Dharna day 3: Visits to schools and the Delhi High Court

The day began early in the morning, both today and yesterday, for the young women of Children Against Dow Carbide. Safreen, Yasmeen and Komal kickstarted their Delhi school outreach with their message about Bhopal, about their lives made unusual by virtue of growing up next to a toxic factory site which had seen the world’s worst industrial disaster.

Yesterday, we had visited the Vasant Valley School in Vasant Kunj, where they’d spoken to about 100 students from the 7th and 8th standard. We reached late, with a really slow driver, agonizing over just how late we might be… but today, a super fast driver took us to the Sriram School in Gurgaon in record time, so that we were early. When Safreen and Yasmeen joked with the driver that they’d give him a certificate for good fast driving, he pleaded with us saying “No, don’t give me a poster or the police will come after me”. It took some cajoling to let him know we weren’t trying to get him into trouble but were complimenting him!

On Wednesday the kids who are also members of Children Against Dow Carbide went to address the students of Sri Ram School. A group of students welcomed them and gave the school tour. Yasmeen and Rafat were quite taken with the art and clay modeling units at the school. Soon the trio became quite friendly with the Sri Ram students and discussed the differences between their school and the facilities available to students in Delhi. Some 150 kids watched Hush baby, the film produced in 2008 and featuring our very own Sarita and Salim amongst others, followed by the documentary-It happened in Bhopal. Yasmeen told them the reasons that forced Bhopalis to be once again in Delhi. Rafat described the many different actions that happened in the 2008 protest campaign. Komal urged the students to support Bhopalis in every way possible. And then came in many questions- How many children in second generation are affected? Has the Prime Minister seen them? Why did he not meet you when you requested him? Did you write to him? But didn’t we give hearts to him last time? We did, but it seems he prefers to keep them locked away!

Rashida Bee, Namdev, Raja, Abani Roy, Syed Ali Pasha

Back at the dharna site, Chotu, whom you might remember from our six month long stay at Jantar Mantar two years ago, greeted us with hot tea. It is with this tea that we begin our protest early morning every day and pack up in the late evening. So instead of marching 800km for a month and a half, we now march some four kilometers every day between St’ Columbus school, our shelter home for the night, and Jantar Mantar. This day time protest isn’t our idea but Delhi Government’s, in light of the upcoming Common wealth games. If four months in advance of the Games the movement on the streets is so severely curtailed, it’s not hard to figure out what will happen in October. Possibly, in light of the “law and order situation”, Delhi Government might come up with ‘Stay at Home at all times and enjoy the games from your idiot box’ orders. Anyway, we filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court opposing the Delhi Government ruling that prohibits all over night stays at Jantar Mantar. The matter came for hearing today and was argued for us by Adv. Prashant Bhushan.

Despite viral fever, Prashant argued forcefully against the continuous imposition of Sec 144 over all of Central Delhi for the last ten years, effectively criminalizing the gathering of more than five people without police permission. He quoted Supreme Court judgments showing that Section 144 can not be used rampantly without any basis, and that a balance between its use with constitutional rights to free expression, association and movement. He said that Sec 144 is meant to cautiously used, citing case laws prohibiting abuse of the order, but instead the order has been continuously reimplemented with breaks of a couple of days between spells of its imposition.The government lawyer responded with little other than to claim that the boat club was the former scheduled site of democratic protest, and it was closed down when a large farmer agitation took place which was too large to handle, and that likewise too many offices of national security importance were near Jantar Mantar to allow free protest in the area. Advocate Prashant Bhushan said that prohibitions about the use of arms during protest could effectively satisfy public safety requirements, but that constitutional rights could not be trampled. The judges, Justice Deepak Mishra and Justice Manmohan deferred their judgment to Monday.

Towards the afternoon Jantar Mantar was literally taken over by around 4000 members of Jat community who threatened to disrupt the sporting extravangza unless their demand of reservation in government jobs is met. The Jat Arakshan rally fiercely announced, while surrounded by the biggest ring of police I’ve ever seen in Jantar Mantar, that they’d storm every MP’s house, halt the commonwealth games, and cause widespread unrest unless their demands were met. Jantar Mantar was transformed into a war zone.

In the evening Rachna and Shalini went to meet Mr. Paswan, Member-Rajya Sabha, who is not only former Minister of Chemicals and the Fertlizers but was also an active member of earlier GOM which recommended setting up of an Empowered Commission to the Prime Minister in 2008. He has been very supportive to our demands so far.

Tonight all the people who arrived on the 26th are returning to Bhopal, and a fresh batch people arrives tomorrow. The dharna continues!

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