Tag Archives: 2010 Dharna

Dharna day 17: gearing up for the Bhopal debate in parliament

Braving the humidity and heat all of us once again marched to Jantar Mantar in the morning from our night home, the shelter house at St’ Columbus School. Once there, Mamu, Vikas and others put up the temporary tent and we all sat down together for our morning tea. Sathyu soon left for Delhi Public School where a group of students had assembled to build their understanding of Bhopal and what it means today.

Meanwhile, Rachna, Shalini and Namdeo left for the Parliament for the usual round of MP endorsements on the Joint Petition addressed to the Prime Minister. ‘Today being the third day of our effort to get political support we had also become pretty comfortable with the staff in the Parliament. Many of them would recognize and smile encouragingly. A few others, like the Security Guard near the Rajya Sabha Gallery would give a thumbs up each time we would pass him,’ says Shalini. Both Rachna and Shalini would stand near the Rajya Sabha gate waiting for the Members of Parliament and as soon as they would see someone in white kurta and trousers, unofficial dress for the Parliamentarians, they would rush to them with the petition and supporting documents. The 7th June verdict has rekindled their interest into the facts of the disaster. With the debates scheduled for today in both the Houses of the Parliament suddenly facts have become sacred. That’s possibly why not a single Parliamentarian dismissed our Bhopal activists who seemed quite out of place in their very ordinary clothes and chappals.

In fact, Lal Krishna Advani, senior leader of Bhartiya Janta Party, who was on his way to the Lok Sabha was pleasantly surprised at being approached by these two ladies. He immediately arranged them to be taken to Sushma Sawaraj, a very eloquent speaker from BJP, who was to initiate the debate from opposition. She had already left for the house. Since we did not know the timings of the debate in the Loksabha we missed out on attending that. However, we heard parts of the discussion while sitting in the office of Telgu Desham Party (TDP). The staff at TDP is very friendly and supportive. They helped us not only with Lok Sabha Passes for later in the day but also made us meet their leader Mysora Reddy who immediately endorsed the petition and asked us to meet him again in the evening for detailed discussion.

Sushma Swaraj and other members of the opposition came down strongly on the Congress and asked for immediate intervention in the matters of remediation, extradition and the US Court Case. On its part, Congress MPs tried dissuading the opposition by citing the gaps in the legal system and emphasizing on the role played by the government and GOM. Similarly in Rajya Sabha members of opposition like Ravi Shankar Prasad of BJP and Brinda Karat of CPI (M) criticized the government for its pro-Dow attitude and demanded immediate action against the company. Ram Vilas Paswan appreciated the role of Bhopal activists and organizations in sustaining the struggle for so long and demanded Empowered Commission to look into all aspects of relief and rehabilitation. While Arjun Singh, who made a rare appearance in Rajya Sabha today, blamed Narsimha Rao for Anderson’s exit, Chidambaram would be responding to the Opposition tomorrow.

The debate in Lok Sabha started around 12pm and continued till the evening while the debate in Rajya Sabha lasted more than three hours creating quite frenzy outside the Parliament amidst the MPs and visitors as well as amongst the media.

Outside the Parliament at the pavement of Jantar Mantar, Sarita, Nidhi and Bhopalis were enjoying the rains which provided relief from the scorching heat for some time at least. Shalini, on the other hand, had a terrific time hitch hiking her way through water clogged city roads to IIT Delhi for a talk on Bhopal. Around 100 students attended the session, many being first year students, and pledged to support the struggle in all possible ways.

Day 16: A day in parliament with many supporting voices

Shalini and Rachna went to the parliament today morning. The night before, Sandeep Dixit had informed us that there was to be a discussion on the gas disaster in Lok Sabha, and we’d send him some relevant documents. However, we didn’t know when the session would begin. MP Sayyed Pasha helped us enter the parliament, however we would need a second recommendation to enter the Lok Sabha gallery. The previous day, it was Mr. Abni Roy who took us inside the parliament.

