The following piece was written by a supporter who undertook a day long fast in solidarity with the other hunger strikers:
Here, tonight, in the Bhopal camp, Aman, the four year old son of two of the Bhopalis sitting on dharna, has taken over control of our mike and p.a. system, and not for the first time! Gleefully, joyfully, he shouts slogans loudly into the mike, brimming with smiles and giggles of delight when we all reply together with the appropriate response. For more than 15 minutes he keeps it up, and we, cheered on by his exuberance, maintain a strong chorus of replies.
It is amazing to watch the response he gets from everyone in the group. All day and night he weaves his way around and between us, little legs toddling along, bringing gifts of water and tree branches, smiles and handshakes and important queries about the world to all in their turn. He has that magical and precious innocence, enthusiasm, happiness that only young children have and he spreads it among us. One look at his smiling face and twinkling eyes is a tonic to those feeling momentarily tired, cynical, jaded, unsure. His unswerving cheerfulness, his beautiful capacity to find happiness in the simplest of moments is an example to all of us, while his joy and perseverance in chanting slogans fills us all with hope for the future and determination to continue on, if not for anything else for his sake, in an attempt to protect and maintain that beautiful innocence, that bright optimistic spirit.
While it is truly heartening and lots of fun to see and listen to Aman chanting our slogans so adamantly and convincingly, there is an unavoidable sadness that comes with such a vision too. One wonders how long his cheerfulness will endure, whether he will also spend his life struggling for justice, trying to get a government to listen, if the optimism will give way to cynicism or at least the resignation that follows from being ignored for so long. Will Aman still be chanting these slogans in another 20 years? How sad that he even has to now, that he is spending these days of his youth sitting at the side of the pavement, sleeping out in the open, trying, with everyone else, to attract the attention of the powers that be, calling out for justice and health and the right to clean drinking water. As many of the Bhopalis will tell you, it is not for themselves they are struggling at this stage, but for their children, for their right to healthy happy life, free of the poison that descended on Bhopal so many years ago and has yet to be cleaned up and out…
…For the first, time I stay the night in Jantar Mantar, the hunger strike has begun hours earlier, I am joining for the day, and want to make some paltry offer of support and solidarity. The evening settles down slowly, with various visitors mulling around, media-folks interviewing and planning meetings occurring. Some students come and sing the Bhopalis songs, their warm clear voices echoing in the fading orange light. Slowly all around, Bhopalis, Narmadans, assorted other protestors and activists, lay thin mattresses on the floor, shake out their sheets, and begin to lie out under the starry sky, once more making the pavement their bed. Some of the women sit in a circle and sing almost til midnight approaches, and there is a late and sociable trip to the bathroom. Finally our group goes quiet, all tired and knowing that serious rest is required for the day ahead. I try to slip off into my dreams but my head is buzzing with our urgent discussions on the nature of power and resistance earlier in the evening, our felt need to create new modes and methods of struggle to generate the attention these people deserve. Overhead an unusually strong wind rattles the blue awning that has been put up as shelter from the sun, the streetlights blaze bright, there is a rhythmic drumming coming from the other side of the street, and the mosquitoes are feasting. Once I wake at 3am, surprised by the almost absolute silence which has descended on Jantar Mantar, all of us, NBA and Bhopal together finally dreaming through the night.
By 6.30 a.m. Aman is restless and roaring to go, dancing around, chirpily awake and impatient for everyone else to be. He uses a mixture of carrot and stick to rouse us, one minute crooning into our ears and distributing gifts and hugs, the next jumping energetically up and down on top of drowsy bodies, which eventually give in and struggle towards consciousness, unable to resist his beaming smile. Gradually the number of prone figures grows smaller as we all stretch, fold up our beds again and watch the morning unfold. At 8am the doctor arrives, for the first of what will be daily check ups for the hunger strikers.
We are all alert now. The presence of the medical professional changes the slightly slothful atmosphere around our camp, another stark reminder of what is going on, the seriousness of our mission and the methods we have been driven to. Each hunger striker cheerfully and smilingly submits to a series of tests, pulse, blood pressure, glucose levels, and weight. We switch to a different weighing scales after the first one indicates a number of people having lost kgs already, after less than 24 hours. The second one gives us more reasonable and reassuring (ie heavier) figures. All statistics are noted down in a book, so that we have a proper record of each striker’s health.
Sitting there, enjoying a cup of chai after my 24 hours without food, I feel a lump in my throat slowly materializing. In spite of our chirpy mood, with much fun and mischief going on at the weighing scales, and Aman checking more than ten times to see if his own weight (12 kgs) will change, a communal moment of palpable seriousness, introspection and thought occurs, each of us reminded of how far we’ve traveled, what distance we’ve all come from, to this point where we sit at the side of the street and wait, our friends putting their lives in the hands of the government and saying ‘do something now, for our sake, for our children’s sake, for the sake of all Bhopalis, no more deaths’. Manmohan, where are you today? Laying the foundation stone of a new super-highway? Launching a book? Meeting a top-level CEO of a multinational? Planning further ‘development’ for India? How does the water you are drinking taste? And the food? Prime Minister, your citizens await you, as they have done for weeks now, you would do well to meet them before you find yourself trying to wash their blood from your hands.