Pragya Bhagat, Bhopal, March 16, 2007
Watching people die is not the hardest thing in life. Being a victim of bureaucratic power games is not the hardest thing in life. Losing your family to needless violence is not the hardest thing in life. The hardest thing is driving from your home to work, and driving from work to your home.
Parnab Mukherjee, a theatre activist, performed the street play he had shown at the meeting yesterday. Today he was surrounded by those eating Chocobars and Creamsicles at the Top N’ Town near the Tinshed. He stuffed a red ribbon in his mouth, then slowly, smoothly rolled it back out. This was the blood of innocent men, women, and children. This was the pain sufferd by countless people just because they wanted to protect their farms from becoming toxin-infested factory grounds. All eyes were fixed on his lone figure as he continued to reveal his hidden props- a magnifying glass, brown tape, a face mask, and a hand whose exterior bore an uncanny resemblance to withered flesh. He slid this hand down his face, across the effigy of Buddhadev Bhattacharjee. As Parnab cited the words of Tagore, the crowd watched transfixed. As soon as he had picked up the last of his props and acknowledged the conclusion of his performance with a nod, the crowd broke into a thunderous applause.
A procession went down the street to Roshanpura. Two volunteers from Yuva Samwad led the way with a white banner that had just been graffitti-ed with words of support, anger, and disbelief. Why Nandigram? CPM = Murderers. The bold words screamed loudly from the white fabric they lay on. The effigy was dragged along the street, his white kurta pajama splattered symbolically with the blood of those he is responsible for killing. Rashida Bi lit the edge of his tunic with a match; the small flame quickly grew as the cloth peeled off his straw-packed body. Within a minute, the white he wore was replaced with a charcoal black, a few strands of hay glowing dimly. As we took the procession down to the Tinshed, one only had to look back to see that the sweeper was sending Buddhadev- rather what remained of him- to his rightful home: the gutter.
The evening is spent doing the mundane tasks that constitute living at the Tinshed- cleaning, cooking, sweeping. Then comes the news that the Superintendent District Magistrate and the Additional District Magistrate are coming. Keep the camera ready.
They arrive with somber expressions and a paper in their hand.This is what the government is willing to do. As Sathyu reads out the note, the survivors snicker at the mockery that had been made of their demands. Regarding one item in particular, the paper reads “Go to the Revenue Department.” Why would we go to the Revenue Department if a Ministry of Gas Relief already exists? The note speaks of one postponement after another.
“We believe dialogue should go on. This is a start,” they say.
“We encourage dialogue,” Sathyu replies, “but on one condition- that we will not be forcibly removed and hospitalized.”
A heated discussion follows, and ends with the ADM giving his word that the fasters would not be removed while this dialogue is taking place.
“Give us a reply to this note, and we will continue this discussion.”
Just when the situation starts to show promise, the ADM extends his hand out.
“Give me the note.”
He is taking it back? How do we prepare a reply to a note we do not have?
“It is my paper,” he retorts, ” I would like it back.” Wait, let us at least make a photocopy of it.
The ADM is adamant. “No, we will make the Xerox, and we will decide if it is okay to give it to you.”
There is a limit to being ridiculous, and this is far beyond that limit. The Collector has the nerve to call owners of newspapers like the Raj Express and force their journalists to cover “The Missing Six” by coming to the Tinshed after midnight. Outrageous does not even begin to describe the situation.
The calls and faxes must be working, because these “important people” have started paying attention again.