So instead we asked Sathyu, Namdeoji and Rasheeda Aapa to join us, and took endorsements from MPs passing by the Rajya Sabha get. We again met Mr D. Raja, Shyam Benegal, Ms. Kannimozhi, Mani Shankar Aiyer, Anil Dave, and so on. Ravi Shankar Prasad recognized Sathyu and came over and appreciated our work and pledged his support. He said that he’d speak for this issue in the debate in the Rajya Sabha, scheduled for August 11. He also helped us get a pass for the Rajya Sabha. We then took a short break and ate the heavily subsidized food in the canteen, marveling at the prices at which MPs get fed!

A lot of MPs were verbally supportive. We were eventually able to get a pass from the Telugu Desam Party office to enter the Lok Sabha gallery in time for the afternoon debate. A discussion on Common Wealth games was taking place, and they postponed the debate on Bhopal to the next day, August 11. In the Rajya Sabha, the seating was very cramped and soon we came back downstairs to try and get more signatures. By the evening we had endorsements from members of the Congress, RSP, CPI, CPM, DMK, BJP, AIFB, AGP, MDMK, SAD, and some nominated and independent members.

Rachna and Shalini went to meet D Raja of CPI and Mr. Prabhat Jha, the BJP President in Madhya Pradesh, who would both be participating in the Rajya Sabha debate. They then went to meet Mr Ram Vilas Paswan. To all these, they gave some information on Bhopal for the parliamentary debates, and they also requested Mr Paswan to help expedite Sana’s surgery.

The day ended on a more relaxed note for Rasheeda Aapa and Sathyu as they joined the youth from Manzil to speak about Bhopal. Manzil has been long associated since 3-4 years to the Bhopal struggle, coming and performing at our dharnas. Today we spent some time with them and it was mutually rewarding – with young dedicated supporters such as them, we feel our struggle grows stronger by the day.

Day 15: Sana gets her operation date and some barriers break

Today was an exceptionally cheerful day at the dharna sthal as about 70 new faces from Bhopal had replaced the previous batch. Sakina and Sana did yet another round of AIIMS hospital for Sana’s tumor operation and have finally been given a date for the operation. They will now be here in the first week of November for the surgery and medication.

Students from Delhi University joined us today for a interaction with Satyu and Rasheeda Apa. Inquisitive about the history of the accident and site remediation, they put forward their queries and the interaction went on very well with Satyu unfolding about the biggest industrial disaster. Some of them also helped us prepare posters for protest.

People’s movement across the country were also demonstrating across india against the violation of people’s rights and land by anti-people laws. Movements protested the displacement of people all around the country, police and mafia attacks, forced land acquisition in the tribal belts of Chattisgarh, Kalinga Nagar and Sompeta, the destruction of forests, ruining of fertile agricultural lands, adivasi lives and fisheries – all done in the name of development and GDP growth. The demonstration was spirited, culminating with burning the Land Acquisition Act, and the Bhopalis participated enthusiastically, shouting slogans and singing songs.

The protest also brought us music, from Ronid of Burning Voices, and from Manzil, the music group which has been performing for us. Neeraj, the lead singer of Manzil had even prepared a new song specially about Bhopal and everyone was enthusiastic about it. Even after the protest was over, while the police grumbled that it was time to clear the grounds, we continued singing and applauding. Neeraj asked Shanti bai to dance and she happily agreed and danced on the famous ‘Ey, Sajni’ song. The song ‘Ey Sajni’ is very popular with Bhopalis, and Yasmeen, Kaveri and many more joined Shanti Bai and the music filled the famous Jantar Mantar pavement with euphoria. The hot and humid day was taken over by the overcast and soon it started to drizzle.

Much later when Bhopalis had cleared the dharna sthal today, one of the police personnel came forward and quietly congratulated us for the lovely evening. People against people is not so much of an instinct but more of propaganda, hoping these barriers will break someday. Bhopal dharna 2010 continues in good spirits.

Dharna week 2: interesting days on the Delhi pavements

A rollercoaster of a week played out in the heat and humidity of Delhi this past week at the dharna, a protest demanding compensation, medical care, legal action, and site remediation. This past week, Bhopal activists at the dharna have struggled with discrimination and abuse from the police. On the other hand, a positive meeting took place between Bhopal supporters and the Environmental Minister Jairam Ramesh.

Please find below a timeline briefing this week’s events, as well as future events. Remember that the full blog (www.studentsforbhopal.net/2010dharna) postings from talented writers, Shalini and Kaveri.

