Nity writes from Chennai…
Yesterday we had a very successful gathering at Nochhikuppam, the oldest fishing hamlet in Chennai, on the eve of the Bhopal disaster. The public meeting was markedly devoid of long speeches. Everything about Bhopal and its relevance today was conveyed to the audience, largely children and women from the fishing hamlet, through a variety of cultural programs.
The program was inaugurated by Kanchipuram Makkal Mandram Kanchipuram People’s Forum) with a Parai-attam. Parai is a percussion instrument made of cowhide that is a cultural symbol of dalits in Tamilnadu. The Parai, historically associated with the Paraiyars and hakkiliyars, is now a symbol of dalit assertion for rights. The dance is almost martial, and attracted the police within minutes. More importantly, an almost empty community square was quickly filled to brimming by
Makkal Mandram’s spectacular performance.
The parai-attam – a percussion instrument made of cowhide that is a symbol of dalit assertion for rights in Tamil Nadu
Kosi Mani of the Tamilnadu Fisherfolk Development Organisation gave the welcome speech where he linked the insensitivity marking the Government’s stance on Bhopal to the ongoing push for elitist development which imperilled fisher and farming communities. He also condemned the presence of Dow Chemical in Chennai and called upon Chennai residents to evict Dow from Chennai.
Students from KRMM School reenacted the Bhopal tragedy focusing on how the tragedy was not an accident but a disaster by design. The story of Bhopal was retold by Youth for Social Change through a lyrical tradition called Villu Paattu — a satirical rendition by a main singer assisted by prompters asking stupid questions.
Volunteers from the Chennai wing of Internaitonal Campaign for Justice in Bhopal conducted the Ettappan Awards Ceremony, where modern-day Ettappans were named and “honoured” for having betrayed the country for monetary considerations. Ettappan was an 18th century chieftain who did a deal with the British East India Company and betrayed Veerapandiya Kattabomman, another chieftain who refused to cede to the company’s demands of land tax. Kattabomman was subsequently hanged by the Company, and became a legend and martyr inspiring thousands to join the struggle to oust the British from Indian soil. The awards were given not just to the regulars — Manmohan Singh, Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani and P. Chidambaram — but also to two brand-new candidates from Chennai. IIT Madras and Citi Center were honored with the “Fencesitters Award” — IIT for not taking a stance on barring Dow from recruiting on-campus despite the request of students, and Citi Center for accommodating Dow’s office in their plush mall.
Kanchi Makkal Mandram returned with a street play on America’s imperial designs, covering the plight of children in Iraq, Bhopal, India. While highlighting the effects of pollution — war-related or through American style industrialisation in various parts of the world — the play also talked about the ramifications of imperialism on food sovereignity. But the Mandram reserved its strongest critique for Indians> Coincidentally, the key figures holding America’s feet in the street play were Manmohan Singh, Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata.
Only two speeches were made, one by Sarnath of Dalit Panthers of India, and the other by Rupesh, a fisherman and resident of ochikuppam.
Press release issued yesterday can be found here