Right to Life dharna (Day Thirteen): a black Holi at the Tin Shed as survivors still wait for their demands to be met

Suresh Melettukochy and Pragya Bhagat,Bhopal, March 4, 2007
If yesterday was a die-in, then today is a resurrection. The day begins with a glorious lunar eclipse, a spectacle that lasts for three hours. A new moon, a new day, a new season. There is a fresh enthusiasm on this Holi, the Hindu festival celebrating the arrival of spring. From the dharna site we can see people collecting ashes from last night’s bonfire. After cooling, the ash would be used as manure and insect repellant in their small gardens. The gardens are about to spurt new leaves and flowers. Fresh life. Fresh hope.
Today, Bhopal is a rainbow. Children position themselves strategically on rooftops, aiming at the passerbys below who are unaware of what awaits them. The skin of every man, woman, and child is drenched in deep magentas, pale yellows, and glistening reds. Hindu or Muslim, white or black, all differences are washed away by the colored water squirted on friends, family, even strangers. Holi is the festival of love, where affection is smeared generously on cheeks and ruffled into hair.
While the rest of Bhopal immerses itself into a myriad of brightness, the survivors at the Tinshed choose a grim black to “celebrate” their Holi with. Unlike the plum purples and parrot greens that grace the faces of the blissfully ignorant, the protestors’ faces shine darkly with a simple message sprawled across each black forehead. Proper medical care. Pension. Economic rehabilitation. Toxic containment; there is nothing Shivraj Singh Chauhan hasn’t heard for over a year now, and yet he continues to live each day with apathetic negligence.
After a day of Black Holi, the coal-colored faces of the survivors are washed to reveal the scrubbed-to-rawness skin underneath. But the darkness from their daily suffering can not be scrubbed off that easily. Color will return to their lives only when the Madhya Pradesh government fulfils its duty towards those that have awaited justice for far too long.
In the meantime, happiness comes from the simple pleasures of life. Like jump roping with the thick jute leftover from anchoring the tent. Happiness comes from singing the songs of struggle and strength we know so well by now. It comes from playing Antakshari with young Lakshmi even if physical fatigue overtakes the body. After all, fatigue is momentary; it will go away in a few hours. The pain from losing a parent, a child, or a friend due to Union Carbide’s poisons is not something that a good night’s sleep will cure. It is something more permanent, and can only be lessened when the survivors see that the criminals responsible for these deaths are given what they deserve.

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