Dharna day 7: the Bhopalis see a play and the BJP arrive

Today’s dharna sthal can best be described as soaked. It poured in the morning, and then it was hot and sticky all afternoon. It’s been a week of humid shuttling between Jantar Mantar and Columbus School.

Despite heavy rains and terrible condition at Jantar Mantar, which seems to have soaked all the dirt of the city within it, spirits at the dharna sthal continue to remain upbeat! In the morning when most of us were sitting huddled together under our tirpaal a very sweet Sardarji, whose name we missed, was quite moved seeing us struggle with the rain. He actually remembered us from our last dharna two years ago at the same place, and very generously treated us all to chai (tea) and bread pakoras. These unexpected, unscheduled visits and unconditional solidarity recharge our batteries to look forward to yet another day of struggle.

We had a lovely visit around noon from the Asmita theatre group who performed a rehearsal of their play on Bhopal. Most of the theater group members are young working professionals who can afford to volunteer time to perform and rehearse only during the weekends. Parthajeet, Prachi, Jai and others from the group were really excited at the opportunity to meet Bhopalis and hear their stories first hand. Having lived the characters in a play is one thing and to meet those characters in flesh and blood quite another! So there they were bubbling with enthusiasm and buzzing with all the different questions that they had been meaning to ask Bhopalis all these days.

The Bhopalis watched intently and provided a lot of feedback about the play. The group had been planning for college outreach today through their street play but had to reschedule their plans due to weather. However, later in the day we had plenty sunshine so much so that many of us were anxiously walking back and forth on the Jantar Mantar Street for some fresh air.

Some of the women at the rally were aggrieved over the way the Bhopalis’ presence at the dharna was callously ignored in the same way that their demands have been over the last 25 years. Tulsabai asked “Shauk lagta hai kya yahaan aané ki? Maangé puri ho tho kahé aa jayein?” (“Do people think we take pleasure in coming here [to sit at the dharna]? If our demands were met why would we be here?”). Tulsabai is both gas and water affected, and has throat pain, irritation in her eyes, and stomach problems. She says she can’t eat much food, not even one full roti, before feeling stomach pain. Leelabai, Kalabai, Ranibai, Shantibai, and Maya Bai all complained of eye pain and problems with eating and digestion. While at the dharna sthal they continued to be in pain, a pain unheeded by the those who perpetrated and made excuses for the gas leak and the toxic waste seeping into the water from the abandoned factory grounds.

In the evening BJP put up its tent too. Apparently they were organizing an exhibition. We were quite surprised to see Police treating them differently from other protesters. We wondered if the timings to remain at Jantar Mantar have been relaxed in the light of a writ petition filed by us. The matter was heard on Friday and an order is expected tomorrow morning. We called up police authorities to check the status. They denied having given any permission to the BJP members to stay overnight or to leave their material at the venue for the night. We had to leave around 5pm as usual. Rumors suggested that BJP camp wasn’t lifted at all. Protesters, who are forced to shuttle between Jantar Mantar and other places in the City, like us, were quite disgusted at this differential treatment by State. Hopefully, tomorrow morning, the Court will order in the favour of ordinary citizens. If not, we will need to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Not all was amiss though. Our call to supporters for donations saw us with some positive responses. To begin with, Delhi based organization Focus- Global South, Delhi University Scholar Dr. Nandini Sunder and friends Sejal and Pulkit Parikh responded immediately. Sejal and her husband Pulkit have recently moved back to Delhi from Banglore where they were very active with the No more Bhopals Group. Their determination to live a simple life is remarkable. Sejal left her well paying corporate job to jump full time into community work while Pulkit is contemplating to join her very soon. Meanwhile, the couple continues to support activists and people’s movements through their savings. We also received emails from some other supporters pledging time for the dharna sthal in the coming week. Hopefully, this coming week we will have more visitors to give us company and to extend their solidarity to us!

Tomorrow Sana, the young girl from Annu Nagar with a throat tumor, will be taken to AIIMS. There, by the grace of Ram Vilas Paswan, who arranged a meeting with the help of the ENT department, we hope that her tumor can be diagnosed.

Tonight the group of Bhopalis who have been here for the past few days left and another group of about 150 people are expected tomorrow. Onward and forward!

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