Dharna week 2: interesting days on the Delhi pavements

A rollercoaster of a week played out in the heat and humidity of Delhi this past week at the dharna, a protest demanding compensation, medical care, legal action, and site remediation. This past week, Bhopal activists at the dharna have struggled with discrimination and abuse from the police. On the other hand, a positive meeting took place between Bhopal supporters and the Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Please find below a timeline briefing this week’s events, as well as future events. Remember that the full blog (www.studentsforbhopal.net/2010dharna) postings from talented writers, Shalini and Kaveri.

August 1, Day 7 http://studentsforbhopal.org/node/815
Shauk lagta hai kya yahaan aane ki? Maange puri ho tho kahe aa jayein?
Do people think we take pleasure in coming here [to sit at the dharna]? If our demands were met why would we be here?
– Tulsabai, dharna participant

The dharna sthal continues to face rainy whether. Asmita Theatre Group, a theatre group comprised of young working professionals, visit the dharna at noon. They perform their current work-in-progress, a play depicting the Bhopal tragedy. Bhopalis warmly receive them, and give them much appreciated feedback and share their survivor stories. The play will be performed in weeks to come on the streets of Delhi (OR ELSEWHERE?).

At the Jantar Mantar., India’s conservative political party, the BJP, sets up a neighboring exhibition. Bhopal supporters contact the police station to inquire if the BJP camp will be allowed to occupy the Jantar Mantar overnight. The police deny giving any permission to stay overnight or leave their materials at the venue for the night. As always, the dharna sthal had to clear out at 5pm; it appeared that the BJP camp didn’t budge.

August 2, Day 8 http://studentsforbhopal.org/node/816
Dragged as we sat, and then hauled up by each limb, I heard them insult us…one policewoman said, “you are padha likha (educated). You should know better,” as if protest was only something that the uneducated engaged in, as if the educated should know there is nothing to protest.

Armed with enthusiasm and determination, 150 fresh Bhopalis arrive at the dharna. Former Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Ram Vila Paswan, and leading activist Rachna, accompanied 8-year-old second-generation survivor Sana to AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) to diagnosis her throat tumor and schedule her long-overdue treatment.

Meanwhile, the BJP camp “took the Bhopal issue in Jantar Mantar and turned it into an unbelievable display of crass opportunism…[the BJP] proclaimed the failure of the Congress in dealing with the Bhopal issue” (Dharna Blog). Oddly, the media and government officials drew toward the BJP display rather than the survivors themselves next door at the dharna. Finally the Madhya Pradesh BJP President sought out leading activists Rachna and Sathyu (Satinath), to hear the survivors’ position. Hopefully the President will represent the truer position at the upcoming Parliament debate this Wednesday, August 11.

As the evening drew to a close, the BJP party shows no sign of packing up for the night. Frustrated by such differential treatment, the dharna participants lock arms, raise their voices in chants, and refuse to leave. A furry of police mistreatment unfolds as they forcefully evict dharna protestors; police drag a handful of supporters to the Parliament Street Police Station, where they were released later that evening, and belongs were lost in the chaos, including Sana’s precious medical documents.

August 3, Day 9 http://studentsforbhopal.org/node/824

The oppressive humidity of the last few days was offset today by a cool breeze, making the Bhopal dharna sthal positively enjoyable today. Much exchanging of notes about losses, bruises and confusion from our eviction by the police last night took place.

The BJP camp continues to use disturbing photographs and poetry about the disaster’s aftermath in an exploitive manner, to show the inefficiency of the Congress party. How enraging, to be a survivor of the gas tragedy protesting at the Jantar Mantar, next door to a party which uses your personal tragedy for political leverage.

In spite of these frustrations, determined young and old alike march on with dharna. 200-300 inquisitive students from 2 Delhi schools, Tagore International and Bluebells, warmly receive presentations 3 young women representing Children Against Dow Carbide.

August 4, Day 10 http://studentsforbhopal.org/node/825

Until sunset we sat, a small group of mostly gas and water affected people, discussing the overt imperialism of the British vs. the covert imperialism of today; discussing whether parties were at fault, or whether the way the entire sarkar [colloquially, people in authority] is run is at fault; discussing how we can be the sarkar, the government, how everyone can be the sarkar.

Activists dedicate their energy towards reassembling Sana’s medical documents, which were lost in the police raid. Later, Ram Vilas Paswan and Arun Paswan join activists supporting the young Bhopali’s treatment. Together they spend the day waiting in the “glacially slow” line of people seeking medical attention at AIIMS.

The team of young ladies from Children Against Dow Carbide give yet another presentation for grades 9-12 at the New Era school. Overall, today is a positive, solidarity-building day.

August 5, Day 11

NEERI conducted a limited sampling campaign that was compromised and did not present analytical results for key contaminants of concern. Despite acknowledging the contamination found by previous investigations, NEERI did not follow-up these leads. Where groundwater contamination was detected, no explanation or theories were offered as to the source of this contamination… the current site assessment can only regarded as preliminary to a complete site investigation conducted to the highest international standards.
– Technical Review of NEERI & NGRI Reports

The morning begins once again with educational outreach at St Mary’s School by Rachna, Yasmeen and Safreen, from Children Against Dow Carbide.

Today’s notable event is a meeting between Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, and Bhopal supporters. Representing the Bhopalis’ struggle were ICJB leaders Sathyu and Rachna and lawyers representing survivor groups — Avinendra (Delhi & Madhya Pradesh High Courts) and Karuna (Delhi Supreme Court). In the meeting, activists and lawyers presented Ramesh with their set of demands, and outlined a remediation plan. Ramesh agreed to read and review the survivor groups’ critical analysis of the faulty contamination reports written by government agencies the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI). Also, he pointed out that for him to be able to consider the offer of technical and financial resources from the EU, there has to be a formal communication from the EU to the Government of India. What exists at this point is a resolution from EU parliamentarians on the subject.

This Week and Beyond: A Sneak Peek

August 10
Children’s Day of Action, Delhi. Second-generation birth defects and exposure to remaining toxins has unjustly compromised thousands of youth in Bhopal. School children in Delhi, who’s interest in the Bhopal issues have recently grown because of educational outreach, will join Bhopali children in activism this Tuesday. Affected or concerned children will make origami crows to deliver to Prime Minister Singh, and a symbolic request for his attention to the ongoing issues that Bhopal struggles with.

August 11
A debate on Bhopal is scheduled to take place in Parliament.

August 24
International Day of Action. Worldwide, Bhopal supporters will receive instructions to create origami crows, an important symbol in Indian culture. These crows will find their way to the doorsteps of Indian embassies and consulates, via mail or better yet hand delivered. Keep an eye out for more details regarding this event.

August 27
Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh predicts that an oversight committee will publicize a critical assessment of June’s faulty reports on groundwater contamination by NEERI & NGRI agencies. The critique will be open to comments.

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