Pragya Bhagat, Bhopal, February 28, 2007
The sound of rustling newspaper and the faint odor of Fevicol permeates the air. Paper bag making isn’t as exciting as it was three days ago; less than half the women sitting on the faded red and black carpets are folding and creasing. The rest have formed their social cliques, only associating with people from their communities. The local leaders are worn out from traveling in the bastis all day, and are recharging themselves rather than motivating the inactive groups around them. Frankly, people are tired. Tired of taking out a whole day to spend six hours under a tent making bags, while there are children to be fed, clothes to be washed, floors to be swept, households to run. Rani Sahu has left four children behind to come here. Her mother-in-law’s hand is broken and her husband is at work. Her sister-in-law isn’t at home either. That leaves Rani to prepare breakfast and lunch, do the laundry, and clean her house in Premnagar. No wonder she’s complaining of a headache. You would too if you ran a household of eight persons in sixteen hours, the other eight hours spent traveling to and from the dharna site and taking part in the activities planned there.
People are tired of their government’s irresponsible silence. What happened to the concept of democracy, where the elected serve their people? The case in Madhya Pradesh seems to be one of the government serving itself, even if it entails sucking a man dry of his dignity by leeching off of his meagre resources like a desperate parasite. Is the government waiting for more people to die before it will respond to the demands set forth before them? They know what’s been going on for the past nine days, no doubt about it. And yet they watch silently, aware that spending nine days at the Tinshed isn’t the most pleasant experience.
People are tired of eating the same dal and rice everyday, tired of the gas cylinder leaking, tired of the unrelenting flies during the day and the reckless mosquitoes at night. The chilly air stinging their bones and using newspaper piles as pillows, holding the tent’s poles up in the middle of the night, because the structure is swaying too much due to the wind- they just want it to be over.
People are drained physically, mentally, and emotionally. Fighting twenty-two years, struggling at ever step, losing loved ones on the way, it either strengthens one’s morale or weakens it. That is the spectrum the Bhopalis fall on. Most people here today fall somewhere in between; they would not be spending six hours at the Tinshed if they didn’t have faith in each other and in themselves. No one said justice came easy.
There is frustration at the battle ahead, but with it comes joy at the little victories. Victories like finally getting Gulab Bai, fondly called Madame Rose, to sing at the nighttime dhol session. The fatigue and frustration is quickly forgotten as she holds a water bottle on her head and sways back and forth in place. We laugh at her musings and admire her spirit. People like Gulab Bai are an inspiration to those around her. Her wrinkled face and toothless smile fill us with warmth, and the fatigue slowly melts away.