INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR JUSTICE IN BHOPAL, BHOPAL, FEBRUARY 21, 2007
Imagine a throng of more than five hundred men, women, and children raising their clenched fists under the heat of the scorching sun. The road is clogged with flashing cameras, newspaper representatives taking interviews, and a group of khaki-clad police watching from a safe distance with lathis in their hands. They have no reason to use them though. The protestors are expressing their anger towards their apathetic Madhya Pradesh government not through violence, but through words so loud you hear them echo inside you. The Bhopali survivors and their supporters are not asking for much, only for what they were promised a year ago when they set out on their march to Delhi. Now the Bhopalis are expressing their outrage at the inaction of their state government by holding a sit-in.
The dharna began at Roshanpura, a busy hub of New Bhopal in a market appropriately called New Market. After two hours of rallying in that area the group, with the 5 foot long banners and blaring megaphones, moved towards another area of New Market known as the Tinshed. A white tent awaited us, quickly filled by the dehydrated and tired masses. The slogans weren’t as strong anymore and the energy weaker, but there were still individuals who raised their fists high and made sure their voice was heard. About two hours later, the group thinned out and mothers began to board the passing buses until thirty people remained.
Thirty people that wouldn’t budge until the Madhya Pradesh chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, kept his word. It shouldn’t take a year to supply your people with clean drinking water, or provide good health care to people suffering from the effects of a tragedy that occurred twenty-two years ago. The survivors have five main demands for the Madhya Pradesh government. In very general terms, they are:
1. Adequate health care
2. Economic rehabilitation by providing jobs for 10,000 survivors of the disaster
3. Social support in the form of a monthly pension
4. Supply of safe drinking water and toxic waste containment
5. Set up a proper administrative system in charge of long term relief and rehabilitation of the survivors
The rest of the evening was relatively mellow. We could have been mistaken for people who just happened to be sitting under a tent, exchanging jokes and riddles, listening to stories, and socialising amongst ourselves. Save for when the microphone was turned on and songs of hope and inspiration followed.
Songs that spoke of standing up for justice, of showing the politicians in their fancy suits what the survivors were really about. Sarita, who is two years shy of teenhood, spoke with as much strength and passion as the women leaders of the campaign. Her voice reverberated with a crispness and maturity not too common for girls her age. And so, with songs, conversation, a hearty meal of chole bhature and satisfied bellies, the evening ended. These people who are putting their heart and soul into fighting the local government, who choose to sleep on hard stone floors and be devoured by blood-thirsty mosquitoes, they expect Shivraj Singh Chauhan to agree to their demands and do his duty towards the people that elected him. They expect the end of their fight to be near. And yet they know that this is only the beginning.