Pragya Bhagat, Bhopal, March 7, 2007
When asked why he brings the police with him during check-ups, Dr. Praday says it is for our own protection. “Look,” he explains, “you are going on a hunger strike against the government. But this government wants to make sure you are safe and your life isn’t in danger. I haven’t brought the police here- they have brought me to make sure your people are okay.” So no life is in danger? According to Dr. Praday, “not at all.” The presence of ketone bodies in the blood of Shehzadi Bi, Guddi Bi, Sathyu, and Rachna speak otherwise.
Low blood glucose levels are the least of their worries. Policemen stop by multiple times to deliver notices from politicians. These khaki-clad men and women are messengers from the government, puppets of bureaucratic hypocrisy. Instead of protecting the people that need them, they guard the ones that feed them. Babulal Gaur would like to meet with you. You mean the minister in-charge of gas relief? This is the man on whose wrists rakhis were tied by women survivors. Fulfill your duty as our brother; give us clean water. Protect us. He promised he would. Three months later these women went to his house to ask why he hadn’t kept his promise, and he filed criminal cases against them. This is the man we made our brother. This is the man that supposedly wants to help us. Babulal Gaur, you have shown your true colors to the women of Bhopal; the only thing you are good for is making false promises.
Meanwhile, it is Day 3 of the indefinite fast. People are keeping their spirits high while the fasters’ faces have assumed a sallow complexion due to lack of nutrient intake. In the past three days, the six fasters have lost a total of thirteen kilograms of weight. Their blood sugar levels have decreased from 11 mg/dl to 34 mg/dl. Normal blood sugar should fall in the range of 75-120 mg/dl, yet some fasters’ levels have alarmingly dropped to the mid-60s. Their stomachs scream for food, while their hearts beat even louder for justice.
Their demands reverberate not only at the Tinshed, but on the streets of Old Bhopal as well. A procession of women marches down to the congested Bus Stand. Clean water, pension, employment, proper medical care, containment of poisonous waste…How many times must they voice their needs before someone hears them? The women angrily burn down an effigy of Shivraj Singh Chauhan; the dry straw greedily licks the flames as the effigy falls on the road. These women deserve the right to live- for themselves and for the ones they care for.
Shehzadi Bi wants to live for her family, for her children and grandchildren that shower her with love during their visit. Her granddaughter, Rehnuma, glues herself to Shehzadi’s bosom for three hours while Shehzadi’s daughter-in-law helps prepare dinner. When it is time to go, Rehnuma does not want to leaver her grandmother’s presence; after much cajoling she is carried away. Rehnuma bawls loudly, shedding tears by the cupful as she walks away, turning her head often to see her grandmother looking back at her. Shehzadi Bi’s eyes are overflowing with sadness, asking the question that plagues everyone’s mind- when will it all end?
The answer lies in the hands of those who have been elected time and time again. Now it’s time for them to put their decision-making powers to good use. At last, there is a lukewarm response from the government- not from Chauhan, but from Ram Vilas Paswan whom the Bhopalis met in Bombay while protesting at the IndiaChem 2006 conference. The Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers and Steel tells Sathyu that he will call the Chief Secretary of Madhya Pradesh, R.C. Sahani. He also promises to call the Prime Minster, Manmohan Singh. He mentions that the Secretary and Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Chemicals are also frustrated with the Madhya Pradesh government’s refusal to be reasonable. People in high places are claiming they will help us; it is only a step towards the goal we strive for- getting Shivraj Singh Chauhan to give us what every human being should have.
This goal was never an easy one, but with the support of people throughout the world, it is definitely more of a reality than it was yesterday. Five hundred and ninety-one faxes sent and counting…Calls are being received from people thousands of miles away as supporters refuse to forget the tragedy of 1984. Thousands lost their lives, and a few survived to tell the tale of unspeakable horror. Why can’t the Madhya Pradesh government cooperate and heed their pleas? That is the million-dollar-question we are looking at Mr. Chauhan to answer.