More than 30 people came to the protest outside the Indian Embassy on Friday, some from as far away as Boston, Michigan, Alabama and North Carolina. The protest was loud, long and awesome. As you can see from the photos on the front page of aidindia.org (you may have to change the numbers of the photos manually in the address bar; my favorite is Somu in #2) we had many fantastic posters and enthusiastic protestors. Greenpeace loaned us their replica of the fleeing mother and child memorial in Bhopal, and together with the statue of Gandhi in front of the embassy it lent a powerful statement of outrage and dignity to the demonstration.
It all began with a 3-block march from Dupont Circle, led by a motorcade of three policemen on motorcycles; shortly after we arrived we were surprised to see the ambassador himself, accompanied by well-dressed attendants, leaving the embassy and getting into his vehicle; before he did so he cast several long (and fearful?) glances over his shoulder at the noisy crowd. After the Ambassador fled we went inside for our appointment with the Minister of Economic affairs, still disappointed that our tentative appointment with the Deputy Chief of Mission had been cancelled the day before. You can imagine our surprise when not only were we then not allowed to meet with the Minister – instead we met with someone far lower on the totem pole – but we were not even allowed to meet inside! Instead we were forced onto the sidewalk outside and shadowed by a heavy contingent of Secret Service during our conversation. The conversation itself was disappointing: this fellow (he’s not really worthy of a name) was there, he made clear, to accept “a memorandum” only, and not to comment. He had nothing to say about the Indian Government and its response to the March, in fact, though he feigned background knowledge, he knew nothing. Imagine a stone, and imagine how much it might comprehend of Bhopal, and it might be an accurate analogy if it was a particularly small stone.
As you can imagine this was very disappointing, and it symbolizes the Indian Government’s response to Bhopal these past twenty years: that Bhopal is not a priority; that they need not do anything, or pay any attention; that they can insult and spurn and systematically and coldly ignore the concerns of the survivors and the survivors themselves. We were appalled that our delegation, this movement, the March to Delhi and the survivors’ demands to clean water, justice and a life of dignity were treated with such derision and scorn.
Nevertheless Mr. Know-nothing was treated to more than an earful of moral outrage and indignation from Nirveek of AID-JHU, and a full recital of the survivors demands and explanation from our very own and amazing Aquene. Ryan also participated, but mostly spent his time fixing the fool with his evil eye.
Adr!ane, Somnath, and Sherry also led the chants and kept the crowd fired up while we met, keeping the roar of Bhopal outrage echoing outside the building, such that we saw faces peeking from behind the curtains in high windows. Aquene wrote many of the chants, which were brilliant, and she finished the rally with a long and powerful explanation of the survivors demands and the reasons why they must be met. Dr. Bhagat too contributed his wisdom, and Sekhar handled the media – just one of the many jobs he performed efficiently and excellently in organizing the demonstration. And final thanks are due to Adr!ane, who thought of the thing and guided the planning process with vision and skill.
On Friday we embarrassed the Government; our demonstration made the ambassador flee and made the embassy windows rattle. Our chants are echoing in their heads and they will not soon forget our demands or the determination and passion of those who stand with the Bhopalis in their campaign for justice.
Coordinator, Students for Bhopal