Pervez Bari, Bhopal, March 17, 2007
In an early morning swoop five hunger strikers, including four gas survivors – Ms Rashida Bi, Ms Rachna Dhingra, Ms Jabbar Khan, Ms Guddi Bi and Shehzadi Bi, agitating for the four demands of the thousands of survivors of Bhopal gas tragedy, were forcibly picked up by two truckloads of policemen and half a dozen women at about 7 a.m. here today.
The hunger strikers were taken to the Government Hamidia Hospital for medical check-up and forcible feeding which they have refused. They have been detained in the hospital and have not been allowed to meet anyone of the agitating survivors of the 1984 gas tragedy, the world’s worst industrial disaster. Even newsmen were kept at bay and the hospital building was cordoned off from all sides.
However, it was only after much dilly-dallying the district officials allowed only four colleagues of the arrested hunger strikers to meet them. The arrested hunger strikers were found squatting on the ground in the hospital ward refusing to take anything to maintain their fast. The doctors on the prodding of the police officials could not dent the will power of the hunger strikers, sources said.
As the news spread of the arrests of hunger strikers the gas victims began to assemble outside the main entrance of the hospital and raised slogans against the Bharatiya Janata Party ruled Madhya Pradesh government and the Bhopal district administration. The slogans raised included “Shivraj Singh Chouhan (Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister) ho Barbaad, Ho Barbaad”; “Sarkar Hum Se Darti Hai, Police Ko Aage Karti Hai”; “Bolre Bahna Bol, Halla Bol, Halla Bol” etc. as riot policemen stood on the sides as silent spectators.
According to sources a doctor after examining the hunger strikers reportedly told the police officials that they were medically fit and could be allowed to go. However, the police official incharge of the operation reportedly expressed his inability to let them go saying orders from above were to detain them.
Syed Mohammad Irfan, president of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, said that personnel of Madhya Pradesh Police surrounded the venue dragged, lifted and dumped the weak hunger strikers, who were on the 13th day of their indefinite fast, and some of their supporters, who were on “dharna” (sit-in) in police vehicles in an inhuman manner.
Irfan said Ms Rachna Dhingra, one of the hunger striker, was still sleeping when policewomen grabbed her hands and feet to pick her up violently and put in a waiting vehicle. In the process her “kurta” (shirt) was torn up, he added.
They snatched a digital camera and refused to give it back to the owner, and one of the badgeless policemen made unpalatable remarks and allegedly hinted at rape towards two of the women supporters (Pragya and Shalini), a Press release of the NGOs said.
The police have reportedly been ordered to get evacuated Tinshed, the venue of ongoing indefinite hunger strike and “dharna”. The order for the pick-up came from the Collector.
The Bhopal District Collector, B.K. Mishra, admitted to having issued the orders to remove the hunger strikers to hospital, and said charges of attempted suicide may be pressed on the strikers.
Ironically, at least two of the hunger strikers come from an area where people are forced to consume water contaminated by Union Carbide’s poisons due to the government’s refusal to provide clean water. The hunger strikers were on the thirteenth day of an indefinite fast which was launched after 13 days of dharna which began on February 20, marking the anniversary of the 800 kilometre “Padyatra” (foot-march) from Bhopal to Delhi.
In April of last year, the Prime Minister of India conceded to survivors’ demands for clean water, environmental rehabilitation, and economic and medical rehabilitation. Despite the availability of funds with the government for implementation of these demands and the constitution of the Coordination Committee on Bhopal involving the State and Union Government officials and survivor representatives, the State has shown no progress in implementing any of these schemes.
The hunger strike, prompted by the state government’s inaction, underscores the following standing demands of the Bhopal survivors: proper medical care, clean drinking water, containment of toxic wastes, pension for widows and families with congenitally handicapped children and economic rehabilitation in the form of jobs for 10,000 survivors.
Over the last 25 days, international supporters of the Bhopal campaign have sent more than 2000 faxes to the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. More than 400 phone calls have been made to various state government officials. The Union Ministry of Chemicals indicated that the state government has not responded to repeated reminders asking for an update on the progress on commitments made by the State in the meetings of the Coordination Committee on Bhopal. Bhopal survivors have decided to call a nationwide agitation towards the Madhya Pradesh government, and have resolved to not end the strike until their demands are met.
Meanwhile, solidarity fasts by over 10 volunteers with Association for India’s Development and Students for Bhopal are being held in front of the Indian Embassy in Washington DC since yesterday (March 16) in support of the survivors in Bhopal.
The MP government has dragged its feet in fulfilling a Supreme Court of India order to provide clean water and full federal funding for the project. (firstname.lastname@example.org)