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Day 34: Saturday – March 25, 2006
We crossed the Haryana border into Delhi within an hour of beginning to walk from Faridabad this morning. The border patrol asked for an entry tax of Rs. 550. We told them they could choose between Rs. 50 or nothing at all. Rs. 50 it was. And with that we proudly marched into Delhi, amidst the most formidable flow of traffic we had seen during the whole padyatra.
We took up the far left lane of the road, amidst hundreds of bicycle commuters and buses packed with people hanging out of every opening. As there were few other pedestrians, we ended up handing out fliers mostly to people in the windows of these buses.
This highway corridor, Mathura Road, houses manufacturing plants of some of the biggest companies in India and the world – Yamaha, Escorts, JCB, Bhartia, Orient Fans, etc. However, looking at the lack of sanitation and dumping of the industrial waste on the side of the highways and public spaces told a shameful story. Nity, having joined the padyatra from Chennai via Delhi, was giving a running commentary on the type of waste passing by and its resulting health ailments.
Suddenly, a half-filled plastic water bottle comes flying out of a bus and lands on the shoulder of the road beside us. Instinctively, I picked it up to dispose later in a more appropriate manner. Nity amused at my idealistic behaviour remarked, “You realise that there probably is no better place to dump that bottle than here.” Of course, seeing piles of discarded asbestos and toxic sludge around, a plastic bottle is least of the worries.
A shrine in the middle of the highway
Although it was still fairly early, the heat was blistering, suddenly Munni Bai slumped to the ground.
Thankfully after a few minutes rest and some water, she was recovered and we carried on.
At about 9:30 a.m., we arrived at the Pandit Cis Ram Park just a few blocks away from Mathura Road. The park was a group of manicured gardens with fresh lawns, flowers, trees, and benches, and most people ended up falling sleep in patches of shade.
Lilabai gathers a bouquet, then says “here, you have them”
After a few hours, lunch was given to us by union leaders.
We still had a few more kilometers to walk in the afternoon. Traffic thickened and intensified as we proceeded further into the city. Rachna and Sathyu led the slogans calling, hum sub ek hain (We are all one) and saaf paani laana hai, paidal dilli jaana hai.
If we want clean drinking water
We’ll have to walk to Delhi, daughter
We occupied a single lane on the highway, and got a variety of looks as we handed out the leaflets to vehicles and people passing. The looks ranged from frustration to admiration. One man asked me in an incredulous tone – kyaa aap sachmuch bhopal se paidal aayen hain? (have you really come on foot from Bhopal)? When we told him we had, his stunned look of admiration spoke volumes.
We were welcomed by and presented with 1200+ signatures from the citizens of Delhi, three banners signed by students to express unity with the cause, and many dignitaries wanting to salute the resolve and determination of the padyatris. These include Arundhati Roy, Union Minister for Urban Development Jaipal Reddy, D. Raja (CPI), representatives from AITUC, CITU, HMS and NTUI, Lok Sabha MP Sandeep Dixit, student union leaders from JNU, and representatives of non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace.
We were greeted by a large crowd of people at about 4 p.m. at a large park near Humayun’s Tomb on the south side of Delhi. Garlands of flowers were enthusiastically draped over all the marchers’ necks and the crowd of everyone together alternated between cheers, chants, and songs before a large collection of journalists and video cameras.
The padyatris then were able to look at an exhibition that had been prepared of photos taken on the march.
Everyone was served a special drink made from yogurt, peppers, and spices, several passionate speeches were made by both padyatris as well as supporters. After some time, one group of supporters put on a fantastically prepared play with a cast of about five people playing the roles of G.W. Bush and leaders of India.
The mini-drama blasted Bush and the Indian leadership that bends over backwards to accommodate his awful agenda and the army of transnational corporate monsters he represents. The dialogue was extremely clever and funny and the whole crowd was laughing throughout the performance.
At the end of the day but well before sunset, we arrived at the nearby Bharat Scouts and Leaders Camp, the exact place where marchers on the first padyatra stayed in 1989. It is a campus with modest accommodations in metal bunks in concrete huts. Attached to the door was this sign:
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