Pragya Bhagat, Bhopal, February 26, 2007
It is a common practice for politicians to make promises they won’t keep. So it wasn’t a complete shock when the ministers of the Samajik Party spent ten hours talking about change and reform, but didn’t bother to mention or visit the fifty people a few feet away. The same fifty people who were opposing the government that these party leaders wanted to join. It has been a week since the dharna began -seven days of singing and slogans, weathering wet tents, windy nights, and coal-covered tents, demanding that Shivraj Singh Chauhan come to his senses for the sake of his people.
But no, Chauhan continues to ignore us from his blood-money mansion. It was a little harder, however, for the party leaders on the street below us to ignore our clenched fists and raised voices. As filmy songs blared from their expensive megaphones, we had to shout even louder so our words would not be drowned out. At one point, it became ridiculous; the songs they we were singing had nothing to do with serving people. The Bollywood tunes were played simply to attract attention.
While the women at the sit-in made paper bags as a potential source of income, the party’s posse rejoiced over how wonderful its Bhopal is. Yes, you will find it wonderful too. Just look away from the poisons that are visible on the faces of young children. Shut your ears to the cries of women and men pleading for proper health care. Forget about the plastic sheet roofs and mud clogged roads in Old Bhopal, and you will find Bhopal to be a spectacular place reeking of perfection. Really.
While we demanded the governments’ long due concern, a group of politicians just a stones through away didn’t even acknowledge our presence. Unfortunately, this isn’t breaking news, this is reality. But it’s not a reality we are bound by, for change is possible. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.
When the time came for the trucks to leave and the overnighters to stay, some names were added while others were removed. Bano Bi had wanted to stay, but her son was sick-again. “I need to take care of him”, she said of her forty-year-old “child.” He was badly exposed to the gas, but can’t get treatment as a gas affected individual since she lost the papers that identify him as one. Her smiling eyes lose their sheen as she talks about his two damaged kidneys. “I wanted to donate one of mine, but we don’t have enough money for the operation.” Bano Bi went on the Padyatra a year ago, and continues to fight for her fellow survivors. It is people like her who desperately need the slowly deteriorating buildings the government calls hospitals to be re-opened with proper equipment and staff. A million dollars worth of medical equipment rotting in dank rooms don’t qualify as medical facilities. Adequate healthcare for the survivors hasn’t been on the agenda of any political party.
Then again, why would it be? They were not affected by the gas, nor do they drink water laced with toxins. Apathy is an easy way out.
The rambling of the politicians continued for hours, and the painful annoyance of it was relieved by the unexpected visit of a former Union Carbide factory worker. C.R. Asokan worked at the MIC storage facility at Union Carbide from 1977-1984. He was sleeping when it happened. “People started running, we did too,” he said of that fateful night that changed the lives of thousands. Mr. Asokan has a script that he swears is prime movie material, yet won’t identify himself as a former Union Carbide worker who wrote it. Strange.
Ministers claim they’ll change the world. Ex-Union Carbide employees claim their film will be a super hit. Promises are just that easy to make. No one knows this better than the people here who have been deceived their whole lives. Garlanded men in Nehru hats with plenty of microphones and no integrity have made slogans their habit. Things will change. We will make sure of it. Elect us.
People are tired of waiting, sick of a lifetime of lies and unfulfilled agendas. A week has gone by at the sit-in. The strength of the men, women, and children here will only grow with each passing day; they will not be deceived any longer.