August 1, Day 7 http://studentsforbhopal.org/node/815
Shauk lagta hai kya yahaan aane ki? Maange puri ho tho kahe aa jayein?
Do people think we take pleasure in coming here [to sit at the dharna]? If our demands were met why would we be here?
– Tulsabai, dharna participant

The dharna sthal continues to face rainy whether. Asmita Theatre Group, a theatre group comprised of young working professionals, visit the dharna at noon. They perform their current work-in-progress, a play depicting the Bhopal tragedy. Bhopalis warmly receive them, and give them much appreciated feedback and share their survivor stories. The play will be performed in weeks to come on the streets of Delhi (OR ELSEWHERE?).

At the Jantar Mantar., India’s conservative political party, the BJP, sets up a neighboring exhibition. Bhopal supporters contact the police station to inquire if the BJP camp will be allowed to occupy the Jantar Mantar overnight. The police deny giving any permission to stay overnight or leave their materials at the venue for the night. As always, the dharna sthal had to clear out at 5pm; it appeared that the BJP camp didn’t budge.

August 2, Day 8 http://studentsforbhopal.org/node/816
Dragged as we sat, and then hauled up by each limb, I heard them insult us…one policewoman said, “you are padha likha (educated). You should know better,” as if protest was only something that the uneducated engaged in, as if the educated should know there is nothing to protest.

Armed with enthusiasm and determination, 150 fresh Bhopalis arrive at the dharna. Former Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers, Ram Vila Paswan, and leading activist Rachna, accompanied 8-year-old second-generation survivor Sana to AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences) to diagnosis her throat tumor and schedule her long-overdue treatment.

Meanwhile, the BJP camp “took the Bhopal issue in Jantar Mantar and turned it into an unbelievable display of crass opportunism…[the BJP] proclaimed the failure of the Congress in dealing with the Bhopal issue” (Dharna Blog). Oddly, the media and government officials drew toward the BJP display rather than the survivors themselves next door at the dharna. Finally the Madhya Pradesh BJP President sought out leading activists Rachna and Sathyu (Satinath), to hear the survivors’ position. Hopefully the President will represent the truer position at the upcoming Parliament debate this Wednesday, August 11.

As the evening drew to a close, the BJP party shows no sign of packing up for the night. Frustrated by such differential treatment, the dharna participants lock arms, raise their voices in chants, and refuse to leave. A furry of police mistreatment unfolds as they forcefully evict dharna protestors; police drag a handful of supporters to the Parliament Street Police Station, where they were released later that evening, and belongs were lost in the chaos, including Sana’s precious medical documents.

August 3, Day 9 http://studentsforbhopal.org/node/824

The oppressive humidity of the last few days was offset today by a cool breeze, making the Bhopal dharna sthal positively enjoyable today. Much exchanging of notes about losses, bruises and confusion from our eviction by the police last night took place.

The BJP camp continues to use disturbing photographs and poetry about the disaster’s aftermath in an exploitive manner, to show the inefficiency of the Congress party. How enraging, to be a survivor of the gas tragedy protesting at the Jantar Mantar, next door to a party which uses your personal tragedy for political leverage.

In spite of these frustrations, determined young and old alike march on with dharna. 200-300 inquisitive students from 2 Delhi schools, Tagore International and Bluebells, warmly receive presentations 3 young women representing Children Against Dow Carbide.

August 4, Day 10 http://studentsforbhopal.org/node/825

Until sunset we sat, a small group of mostly gas and water affected people, discussing the overt imperialism of the British vs. the covert imperialism of today; discussing whether parties were at fault, or whether the way the entire sarkar [colloquially, people in authority] is run is at fault; discussing how we can be the sarkar, the government, how everyone can be the sarkar.

Activists dedicate their energy towards reassembling Sana’s medical documents, which were lost in the police raid. Later, Ram Vilas Paswan and Arun Paswan join activists supporting the young Bhopali’s treatment. Together they spend the day waiting in the “glacially slow” line of people seeking medical attention at AIIMS.

The team of young ladies from Children Against Dow Carbide give yet another presentation for grades 9-12 at the New Era school. Overall, today is a positive, solidarity-building day.

