2010 Delhi Dharna Week 1: Singing and dancing in the rain

“What the Government did not achieve in 26 years was sought to be achieved by a Group of Ministers in four sessions spread over four days. Naturally, their recommendations like before fall far short of addressing the real issues facing the survivors. Seasoned by experience, the Bhopalis know that this promise too like other promises will vanish in thin air unless they do something to remain in public sight long enough to win the real demands and see them fulfilled.” Dharna Blog, Day 1


Enduring India’s infamous monsoon rains, a few hundred Bhopal activists are now just over a week into the dharna (sit-in protest) by the Central Government in Delhi. As the largely ineffective June 7 verdict suggests, most of the Central Government seems unsympathetic towards the ongoing health issues affecting the Bhopal community. So, public action becomes not an expression of political opinion, like many protests in the U.S., but rather a necessary struggle if the health—economic, physical, and spiritual—of Bhopal is to be restored.

More than heavy rains and oozing mud, protesters face what bloggers describe as a hostile city—with the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi this October, the Government is cracking down on anything that could hinder their national image, like protesters or poverty. During the dharna last spring with similar demands, police forced peaceful protesters to evacuate the Jantar Mantar. On Thursday, July 29th, activists filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court challenging the government’s infringement on the right to protest—a key ingredient in any democracy. A talented lawyer supporting the campaigners faced an antagonistic judge on Friday. The case argued supporters’ right to overnight shelter at the Jantar Mantar, or alternative housing and transportation should be provided. If the judge dismisses the case on Monday, the demand will not go unheard; it will be appealed the Supreme Court.

Delhi is abuzz with other political activity in and around the Jantar Mantar, such as demands for 33% of parliamentary positions reserved for women. Unfortunately the police approach political activists at the Jantar Mantar and say condescending slogans like “‘you Common men vacate Jantar Mantar, make way for Common wealth.” Perhaps flexibility is an essential part of activism. The tensions boiled over on the 8th day, when the police forceably relocated over 100 Bhopalis out of the Jantar Mantar, not allowing them to stay over night. The confrontation was documented on the Day 8 Blog.

“We sat on the pavement loudly debating, consulting, calling people and assigning jobs. The traffic went honking by without an apology, without a glance. It is almost as if we were without bodies…Invisible to passers by. Irrelevant and rejected.” Dharna Blog, Day 2

The dharna site itself seems to be undulating between political frenzy and gradual coalition building. Highlights of this past week included growing support from Ram Vilas Paswan and increased youth outreach. Mr. Paswan, former Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, was an active member of the 2008 Group of Ministers, which recommended establishing an Empowered Commission on Bhopal as survivors requested. Following his meeting with leading activists Rachna and Salina this past Wednesday, Paswan showed his continuing support when he visited the dharna on Day 5 (2-Aug). During his visit he heard second-generation survivor Sana’s story, a story which is all too common. Sana and her family traveled from Bhopal to Delhi seeking medical treatment for her tumor that grew after drinking contaminated water, and is now is blocking her wind pipe, but the family was unable to afford it. Moved by Sana’s story, Paswan took it upon himself to support medical care for the young Bhopali. In the next week, look out for a 30 minute media special on Sana’s story, which represents the story of many Bhopali children who lack the resources for treatment.

In addition to photography displays and posters in the streets to garner public support, Bhopal activists have begun Delhi school outreach. Led by Bhopalis Rafat, Yasmeen, Komal, and other representatives from Children Against Dow Carbide, activists have presented the issues facing the Bhopal community since 1984 for approximately 250 children in two different schools so far. The activists encouraged children to take action in Delhi, because their generation is heavily affected by second generation health issues and groundwater contamination in Bhopal.

Indian Ocean, a Delhi-based contemporary fusion band, has generously offered to put on a benefit concert for the dharna. Check out this melodic song by Indian Ocean.

Let your support shine, get involved!

You may feel far away from the dharna, whether you are 100km away or on the other side of the planet. Here are a few ideas for how you can get connected to the struggle in Delhi:

* Please make a much-needed donation to the dharna. Activists in Delhi need roughly 100 rupees ($2 USD) per person for food and shelter, so a little can go a long way. If you are able, please make a tax-deductible donation to the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal here. Write “August dharna” in the donation’s comment line.

* Stay up to date on the blog, a writing and photography project depicting the dharna, led by Garima, Kaveri, and Nity. Bloggers have been producing descriptions that will take you straight to the streets of Delhi, if you’re far away, it might just fulfill your nostalgia for India’s colorful culture.

* Be the first one to hear the news: set your Google news alerts for “Bhopal” news.

* Check your email for calls to action, such as fax or call-in actions to government officials. These international actions are powerful! The Central Government’s response to the upcoming Common Wealth Games shows that they are concerned for India’s image to international eyes.

* Have connections to an organization concerned with children’s rights? An International Children’s Day of Action is a day of action in progress; it will most likely take place in a couple of weeks. The idea is to have children present symbolic crafts (such as origami) to Indian consulates and embassies. Share your connection with U.S. Campaign Coordinator, Shana (shana@panna.org).

Thank you for your continued support. Our thoughts are with Bhopal activists as they face tirelessly rain, heat, humidity in Delhi.

In Solidarity,
Claire Rosenfeld (ICJB Advisory Board member)
& Shana Ortman (ICJB U.S. Coordinator)

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