Late this afternoon Sathyu and several others met with the president and several other representatives of the Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Student Union, who have offered their full support over the coming days.
We received several more visitors today, including writer Arundhati Roy, who came this evening to have chai with us.
Life on the street
Nity writes: Despite my disgust at the idea of restricting public protests to an earmarked spot in the city, I must say that Jantar Mantar in general and our dharna sthal (protest site) in particular have all the right infrastructure to have a great go at publicising one’s issue over a period of time. Where we’re parked is on the pavement. There are no railings on our side of the pavement; the Narmada protest site has better shade, but satyagrahis are almost invisible when they are sitting, and totally gone if they are lying down. Behind us is a wrought iron fence with spikes on top, custom-made for hanging banners, putting up photographs and displays.
On either side of our camp, is another, say, 20 to 30 metres of empty pavement, crying to be filled with supporters from Delhi. The evenings are relaxed. We have a screen and electricity (tapped from the electric line for the streetlight) and can show films and video clips. One idea we have is to build up momentum and pressure by asking supporters — children, students, teachers, lawyers — to come and spend a night with us in solidarity — to fill the pavements. The evenings allow a lot of space and time for creative ways of expressing support. We can paint banners, paint the streets and what not.
The public toilet is amazingly clean, but expensive. It costs Rs. 1 per pee and Rs. 2 for bigjobs. In a day, a person can spend Rs. 10 a day just responding to the unavoidable demands of the body. Needless to say, this is a sore point with the visiting Bhopalis. “No money for beedi-machis; we’ve already spent Rs. 60 on pissing,” one Bhopali summed up. Nimi and Rachna have been making frequent trips to the bathroom to coax the management into letting the Bhopalis use the toilet for Rs. 1 per person per day. It looks like we may have to undertake a separate hunger strike just on this demand. If you have the money, though, the toilet experience is not unpleasant.
Water comes from a tank parked near the chai shop opposite the toilet. Naseer usually gets agitated by end of the day that none but he takes interest in ensuring that our big blue plastic drums are filled with water so that people don’t have to walk far at night for water. He gave a loud dressing down to a crowd of Bhopalis, many of whom were indolently smirking in the darkness. Finally, Satish volunteered to take responsibility for filling water every evening.
Food’s at a gurudwara (a Sikh temple). Most sikh temples have a communal kitchen and dining room that is open to anybody that comes in with humility. The food in the Gurudwara we eat at is excellent. Everything is voluntary. People donate rations. Others come and cook the food. Yet others serve the food. A curious custom among the sikhs is while serving the food, the eater has to hold out one’s palms outstretched, and the Rotis are dropped on it. The food is considered to be the prashad (offering) of Wahe Guru (God).
All told it costs about 60 rupees a day per person to sustain life on the Delhi pavement. (60 rupees is US$1.34 or £0.77.) Earlier today Ashphak had an idea to make a donation box and we already have received several hundred rupees.
Interviews with padyatris
From this day forward we will present here each day statements from Bhopalis and their supporters about why they have come on the padyatra and why they will go on indefinite hunger strike if the demands are not met by the Indian government. Tonight, from where they sat by the side of the road, Jabbar and Nafeesa Khan dictated the following specifically for the purpose of posting it on Bhopal.net for the world to read:
Interview with Nafeesa and Jabbar Khan
NAFEESA KHAN is 40), her husband JABBAR is 45. Both Nafeesa and Jabbar spoke together, often finishing each other’s sentences. And so in many spots their account is presented here as a single narrative.
JABBAR: We were married on the 15th of June, 1984. We got married and came to Bhopal.
NAFEESA: I came from Bina. He usedto live with his sisters. We used to live in Gupta Nagar Colony, near Chola Road behind the factory, less than a kilometer. He used to run a small chai shop. I used to live in Bina before that, and was studying prior to my marriage.
JABBAR: I didn’t know anything about the company. I knew that it was an American company called Union Carbide. We thought it was a medicine factory that made pills and gas. There were no complaints.
We were sleeping at night. At around midnight, our eyes were burning, we were coughing as if somebody had been burning chili peppers. We shouted, “Who is doing this?” Then when we opened up doors and the smell and pain became even more intense. We saw people running. We, too, ran towards the station. Some people said there was a gas leak. Others said that Indian Oil had exploded. Our eyes were burning intensely. We couldn’t open our eyes, and the tears wouldn’t stop. People were shouting “Run, Run.” We couldn’t even see the watch to see what time the alarm was sounded.
