Right to Life dharna (Day Three): Making paper bags and a special film screening

February 22, 2007
Rambai knows what it’s like when everyday is a battle. A year ago she was one of the marchers to Delhi, and today she is still denied what she was promised by the prime minister himself. There is a water tank in her village, but it is currently empty. “The hand pumps are closed because of the contaminated water they release, so there isn’t a single drop of water in Premnagar right now.” Even when it does have water, there is no lid on the tank, so pollutants and waste products form a layer of slimy sludge on the water that’s supposedly clean. In the City of Lakes, Rambai’s community is dry. But water is the least of her worries. “My son was six at the time of the gas. He looks like he’s twelve or thirteen and constantly forgets things.” An underdeveloped child who can not work in a family of six that gets Rs 1500 a month. Yes, Rambai knows what it’s like when everyday is a battle. That is why she was enthusiastic about the paper bag making she learned today. “We can earn a living by selling these bags”, she said. “Now that’s an idea”.
Using recycled newspaper to make bags is an eco-friendly way to eliminate the use of plastic bags as well as a source of income-generation for the fifty or so women that were trained today by a young woman named Savitri. She folded and creased, glued and strung as the women followed, teaching themselves and others around them. Their hands were busy and their faces glowed with pride as they admired their individual masterpieces. All in all, about eighty bags were made- some even started using them!
The group that remained in the evening was smaller than it had been the last two days. As a result, efforts are being made by community leaders to recruit more people to spend the night. The strength of hundreds that come during the afternoons has to be maintained for all twenty-four hours of each day in order to send a strong message to the government, and to the policemen who have become quite comfortable sitting across the street. This point has been raised in the many meetings that take place at the Tinshed, meetings that deal with the strategic nuances of the next few hours to the next few days, going into meticulous detail on everything from buying groceries for the next meal to sending out press releases. The media has been lukewarm in its support so far – a representative from NDTV promised a piece tomorrow, while a snapshot from the protesting yesterday graced the fifth page of another newspaper, the only elaboration being a two-line caption. Media support is crucial for a sit-in such as this. The rest of Bhopal needs to know what the plight of their fellow citizens is. Apathy is simply not an option.
A recording of Shekhar Suman’s show, Aap Ka Hak (Your Right), was shown in the evening. This particular segment dealt with the plight of the Padyatris and the reasons why they walked all the way from Bhopal to the capital. Debates ensued between party representatives and the survivors, students in the audience and media spokespersons.
The film screening was sparsely attended, but conveyed a powerful message to the people that watched it: the battle is far from over. We won’t back down until you give us what we deserve. It’s written in large blue and red letters, sprawled across two banners in two languages for your bi-lingual convenience: “We deserve the right to live”.

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