August 5, Day 11

NEERI conducted a limited sampling campaign that was compromised and did not present analytical results for key contaminants of concern. Despite acknowledging the contamination found by previous investigations, NEERI did not follow-up these leads. Where groundwater contamination was detected, no explanation or theories were offered as to the source of this contamination… the current site assessment can only regarded as preliminary to a complete site investigation conducted to the highest international standards.
– Technical Review of NEERI & NGRI Reports

The morning begins once again with educational outreach at St Mary’s School by Rachna, Yasmeen and Safreen, from Children Against Dow Carbide.

Today’s notable event is a meeting between Minister of Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, and Bhopal supporters. Representing the Bhopalis’ struggle were ICJB leaders Sathyu and Rachna and lawyers representing survivor groups — Avinendra (Delhi & Madhya Pradesh High Courts) and Karuna (Delhi Supreme Court). In the meeting, activists and lawyers presented Ramesh with their set of demands, and outlined a remediation plan. Ramesh agreed to read and review the survivor groups’ critical analysis of the faulty contamination reports written by government agencies the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI). Also, he pointed out that for him to be able to consider the offer of technical and financial resources from the EU, there has to be a formal communication from the EU to the Government of India. What exists at this point is a resolution from EU parliamentarians on the subject.

This Week and Beyond: A Sneak Peek

August 10
Children’s Day of Action, Delhi. Second-generation birth defects and exposure to remaining toxins has unjustly compromised thousands of youth in Bhopal. School children in Delhi, who’s interest in the Bhopal issues have recently grown because of educational outreach, will join Bhopali children in activism this Tuesday. Affected or concerned children will make origami crows to deliver to Prime Minister Singh, and a symbolic request for his attention to the ongoing issues that Bhopal struggles with.

August 11
A debate on Bhopal is scheduled to take place in Parliament.

August 24
International Day of Action. Worldwide, Bhopal supporters will receive instructions to create origami crows, an important symbol in Indian culture. These crows will find their way to the doorsteps of Indian embassies and consulates, via mail or better yet hand delivered. Keep an eye out for more details regarding this event.

August 27
Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh predicts that an oversight committee will publicize a critical assessment of June’s faulty reports on groundwater contamination by NEERI & NGRI agencies. The critique will be open to comments.

Dharna day 14: what is this hope, what is this music, dancing in the face of despair?

The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it. –Helen Keller

More than what I see in the physical presence of the dharna is what I try and understand about the feelings of the people who have been here at the dharna this year. I mostly wonder about their strength in dealing with suffering spanning 26 years. What is this hope that still has a spark of a child’s eye. What is in the music that pulls up the oldest of the lot to dance and to cheer up the youth. What is in a huddle where women talk and girls play. And what is in the hope that has lasted two and a half decades and still continues to sit in an unreserved train compartment and travel for almost a day to reach Delhi every year.

What is in Shanti bai’s words when she pulls you and makes you sit with her, just to talk and to discuss her numerous medicines (she usually complains of rashes and sore eyes) . The group where Sakina, 25yrs old, runs after her 4th child Arif, plays with her daughter Sana, 8 yrs old (who has the throat tumor), and meanwhile tracks us all on the phone, scolding you the days you disappear. What is in the inquisitive voice of Banno bee when she asks about the ongoing Kashmir dharna, which is happening at Jantar Mantar for the second evening in a row. To describe this in an overly short and naive manner, it is this spirit of togetherness that has lasted them the strength to overcome the daily sufferings.

waiting for lunch
Food is cooked at the dharna site and distributed at lunchtime

Today we shared Jantar Mantar with the Burmese community protesting the military junta in Burma and freedom of Aung San Suu Kyi. They have been a persistent presence in Jantar Mantar. The afternoons are getting hot and humid, leaves dont move and birds stop chirping. The roads are quiet except for the buses and the kaka who brings chai at regular intervals. Under the big yellow tarpaulin things move in a slow manner on such days. Arif also gives up digging the pavements and cuddles with his mother for a siesta. They are all leaving today for Bhopal, towards the evening people start packing up and the idea of train travel fills up the air. They start moving around and saying their goodbyes to everyone at the dharna. Its a big group which is going to travel back to Bhopal and we wished them a safe journey.

The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it . And we are together in this. There will be a new set of faces tomorrow morning and the Bhopal dharna 2010 continues.