We ended up lying in the station. Next day, when my parents came to know about it, they came to Bhopal and checked through the entire platform. They didn’t find us. My father also had a blood pressure complaint. His pressure shot up out of worry that his newly-wedded daughter was missing. Two days later we were found and taken to a hospital in Bina. We stayed him [Nafeesa’s father] for at least 2.5 to 3 years. Our eyes continued to burn. It still burns if we see images on a television or on screen. My head starts throbbing when I look at a television screen.
NAFEESA: I was two months pregnant at the time of disaster, and I lost that child. My son is now 20 years old. He is also not well. If he works for 8 days, he comes back because he is not well. He cannot work hard. My 18 year old son, too, is not well. He cannot work hard. If he works for a week, he will spend a week in bed. Besides the gas effects, I feel my children were also affected because of the contaminated water. The water must have been polluted then, but we did not know. We only came to know about the water contamination about 8 years ago. The hand-pump water tastes horrible. It was a Government tube well. This is now shut down. Now, we still use tube well water for washing clothes. Otherwise we get it from the railways nearby. If they let us take it, we get good water. If they don’t, then we are forced to use the contaminated water. The government has laid down a pipeline but they don’t supply potable water. If children use that water, they get rashes on their skin.
He [Jabbar] had a heart attack once in 2003. He was admitted to DIG Bungalow hospital. We spent a lot of money, and mortgaged my jewelry to take loans. Our daily expenses were substantial – Rs. 14 to get to DIG bungalow from the house, and all expenses included, we would end up spending up to Rs. 40 per day.
JABBAR: We have been involved in struggles before. But our involvement has been maximum over the last two years. We don’t have enough money to bribe the Government. Ifran Bhai said we should come on the padayatra. I said ok. I set off alone Then Nafeesa came. We felt that if we were together, we would be spending time together, and we could reassure each other and give each other support. Our support would double.
NAFEESA: Our six demands are very important. They are fair demands, not unreasonable ones. On the strength of our demands, we set off to walk to Delhi. We have already been devastated. We don’t want others to face what we have faced in our lifetimes. We are walking corpses. There is hardly any life in our bodies.
We had no fear or apprehensions. When we’re living death, what do we have to fear? One day, death will come, and we’re prepared to meet it.
JABBAR: The Government is insensitive. None of our expectations were fulfilled. We feel that the Government has been dishonest. It has been saying, “we’re doing this, we’re doing that.” But they have done nothing. They have shattered all our expectations. How many leaders? How many ministers have we met? We waited for three hours to meet Sonia Gandhi, and then we got two minutes, and even then there was no proper hearing. She did not even acknowledge that we had come walking. If she had asked that, at least half our fatigue would have disappeared. She is completely uncaring about our plight. She did not even ask after our health and well-being. And then nobody is prepared to meet us.
If our demands are not met, we will sit on hunger strike. Our demands are reasonable. We have left our house, our children. Our youngest daughter is 8 years old. We have not seen them for 45 days. All our expectations have been shattered so far.
NAFEESA: There are no apprehensions or doubts in our mind. We just want to see our children once. We will go on 5th for a few days to see them, and then we’ll return with strength.
JABBAR: I am well. But Nafeesa’s health is bad. The doctor has advised against her going on a fast.
NAFEESA: But I’ll go nevertheless. If he sits on a fast, then I’ll sit too. Both of us will fast. My knees, ankles and the soles of my feet ache. I get frequent anxiety attacks. I also have a blood pressure problem. There is a possibility that the Government will listen to us. If they refuse to accept our reasonable demands, what options do we have but this?
JABBAR: If we get support, and we get people to come and help us in our mission to ensure that others are not subject to our fate, that itself will keep us going. It is true that we may not be well known or famous. But the one who lives up there knows us.
NAFEESA: A foreign company has played with our lives. They have left behind thousands of dead. The Government has played with our lives. By going on a hunger strike, we’re not playing with our lives. Others have played with our lives.
We haven’t received any compensation. Six of my family members have got compensation, but we are yet to get it.
The reason is that the Government is not prepared to distribute the money. It is not prepared to implement the court order. Leaders have eaten the money, and now they have forgotten us. They remember us only during election time. At other times, rather than eradicating poverty, they’re actively eradicating the poor. [And Union Carbide / Dow?] The company knew that it was making poisons. We didn’t know.