UPDATE FROM JAI IN DELHI SEE HERE FOR EARLIER UPDATES.
Today has been a quiet day at the Delhi demo site – at ‘Jantar Mantar’. Summer is coming to Delhi, it is in the air, but today, out there at the site, it was still, and hot, and felt like the lull before a storm…
Though the details might seem mundane, they are of course all a part of what might build up to something larger…
* Three Ministers of the government of India left for the fact finding mission yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, April 6 : The Union Minister of Water Resources, Professor Saifuddin Soz; the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Ms Meira Kumar; and the Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Prithviraj Chauhan. While getting three Ministers in a government to make a joint mission looks and feels impressive, it took twenty-one long days of dharna (sit down demo) to get the government to agree to finally do what it should have done several years ago.
* They are therefore conducting their mission today, April 7. They are due back tomorrow, and other things being equal, the government should take its position tomorrow or latest on Sunday, April 9.
* But typically, the team has ended up cutting its mission down to a paltry two days – and it has moreover ignored the Narmada movement’s suggestions for villages and sites to visit and instead came up with its own, with a scheduled stop of just one hour in each place….
* But this, according to reports coming in so far, has not gone as the team wanted. In the very first village itself, Piplud, they were mobbed, and were not allowed to leave as they wanted and were instead sat down to listen to the large crowd that had gathered. NBA activists are confident that the same will happen at all the other villages, and even if the team is not going to all the places where they wanted them to go.
* On a personal note, I can say that if the team is human at all, and is willing to keep its eyes and ears open, then they cannot fail to be profoundly moved by even what they are seeing, and even in the short time they are giving it. Along with others, I visited several of the same villages the team is going to, as part of a twenty years’ struggle celebration rally through the Narmada valley conducted by the NBA in November last year (2005). But then, the issue is not ‘human’; it is political.
* At least one and possibly more television crews are there, accompanying the mission and bearing witness. The interest and the support of the mainstream media in this struggle has in fact been extraordinarily strong. No doubt in part because Medha Patkar resorted to a hunger strike, and since it has become a case of a public struggle of will, rather than the issue itself. But media coverage is constant, and extensive – though of the Narmada dharna, not of the Bhopal one, just across the street. At least, so far.
* The condition of Medha and the others in hospital seems stable. As reported earlier, she has refused IV. People who have visited her say that she is mentally strong.
* The condition of the hunger strikers at the site is also okay, for the moment.
* One report has it that Medha today said that the struggle at hand is now no longer only about Narmada and the rehabilitation of those being displaced by the Sardar Sarovar dam, but of all those being displaced in the country; and that this is the time for movements to come together. But normal visitors are not allowed anywhere close to her, so there is no way of checking this right now.
* The dharna site saw visitors all day, and in the evening, a major session of poetry readings.
* On Sunday, April 9, some supporters of the Narmada movement have organised an all-day artists’ day at the dharna site.
* The crowd at the Narmada site continues to spill over onto the roadway, standing all along a 200 ft stretch of footpath; along with television vans, police cars, and so on.
* Few developments on the Bhopal side of the road, though the team continues to meet people in the government and try and find a chink. There is some reason to think that while there is some sympathy for some of the movement’s six demands (see www.bhopal.org and www.bhopal.net ), the Big Block is the demand for banning Dow.
* Trade union federations today held a meeting in Delhi and invited the Bhopal movement in, to present their case.
* The Bhopal dharna organised a performance this evening by Jan Natya Manch, a popular radical street theatre group in Delhi, on the median strip of the road (which very conveniently widens out to become a twenty wide stage in the middle of the road). The Bhopal struggle have also hung big banner posters in Hindi and English, saying
NARMADA AND BHOPAL IN STRUGGLE TOGETHER
* The Bhopal strikers are continuing to get physically and mentally ready for their indefinite hunger strike in support of their demands, starting March 11.
* Even as demolitions of workers’ settlements continue in the city, the Sajha Manch (as reported earlier, a platform for urban dwellers’ and workers’ organisations in Delhi) held a planning meeting today, to chalk out their plans for the next phase of their struggle.