Day 1: from Bhopal to Gandhi Nagar. "We will fight, we will win!"

Monday 20th February
Monday, 20 February 2006
Just before noon hundreds of people gathered at the statue of the Mother & Child (the memorial opposite the abandoned Union Carbide factory) to see us padyatris (marchers) begin the long walk to Delhi. Many family members were crying as they hugged their loved ones and said goodbye.
The families of the padyatris were there to see them off
Several gas and contamination affected parents brought a group of very
young children with birth defects and growth abnormalities to give the
padyatris their good wishes and to give the march energy and
inspiration for the long and difficult journey ahead. It was for
them, the children were told, that we are marching — for their health
and their future.
Several padyatris are currently ill, many are very old, most have
little with them but a pair of sandals and a few clothes, and every
one of them is embarking on the long walk at great personal risk and
sacrifice. The energy and excitement, however, was palpable.
Children watch as the marchers depart
We began our walk at 1 pm amidst lots of media attention, moving off at a slow pace while people crowded round us garlanding us with roses and marigolds and giving us sweets.
Slowly we moved all several of Bhopal’s main thoroughfares before heading out of the city. Local and national media conducted many interviews and shot a lot of footage. Police presence was high but non-threatening.
Ganesh Prasad, 73 years old, is the oldest padyatri
All the padyatris were extremely spirited and energetic. “Ladenge!
Jeetenge!” the crowd shouted again and again — “we will fight! we
will prevail!”
Just when we thought we could carry no more garlands, the women from the Stationery Workers trade union came into view. They were waiting at the bus stand crossing, and showered us with rose petals.
These women too were crying as they hugged Champa Devi. They had all walked to New Delhi in 1989 and knew what lay in store for their didi (elder sister). An account of the 1989 walk may be read here.
Shahazadi Bee, Champa didi, Nafeesa Bee, Kanchan Bai and other women leading the march chanted slogans:
pradhaan mantree ko bataana hai
paidal dilli janaa hai

if to the PM we’re to talk
to Delhi we will have to walk
saaf paanee laana hai
paidal dilli jaanaa hai

if we want to get clean water
we’ll have to walk to Delhi, daughter
kaatil ko sazaa dilaanaa hai
paidal dilli jaanaa hai

to force the killers to stand trial
we must walk to Delhi mile on mile
They kept this up all the way [5 kilometers] to the Collector’s office where much ruckus was made. Our loudspeaker-truck [complete with big boards illustrating the six demands] cursed the collector and the MP government for not making any arrangements for drinking water and emergency medical care to accompany us.
We stopped at a small village called Shingarcholi for a late light lunch of aloo-puree [potatoes and fried bread]. The water in the village hand pump was cool and tasty.
By six, just as the sun was going down, we were at the Gandhi Nagar government school where the local people had organised a reception in the school grounds.
We were to sleep in the open ground under the night sky. We had done our first 13 kilometers and many were rather tired. In no time at all Chhoté Khan and Nafeesa Bee with help from four others prepared a splendid meal of rice and daal over a wood fire.
After dinner we had a meeting of the representatives chosen by the padyatris by common agreement. We talked about next day’s schedule and many practical matters all of which got sorted in surprisingly short time.
Everyone slept under the stars. We woke at about 4 am to get a head start on the day and beat the sun, and local people cooked breakfast for everyone. Today’s walk will be much longer — it is 30 kilometers to Duraha, the next town on the route of the padyatra.
Back to padyatra index page

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