Pragya Bhagat, Bhopal, March 3 2007
Eighty men and women lie on the burning asphalt under the midday sun, covered in white sheets. The entrance to Chief Minister Chauhan’s house is completely blocked by the living dead blanketed in shrouds. The police are present in hordes, holding their lathis and guns against their starched uniforms stripped of all integrity. Punabai can’t stop talking about what she saw peeking from under her white sheet. “There were so many of us, and the police kept threatening to beat us. So beat us, we said. We did nothing wrong.”
The police have had enough of the non-violent protesting. So they proceed to do what they do best – charge the innocent with crimes they did not commit. While the media is in full force, seven of the protestors are arrested: Rashida Bi, Rachna, Vikas, Guddi Bi, Shehzadi Bi, Irfan Bhai, and Mehfuz Bhai. Three men and four women are taken away on grounds of “breaking peace.” The survivors are correct when they say the government hides behind the khaki uniforms of the cops.
A busful of policemen and policewomen arrive at the Tinshed, watching the slogan shouting from a distance. The air is thick with tension. The truck driver that brought the Bhopalis here is kicked off his vehicle. The police drive away with two of the trucks.
The seven individuals that were arrested have been released and are on their way to the dharna site. A jubilant unison of cheers breaks out at the tent. Good news travels fast.
A truckful of police is still lounging about behind the tent that is buzzing with anticipation. The demands are being voiced loud and clear while press releases and notifications are being sent with the utmost urgency. Delhi has heard us; Bhopal, now it’s your turn. Manmohan has heard us; Shivraj, now it’s your turn.
“They’re coming! They’re here!” The excited masses get up to see what the commotion is about. Seven figures are walking toward us from a distance, chanting the slogans we now hear in our dreams. “Ladenge! Jeetenge!” We will fight. We will win. There is much to rejoice over today- the media has given the die-in a tremendous amount of exposure. The police couldn’t touch us at the Tinshed even though they wanted to, due to the immense number of people present. The immediate global response to the seven arrests was yet another reason to celebrate. Calls from all over the world poured in at the police station where the arrested were being held and new email discussions sprung up by the minute. Supporters around the world, don’t you ever sleep?
There was much to talk about. Discussions and stories spill out spontaneously and conversations are in full flow. So much happened today, people still haven’t caught their breath. Despite the exhaustion that is setting in, so much more needs to be done. Press releases are being delivered throughout Bhopal on over-used two-wheelers. Usually the media gets its fill of dharna activity during the day, but a Hindi news station decides to pay us a visit after dark. Rashida Bi tells them what she has been saying for twelve days now: “We will fight till our last breath. Shivraj Singh Chauhan, wake up!”