Pragya Bhagat,Bhopal, March 17,2007
The “13” was being safety pinned to the Right to Live banner as two truckloads of police screeched to a halt in front of our tent. People were still rubbing their tired eyes when they were surrounded by the fifty policemen. Rachna was sleeping as one policeman grabbed her arms while another clutched her legs; she screamed with opposition at the force that was being thrust upon her. Five of the hunger strikers were brutally shoved into the back of the trucks; even some of the supporters including nine year-old Yasmeen were pushed into the clammy wooden benches, only to be thrown back out after loud protests that claimed she was not one of the fasters. Yasmeen was safe for now, but a few others like Munir were forced into going with the hunger strikers. A digital camera was snatched from the hands of one of the supporters. “I take personal responsibility for getting it back to you,” promised the Superintendent of Police, Anant Kumar Singh. A few minutes later, he proceeded to drive away. Cell phones were taken without reason, names and addresses randomly noted, and an effort to instill fear in the protestors’ minds was in full swing. But the slogans became louder, more angry, more fierce.
Shivraj Hamse Darta Hai!
Police Ko Aage Karta Hai!
The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh refuses to come himself and sends fifty policemen to arrest the five fasters instead. An hour later, some of the police had left with the fasters while others remained. They still had the camera. After being convinced that it did not have voice recording or movie taking capabilities, it was handed back to its owner, but not before the police decided to have some fun. “That play at the Top N’ Town yesterday, what was it about again?” [Nandigram.] “No, they were trying to show something,” said one of the men who was not wearing a badge. “You know na…if it happens here, what will you do?” He exchanged large grins with another policeman. “What was it called which the actor was saying goes in…” They were clearly talking about the rape scene that had been theatrically enacted as a common occurrence in the recent killings in Nandigram. Another policeman was a bit more cautious. “Don’t say it, man. They could have a voice recorder.”
Was that a threat? It sure sounded like it.
The few protestors that remained were told by the police to clear the Tinshed. You can make us leave this tent, but we will not break the fast. You can force feed us, but then more people will sit on the hunger strike. You can coerce our bodies, but you can not control our determined minds.
Within hours of the fasters being picked up calls flooded into the phones of those responsible for the arrests. Messages came in every few seconds from all over the world as the fasters were trapped on the third floor of Hamidia Hospital. The fasters are safe, they have not broken their fast and the doctors are being cooperative in that they will not be placed on a glucose drip without their consent. News is bouncing back and forth, from one receiver to another as the hours rush by. Hamidia Hospital’s Administration begins to get calls from supporters demanding that the 5 fasters not be isolated and hundreds of supporters that are protesting outside the hospital are not allowed to visit the fasters, nor is the media allowed to cover what is occurring in the confines of the four walls of Hamidia Hospital. Evening quickly approaches as updates are sent in by the minute. The news is not good. The hunger strikers are tied down by lock-and-chain, denied change of clothing and access to phones, even though they are not under judicial custody. At least fifteen policemen are monitoring them at all times; some have the gall to hurl insults and rude comments at the individuals who have not eaten for thirteen days. This needs to stop. Now!
The Collector is fed up. With the volume of calls he gets every minute and the fasters still fasting, he is on the edge of his sanity. We will have a meeting with the government tomorrow, he promises. Break your fast. The hunger strikers reply with the stand they have held for twenty-six days. We will fast until our demands are met. This is perseverance.