Tag Archives: testimonies

Dharna day 13: deep questions about the efficacy of non-violence

Rachna and Shalini visited parliamentarian Abni Roy who has been to the dharna sthal and been very supportive up to now. He wrote a detailed letter to the Prime Minister asking for a set of steps to be taken around Bhopal, based on our demands.

The girls wanted to go see Delhi today, unanimously they had planned to go see Red Fort. Unfortunately by the time they could wrap up the dharna work it was too late and they were short on money for travel. They were disheartened but very soon the volunteers from AID Delhi and NCR started collecting at the dharna site. Yasmin and Safreen who were unhappy about the cancellation of their travel plans were now engrossed in talking to AID volunteers about the campaigns that Children Against Dow Carbide has been involved with. The AID volunteers were very impressed with the ‘Give your ear to the PM’ campaign and were inquisitive about how these young girls have been doing such good work along with their regular studies. Banno Bee and Rachna discussed the ill effects of the toxins seeping in the land and contaminating the drinking water. They also spoke about Dow liabilities and the remediation processes that will help Bhopal.

The day drifted into a protest against the string of killings of young people in Kashmir, organized by a group of Kashmiris in Delhi at the opposite side of the road at Jantar Mantar. The younger Bhopalis trooped over in curiosity and in solidarity, taking along parchas for good measure. The people at the Kashmir demo asked us to please not distribute our parchas, so we complied. The group at the protest for Kashmir had a lot of Kashmiris, and it was great to see such a strong Kashmiri presence. It was mostly composed of middle class young Kashmiri men, dressed well, tall, lanky, with some older supporters, with a backdrop of the people to most recently lose their lives to Indian army bullets. The speeches were personal, fiery, with people expressing solidarity from struggles all over the country. As time passed more and more people from various parts of India joined the protest. Many of the young men and some supporters had much to say, so that a song that the Bhopalis wanted to sing in solidarity never materialized in front of the mic. Still the Bhopalis stayed for a couple of hours, amazed and glad that the same police that had dragged us away less than a week ago for being at Jantar Mantar beyond 5 pm stood warily aside as the crowd in the Kashmir protest swelled to 300 people filled with rage, and continued past 8, 9, 10 pm. Wishing them luck, the Bhopalis had to leave for their abode in Columbus school by its closing time of 9 pm, their only refuge from the hostile police presence in Jantar Mantar. With all the supposed moral upper ground conferred upon them by virtue of using non-violent tactics of protest, with all the support of the media, of politicians from virtually every powerful opposition political party, it was clear that very little progress had been made in bringing justice to the Bhopalis over this dharna, let alone over the last 26 years. With the government ignoring the quiet, non-violently expressed wishes of the majority of the Kashmiri and Bhopali people for years.. with the press responding only when stones are thrown in Kashmir to bring the state’s violence out in the public eye, or when a fraction of those culpable in Bhopal are sentenced too little and too late, does it make any sense to continue pretending that the moral ground of non-violent resistance has the strength to move the Indian state or media? Indian government – this is a question for you. Resistance arises from subversion of justice, and violent resistance from the persistent subversion of justice in the face of non-violent resistance. If you want to retain any credibility in urging “abjuring” from violence, you have a long way to walk in terms of listening to the voices of non-violent resistance.

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Dharna day 12: even the police laugh at the irony of it all

Yasmeen with children
Yasmeen with children from the Millenium School
As with many days, the day began with the dawn of interacting with the children of Delhi. Unlike most days, they came to us.

Students from the Millenium School came to visit Jantar Mantar, not our dharna per se. The students were walking around Jantar Mantar and they chanced upon our group. There was much interaction with our group, lots of questions, lots of answers. The students and teachers were taking pictures of us, and meanwhile Vikas took photos of them interacting with us. One of the teachers asked Vikas to hand over the camera, and he handed it over thinking they wanted to take more pictures. When he checked what they were doing, they asked how they could delete the pictures he was taking. He asked them – Why? They said – You won’t understand. Vikas said – Explain it to me. So the teachers said – Don’t take pictures of the girls. This led to an interesting discussion about how the students and teachers didn’t seem equally worried about the consequences of their taking photographs of the young girls from Bhopal. It led to a discussion about how trust had to be mutual, about notions of unidirectional protection across class lines, and the teachers and students felt they’d benefitted from this aspect of the discussion in addition to what they’d learned about Bhopal.

Meanwhile, Rachna went to The Other Media office to do some work and take some printouts. By the time of returning to the dharna sthal a police man was waiting for Rachna. He said he’d been waiting for a while and handed over our rejected application for permission to hold an exhibition similar to the one the BJP had erected. We pointed out the disparity between the BJP apparently getting permission for their exhibition to even stay up at night at Jantar Mantar, while our group of survivors were denied permission based on ludicrous excuses about turning into a disruption of law and order. The policeman joined us in laughing at the irony of this, saying “Yes we understand your situation”.

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Dharna day 11: meeting with minister Jairam Ramesh

The morning began once again with a visit to St Mary’s School by Rachna, Yasmeen and Safreen. The school didn’t have electricity, so no film screening was possible, and the children described the gas disaster instead and talked about the issues they faced.

The big event of the day was a significant meeting with Minister of Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh. Sathyu and Rachna were present along with Jayprakashji of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti), and our lawyers Karuna and Avinendra. Karuna ji represents the survivors’ groups in the Supreme Court while Avinendra represents the survivors in MP high court and Delhi high court. We presented Jairam Ramesh with our set of demands and plan to also send him our map to remediation.

