Today our dharna took a dramatic turn as a fresh batch of around 150 people came in from Bhopal, fresh with determination and strength. Some like Bano Aapa, were returning, having been in the first group that inaugurated this dharna on July 26. This group joined some people who had stayed overnight even as most of their companions returned, such as little 8 year old Sana, with a tumor in her throat, and her family. In the morning, Rachna went with this family back to AIIMS, where with the help of Ram Vilas Paswan, an attempt was made to diagnose her and schedule further appointments as soon as possible for treatment. Currently, it appears her treatment might only go forward in November, but we are hoping that something can happen sooner than that.
In the afternoon, the BJP took the Bhopal issue in Jantar Mantar and turned it into an unbelievable display of crass opportunism. A large, fancy cardboard structure proclaimed the failure of the Congress in dealing with the Bhopal issue, and an exhibit, with large glossy black and white photos and text, explained the gas tragedy. Meanwhile, none of the BJP MPs who visited the site, Sushma Swaraj included, seemed to notice the actual people from Bhopal right next to their display, even though several party functionaries had parked their cars right next to our dharna sthal. A press person seemed to notice this odd fact, and it was perhaps through that intervention that the BJP realized their mistake, and sent over the Madhya Pradesh party president to talk to Rachna and Sathyu. We gave him a list of relevant questions to ask in the parliament, and can only hope these questions will be raised!
In the evening, as we prepared to wrap up at 5 pm, the BJP display, built on a rather solid structure, showed no signs of closing up for the night. So we stayed, delaying our departure, somewhat curious, and just like yesterday, they seemed to feel no compunction to leave in the way the rest of the political groups at Jantar Mantar did. So we pointed this out to the police, and had a discussion about how the actual people of Bhopal were being kicked out of Jantar Mantar, made to travel daily to a far away location to sleep and pay for transportation, while displays about Bhopal to score cheap political points were left up for display. And we decided to stay in Jantar Mantar tonight. Everyone felt strongly about this.
Initially, the police attempted extended negotiations with Rachna and Sathyu, suggesting various alternative locations, to which they pointed out that we were being made to essentially pay for transportation, or for lodging, which were not trivial costs for such large numbers of people. The police suggested we go to Ramlila Maidan grounds, and walk from there daily. Sathyu reminded them that walking such distances might be easy for them, the police, but is not that easy for survivors of such toxic poison. Rachna also told them that this refusal to let groups spend the night at Jantar Mantar has effectively killed sustained campaigns of public protest by anyone coming in from outside Delhi. When the police said they could not work out anything to help us, we sat down in our place. Everyone began songs and chants, like “Saaf pani humko dena hoga!” (You will have to give us clean water) and “Hum yahaan se nahi hatenge!” (We will not move from here!)
The chants and songs intensified, as night fell and the Bhopalis were only illuminated by the intense glare of camera lights. In full view of the few press people who had rapidly responded to our urgent alerts, the police began hassling the women at the edges of our group to get up as the chants proceeded in full swing. Beginning with the older women, they first asked everyone to get up, then threatened, and then pulled. The young girl sitting next to me looked terrified but determined as she linked her arm with mine, and to my right Bano Aapa sat in dignified calm. As the police pulled at us, Bano Aapa yelled at them to let go and then we were all wrenched apart, 6 police women with their hands on each of us. Dragged as we sat, and then hauled up by each limb, I heard them insult us “You are a woman yet you don’t know how to stand up!”, “You can’t even walk with dignity”, and as we were thrown in the police bus, one police woman said “You are educated (padha likha). You should know better”, as if protest was only something that the uneducated engaged in, as if the educated should know there is nothing to protest.
Bano Aapa fell back on police twice, red with indignation but dignified as always. The bus sweltered as children shrieked for their mothers, and we were driven around the corner to the Parliament Street Police Station, not sure what would happen. In the end, we were let go, and returned to the Columbus School where the group had stayed for the last week. This was not before Sana’s precious medical documents, some bags and cellphones were lost in the course of our forcible eviction from our own pavements, to make a Delhi free of dissent, full of consent for the poisonous factory leaking toxins into Bhopali soil, consent for being bled dry by the Common Wealth Games, consent for having our rights brushed aside so that the lives of the elite, the corporations and the imperialists can be made ever less unpleasant.