Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th February
This update is both for 25th and 26th Feb. Sent by Michael, a volunteer at the Sambhavna Trust clinic in Bhopal, who has just joined the march
After walking a total of about 21 kilometers today (26th Feb), we have just arrived in a small village called Paakahriya Pura, which has a population of about 600 people. Vikas, Ashfak, and Ismail performed their daily scouting magic and met the village’s Council Head, Mr. Dayal Singh, who has offered us accommodation both in- and outdoors at the local government primary school. He is also giving us firewood, fresh vegetables for tonight’s dinner, and 20 kilos of wheat flour.
As soon as we arrived in the village, people wanted to know more about the Bhopal gas disaster. We considered screening Bhopal Express but there was no power in the village until 10pm and we didn’t think the villagers would show up so late but within 15 minutes of the power coming back (when almost all of us were in bed) more than 100 people turned up at the school ground wanting the movie to be screened. Most of the padyatris slept, a couple stayed up to screen the movie, which ran till 1:00 am. We are running a little behind on our schedule. By the end of today we were supposed to reach Binaganj, but we had to stop 15 km short because our day stop at the Gurudwara was too long. After all it was Sunday.
Watch Bhopal Express on the web right now.
Many people are having a hard time. Blisters and sore joints have made walking very difficult for some padyatris. Last night (25th Feb) we stayed at a nursing home in Biaora. Some people even got to sleep in actual beds. Others slept on the floor. The accommodation was made available by the nursing home’s managing doctor, Farid Sheikh, who is from Bhopal and who was very sympathetic to the padyatra. He not only gave us space to sleep, but he took everyone to a nearby restaurant where we were treated to as much roti, rice, and lentils as we could eat. As if that weren’t generous enough, he then called one of his staff doctors in at 10:30 pm to examine people and perform basic care like bandaging people’s raw and blistered feet. We reached Biaora pretty late at night and our accommodation was another 4 km further on, so we decided to get on the truck to get to our destination in time. In the morning the truck took all of us back 4 km to the same place where it had picked us up last night.
After walking about 7 kilometers in the morning (26th Feb), we came upon a Sikh gurudwara — a temple — where we were offered cots, electricity, water, and a free meal of rice, potato stew, and chowpatty. Dr. Qaiser, Dr. Deshpande, Dr. Jai, and Biju came out all the way from Sambhavna (clinic in Bhopal) in a jeep to help the padyatris with medical problems and basic injuries from all the long distance walking. They took people’s blood pressure, tested their blood sugar, provided ayurvedic and Western medicines, and gave people massages. A local TV station (E-TV) also came to record the march.
We left the gurudwara at 3 p.m. The afternoon’s walk was made difficult by a complete absence of trees. The sun and heat are crushing. In the late afternoon the ground is so hot it almost burns the soles of our feet through our sandals. Many people were having visible trouble walking because of severe blisters and swollen ankles. Everyone is very determined, though, to keep on going and make it to Delhi step by step. We are counting on getting stronger, not weaker, as the days pass.
Water is extremely important, of course. It can be sparse, unavailable for kilometers at a time. Ismail, Vikas, and Ashfak have been doing a great job of keeping people hydrated by scouting down the road ahead of the group to find water, which is usually drawn from wells and hand-pumps. When they find a clean source, they fill buckets and add a powdered mix of electrolytes and sugars to keep the padyatris well hydrated. Vikas, Ismail, and Ashfak scout not just for water but for food, sources of electricity (for this laptop, for instance) places to sleep, places to rest, and places to screen movies with the video projector we brought along.
All along the way, individual marchers have been handing out one-page fliers to anyone and everyone who wants to know what’s going on. Today one of the marchers, Chhoté Khan stopped a bus going to Rajasthan and asked the driver to distribute the fliers on his way. The fliers, which are in Hindi, explain who the marchers are, why they are marching, that we walking all the way to Delhi, and what the demands are. The padyatris also pass out calendars to the local shop owners on the way. The one page calendar contains similar information to the flier but being a calendar everyone wants to have one. This padyatra is about far more than one terrible injustice in one Indian city. It is very much about cutting a trail through India and making connections to other people, face to face, sharing information and ideas, and planting the seeds of new questions all along the way what is happening to India? What kind of a place do people want India to be? What do transnational corporations have to do with the lives of people in villages and towns like these? What concerns and what hopes might people here share with people not just as far away as Bhopal, but in places all over the world? Thus far, people have been quite eager to participate in this exchange.
After walking 14 kilometers, we finally reached our goal of reaching the Ghorapachhar River, which we have just crossed to arrive here in Paakahriya Pura. Ghorapachhar means “knocks down horses” — a reference to the water’s strength and fury. Right now, however, it’s little more than a trickle over a vast bed of rocks. The people here have been very warm and seem delighted that we are here.
Tonight we will cook and eat rice and roti. Shabbir and Nasifa are in charge of food and other logistical details for the night. We have in place a very specific system of responsibility and decision-making. Before the march even started, various small groups of five to ten padyatris chose representatives. There are a total of ten representatives who meet together every day to decide things like how far we will walk, what we will cook, as well as identifying what is working for the padyatra and what is causing us problems.
The 10 representatives have been divided into 5 pairs. Each day and night a different pair is in charge of all practical matters such as organising and cooking meals, laying out blankets, securing cargo in our truck, and helping those who need it at any given time. In fulfilling these responsibilities, each pair has the help of everyone in their constituent teams, for a total of about 10 people. The ten representatives are Shabbir and Nafisa; Shazadi and Ramgopal; Ezaz and a second Nafisa; Nassir Bhai and Kanchan Bai; and Saleem Bhai and Jija Bai. There are five women and five men, so each pair has one woman and one man.
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