich foreign corporations and capital

As Independence day dawned, it didn’t quite feel like an occasion to celebrate among the Bhopalis. Displaced from the pavement of Jantar Mantar, formerly the only site near Central Delhi where the people of this country could gather to voice their grievances. Displaced for the Common Wealth games that brings together athletes from countries whose only commonality is that they were all subjects of the British Empire.

The entire Bhopal gas disaster signifies how far we are from independence. We have gradually traded in formal political governance by the British for governance by rich entities – corporations and capital – globally. In some sense, our independence feels more like the globalization of colonialism – as if the British no longer deserved to have sole access to our resources, and labor. Now it is the Americans, the Europeans, and the Indian corporate heads who cheered on and financed our freedom struggle with an eye on all the possibilities for profiting in place of the British. The Congress party ushered out the British, and thirty seven years later, it helped usher out Warren Anderson in grand style after the Bhopal gas disaster for which is strongly responsible, having drastically cut safety measures at the Union Carbide plant to preserve profits despite previous deadly gas leaks. Elected representative after representative of our country, from many of our political parties, let Union Carbide and its subsequent owner, Dow Chemicals, leave behind its factory seeping poison into the soil, water and eventually the breastmilk of Bhopali mothers. Years of governmental negligence of this issue, and if unaddressed it undermines our very concept of our country as an independent democracy for the people, of the people, and by the people. Now is the time for us to attempt to create some semblance of justice for our long-suffering sisters and brothers in Bhopal.

For the Bhopalis there is much to mull over. All of you have seen the media outrage. We have seen the sympathy of the MPs. And we are still so far from justice. We struggle, we hope, and we will continue with all this.

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Dharna day 19, August 14: Mamu’s story

Today at the dharna site, our vigil continued, damp as the afternoon air. I spoke to Abdul Rafi, fondly known to everyone as Mamu, about his story. He has been with the struggle for the full 26 years, and was 13 when the gas disaster hit in 1984. He lived with his mother, and worked to make ends meet as a laborer, including washing bottles for a while at the Union Carbide factory. At this stage of his narrative some disagreement erupted as to whether he could have possibly been employed at that age at a factory that nominally employed only adults.

On the night of the disaster, Mamu said that he was lying down and like everyone else he thought that chillies were being burnt. He tried to sleep but woke up after a while with his limbs in pain. When he went outside to see what was happening he saw people running against the wind and joined them, running past dead bodies. A woman tried to entrust her baby to Mamu, another woman was running while carrying a baby goat. Finally Mamu stopped by a tap and washed his face and found that this gave him some relief so he urged everyone else to do this as well. Some people were in such pain they jumped recklessly into the lake, but as it turned out those who could swim survived better than the rest because of the relief the water provided from gas exposure. To this day, his eyes hurt, he coughs, and worse of all he says he suffers from ‘ghabarahat’ – fears. For most, this mix of physical and psychological problems is devastating. It is for medical care, for poison-free water, for justice, that this struggle continues

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