In the course of the meeting Mr. Jairam Ramesh agreed to the representation of all seven of the survivors organization in the Environmental Oversight Remediation Committee. Upon our insistence, this included Children Against Dow-Carbide, over whose representation he hesistated because they were not adults. He also agreed to read the critique we had submitted on behalf of all seven survivor’s organizations, of the NEERI & NGRI reports assessing the depth and spread of Union Carbide’s toxic waste in & around the factory, and to post it to the MOEF website. He also claimed he was seeking feedback from several individuals and agencies on the NEERI & NGRI reports and will post responses on the website in another week; meanwhile the oversight committee has set up a peer review committee to present a public critical assessment of NEERI and NGRI’s report. This should be out by 27 August and comments will be possible. He also suggested that if the willingness expressed by members of the European Union Parliament to offer financial and technical assistance turned into a formal offer backed by an EU resolution, there’s a good possibility that the Government
of India would accept.

The whole meeting ended well and it was a wonderful turn-around since the time Mr. Ramesh made some jokes mocking the toxicity of the Union Carbide factory, and some of our dharna members had gone to jail for burning his effigy! We are glad that despite this, he’s taking his responsibility as the Minister of Environment and Forests more seriously than most Ministers do. This says more about the state of the government than anything else, so while we are happy for his particular responsiveness, there’s a strong imperative to move to a system where regardless of our luck of the draw with ministries and bureaucrats, the administrators are kept accountable by us, or able to be fired by us.

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Dharna day 10: Sana visits the hospital

Today we went about the laborious process of reassembling Sana’s documents, lost as they were when the police raided the dharna sthal on August 2. This took all day, with the help of Arun Paswan and Ram Vilas Paswan, and involved Tarini and, me joining Sana and her mother Sakina in long queues of people seeking medical attention at AIIMS. There was much pushing and shoving, some elbowing, anxious patients with bandaged body parts trying to avoid re-injuring themselves, patients groaning on stretchers that cut a glacially slow path between the solid walls of people standing back to back in knots around each door in the hallways. Sakina and Sana were both delightful, assertive, funny, taking the edge off the day’s endless waiting, for re-filling forms, re-diagnosing Sana, and trying to get her an appointment for surgery that wouldn’t give her throat tumor three more years to go. Sana smiled broadly through the day, croaking jokes in her wheezing, barely preserved voice, clambering around her mother as she talked. Sakina dresses Sana in boys’ clothes, and with a refreshing simplicity, she says she prefers the way Sana looks in boys clothes, and the way it enables her to play around and not feel shy around boys. In this and other ways she’s an interesting and spirited woman, completely committed to getting her children treated and educated, but strongly motivated to keep life upbeat and full in the midst of the sickness inflicted upon her family.

Meanwhile much solidarity building happened with the other Bhopalis. The young ladies of Children Against Dow Carbide went to the New Era school today, to an audience of students from class 9,10,11,12. At the dharna sthal, Sashi who works with waste pickers came and extended her solidarity. So did Bhupendar Rawatji who works with farmers who had likewise been on a dharna in 2008 around land acquisiton. We had a second visit from Sudipta, from the Asmita theater troupe. She said her parents are both doctors and that they would really like to extend any help. We gave her a list of ayurvedic medicines we needed and she promised to try and get them for the group.

Later in the evening, Sakina came back to the dharna sthal where her young son dived into her lap to breastfeed. He emerged a good twenty minutes later, looking distinctly satisfied, burped, and proceeded to prowl around, biting unsuspecting adults on the shoulder, as we sat around drinking tea and discussing revolution. We discussed gender. We discussed cross-dressing. We discussed who would be leaving that night and who would return when and who would arrive tomorrow. 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 is run is at fault; discussing how we can be the sarkar, the government, how everyone can be the sarkar.

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Dharna day 9: BJP make political propaganda out of Bhopal

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.

BJP party workers came over again to sit with our dharna people, however, making an effort to compensate for their past behavior. Meanwhile the BJP sthal stands nearby day night, with polished glossy billboards and posters. I sauntered over to get a better look, and found a set of disturbing photos of piles of bodies left over after the disaster, with poetry overwritten in both Hindi and English. Another set of posters were photographs of newspaper headlines highlighting the inefficiency of the Congress. The effect was one of a profoundly disturbing, and exploitative experience, with the limited political message that the Congress Party was to blame. One particular picture, of a half naked woman splayed out on the floor, with her naked son next to her, was particularly disturbing – given that each photo in that exhibit was selected for effect, I wonder what the BJP party workers who decided to include that were thinking. Whether they thought that the helplessness of the woman to cover herself and her child as they perished due to the gas would come through. Whether they wondered if they, the BJP, guardians of morality, were being exploitative of this woman who couldn’t view her naked photo and object now that Union Carbide had killed her. Whether they thought that shock value at naked bodies would heighten the reaction of shock the rest of the pictures of piles of bodies and cattle were also calculated to induce. How they planned the overlying poems to induce rage, only for that rage to safely transfer into faith in the BJP, and disillusionment with the Congress.

Meanwhile a second determined group of youngsters from Children Against Dow Carbide continued to reach out to Delhi schools about the gas disaster. Three young women visited Tagore International School in the norning and Bluebells School around noon. Each school had an audience of about 100-150 students of a mix of ages, who listened intently and asked a lot of interesting questions. An idea emerging out of the interactions with school children has been the idea that children from all the schools would visit the Bhopalis together on the 10th, and the students were very excited about this idea.

Today many people will once again leave for Bhopal, including Bano Aapa. Some are staying, like Sana and her family. Like Mamu, who was gas affected and has been with the struggle from the beginning, growing up through the deaths of most of his family members from the gas exposure. He planned to go back to Bhopal for a while but whose friends at the dharna sthal insisted he stay. Rashida Bee who is back at the dharna sthal from Bhopal, and more will arrive tomorrow.

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