Pragya Bhagat, Bhopal, March 18, 2007
After all the developments that took place yesterday, it seems like a week has gone by. In reality, however, it has only been twelve hours since we heard the Collector promise a meeting with the Chief Minister today. The morning at the Tinshed is mellow compared to the hysteria twenty-four hours earlier. There is no news of a meeting with the Chief Minister. The afternoon is spent planning for the demonstration that will take place in a few hours.
At 2 pm, a procession of a hundred survivors marches down from the Aaloo Factory to a T-intersection and forms a circular human chain, blocking traffic at all ends. A few policemen watch from a distance as slogan after slogan is raised into the air; children jump wildly with a zeal only they possess. A garland of dirty sandals graces the shoulders of Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s effigy.
As media persons arrive and enter the circle, they flash their cameras intently. They continue while the effigy catches fire, and the head becomes a charred mush of hay.
The remnants of the effigy are beaten heavily with sticks, the survivors transferring their anger at the Chief Minister into the limp burnt straw. The blocked traffic makes no attempt to disrupt the demonstration. Trucks wait patiently, passerbys stop to observe, and scooters are turned off after failed attempts to wiggle through. The procession ends an hour later, and we are informed of a new development. No, we still have not heard from the Collector. Instead, the policemen that watched the protest have filed a case against ten of the demonstrators for obstructing traffic. Then comes the news we have all been waiting for. There is a meeting with the Collector at 4 pm.
The meeting does not begin until an hour after the expected time. In the concrete-walled claustrophia of the small room, eleven people gather to discuss the future of the survivors. The Collector is already seated as the fasters arrive and sit on the lumpy hospital bed serving as a long chair. Two hours of intense discussion follows- some of the demands, like the implementation of a Drug Policy for gas relief hospitals, are agreed to. Others, like the shipment of the toxic wastes to America or other OECD countries, is vaguely refused. The Collectors responses are peppered with “The government runs on trust” and “We will ensure that it is done.” Meanwhile, he also answers five phone calls, rudely interrupting the fasters while they are speaking. At one point, he is Sir-Yes-Sir-ing quite frequently, indicating that there is a possibility he was talking to Mr. Chauhan himself. At the end of it all, a simple question is raised. When can we meet with the Chief Minister? S.K. Mishra’s scream echoes out to the corridor as he makes himself clear: we can not meet with the Chief Minister. He promised us a meeting with Mr. Chauhan and fulfilled his promise last week. A three minute acknowledgement does not constitute a meeting. “Noooo!” he bellows, while Rachna calmly tells him to lower his voice. “Break your fast,” he insists once again. After much discussion amongst themselves and others via cell phones, the fasters decide that a conclusion would be reached tomorrow afternoon as to whether or not the fast would be broken or not.
As supporters pour into the Psychiatric Ward where the fasters are held prisoners, the police arrive in greater numbers as well. Looks like there are no robberies or murders going on in Bhopal right now; all of the police are being sent here. The man who had made rape threats to the two women supporters is present as well- a certain Mahendra Singh. When he realizes we recognize him and will not let him get away with what he insinuated, he tries to loosen the belt that is choking his potbelly. The immoral intentions of the police are further shown through the actions of Rakesh Sharma. The policeman barks at Jabbar Khan to get a stool and sit next to him. Rachna soon realizes the man is trying to put a case of suicide on them. Once Mr. Sharma sees that the fasters are not going to humor his ploy, he abruptly gets up and left. You know, the first case of suicide was put on Gandhi. He was fighting for freedom. These five fasters, now jailed in a house of healing, are no different.