THE TELEGRAPH, CALCUTTA – OUR CORRESPONDENT
New Delhi, April 6:
Protests have a pecking order, as Delhi has shown in recent days.
First there was the outrage over the acquittal of all the accused in the Jessica Lal murder. Designers, celebrities like Nafisa Ali and students from Delhi’s colleges took out a candlelight march as the incident touched a raw nerve in middle-class drawing rooms going up to the hallowed precincts of 10 Janpath.
It was the mother of all recent protests in Delhi because of the spontaneity. The nature of the protest — a candlelight march — spoke for the character of the crowd. Jessica is the daughter any upper middle-class home might have had. Students who marched for Jessica identified with her.
Such was the urban groundswell of feeling that Delhi police, which couldn’t come up with enough evidence earlier, did a complete turnaround to demand the case be reopened.
Before memories of the Jessica march had faded with the dying light of the candles, Medha Patkar descended on Delhi with activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan to seek rehabilitation for 30,000 families that were being displaced with the rise in the Sardar Sarovar dam height.
She began with a sit-in in front of Shram Shakti Bhavan on Parliament Street, from where she and her fellow protesters were chased away. It is not that Patkar didn’t attract any attention at the time because the Prime Minister did meet her and promised to consider her demand. Delhi wasn’t to be bothered about 30,000 families in some remote area of Madhya Pradesh.
Around that time, a dozen people had walked 800 kilometres, Gandhi-style, from Bhopal to Delhi. They are all survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy asking for Dow Chemicals, the current owners of Union Carbide, to pay for the clean-up of Bhopal, among other things.
Since March 25, they have been trying to meet someone high-up in government to put forth their demands without luck. They too have been demonstrating at Jantar Mantar, which last night saw high drama as a fasting Medha Patkar and her supporters were whisked away by police.
The Bhopal dozen hadn’t caused even a flutter on the scale of public attention.
Nityanand Jayaraman, a volunteer with the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal who marched with the victims, said Prithviraj Chavan, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, had informed them that Manmohan Singh would not be able to give them time.
“He also indicated that the Prime Minister is not sure what he has to offer us,” said Jayaraman.
The Prime Minister’s Office refused comment.
If the march for Jessica was the first in the protest pecking order, Patkar’s fasting should qualify as the second and the Bhopal victims’ demonstration as a distant third — 800 km behind.
On the scale of suffering, it will be cruel to say whose was the worst because the nature of the tragedies are very different.
As an increasingly frail Patkar lay at Jantar Mantar on her hunger strike, a method of protest again borrowed from Gandhi, the crowd that gathered around her consisted of social activists, students, academics — what Delhi calls “the JNU (Jawahar Lal Nehru University) types”. Not quite the same as the Jessica marchers.
Although by way of grabbing eyeballs, the Bhopalis were no match for Patkar’s group, they too received a few butts of the baton when the police rounded the Narmada activists up last night.
[Bhopal.net comment: The Calcutta Telegraph, if it chooses to portray these protests as a kind of horse race, might at least try to get its facts straight. The number of people who walked from Bhopal was near fifty, not a dozen. They represent thousands more, and the Bhopal protest has yet to begin in earnest. The Bhopalis and the Narmadans are not in a contest, rather each group supports the other. Bhopalis went to the defence of the Narmadans the other night, every day Bhopali padyatris are sitting in the Narmada hunger strike to take the places of Medha and those who were abducted by the police. In pointing out that three protests have happened so close together in the capital, it does not seem to have occurred to the Telegraph that this highlights a rottenness in the governance of India, a descent into corruption and malpractice that mocks the high ideals of Gandhiji and the hopes of fifty years ago. There is a simple unifying thread linking all these protests, it is anger and disgust that in all three cases RICH KILLERS GO FREE.]