Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Step by painful step

Following up on my post of March 10, here's yet another hard-won victory in the almost relentless struggle of Bhopal's gas tragedy survivors. Excerpt from message sent out by Sathyu yesterday:
Today, at 2 p.m., the six of us broke our 14-day hunger strike in response to a written assurance by the Madhya Pradesh Government conceding our key demands... In the last four years, we have sat on five hunger strikes. We have succeeded in enforcing our will in every one of them. The confidence with which we undertake hunger strikes has all to do with our conviction in our demands, and even more importantly, our knowledge that we Bhopalis are not alone. The overwhelming support by friends young and old in the US, UK, India and elsewhere; the round-the-clock phone-in and fax campaigns set up by our young friends in the US have shown the Madhya Pradesh Government what our muscle power is. More than 2000 faxes and 500 phone calls. That did shake the Government up. We are all for this kind of grassroots globalisation. Although, thanking anyone for their support would be inappropriate, we do wish to acknowledge our friends around the world -- the website updaters, the callers, the faxers, the sms senders, the bloggers, and just about anybody who had their thoughts tuned to Bhopal.

And excerpts from another wonderful update from Pragya, sent out on March 20:
The final note revised after a two hour meeting with the Collector yesterday was accepted by the fasters. They would end their indefinite fast this afternoon.

Good news has a way of plastering permanent smiles on people's faces.

By noon, a bus packed with the survivors arrived at the Tinshed as words of inspiration rang from their lips. They were so enthused that they began their chorus of slogans even before getting off the bus.... A mosambi juice stall was brought near the tent. The owner was duly reminded of the importance of his role. Your fresh juice is going to be the first thing our six people will ingest after fifteen days of starvation. When the time came to provide six glasses of fresh juice, the owner did not ask for money. As the stall rolled near the Tinshed, one thought ran though everyone's minds: When will they come?

Soon, the packed tent became one big unit of grins.

Sathyu was the first to arrive. As he got off of his motorcycle, we noticed part of the disguise he had used these past few days. His unruly beard was now a sharp goatee, his face aglow with playful mischief; despite the Intelligence's efforts to track him down, he had escaped the public eye and remained "underground" for forty-eight hours. Immediately, the people surrounding Sathyu smothered him in love, offering hugs, garlands, tears, words, everything they had to offer. The media had arrived and we waited patiently for the rest of the six to come. Fifteen minutes later, they did.

A white Sumo parked behind the tent, and the doors opened to reveal five of the hunger strikers accompanied by a few police officials. Applause. Drums. Dancing. Hugs and kisses. More hugs and kisses. The Tinshed had become dense with rejoicing.... Children and adults alike...danced with an excitement that no amount of fatigue, heat, or perspiration could dwindle...

Soon enough, the Collector joined the revelations, but only long enough for the press to see him and do a few interviews, after which he left promptly. After drinking juice and breaking the fast, the six were in the midst of a crowd so thick, it was difficult to breathe. At one point while Sathyu was dancing, he stumbled. Immediately, people backed out to give him space, and began fanning him with newspapers, hands, the fabric of their saris, anything. He soon recovered. Rachna's situation, however, was a bit more serious.

[She] was advised to go to the hospital. There were abnormally high levels of ketones in her system, and she needed help. She left with Champa Didi and was released in a few hours. Meanwhile, the tent was still packed. The fasters' shoulders were weighed down by the weight of [garlands]. People did not want to leave. But like they say, all good things must come to an end.

Groups of people slowly left; the tent was now simply an empty structure with flowers littered over the rumpled carpet that had been our living room, kitchen, bedroom, and study for twenty-eight days. The electricity was disassembled, the canvases detached, the poles of the tent taken down. Slowly, the memories we had gathered were removed one by one. One flap of the tent had a gaping hole in it because of the Motrin mosquito coil that had singed its fabric. The cartons were bursting with the newspapers we had collected to make paper bags. As the tent became a row of poles and folded cloth, a sense of bittersweet longing filled our thoughts. We had won. Yes, the State had heard our rage-filled voices. We had lived in a tent for a month, forming bonds, laughing together, singing together, living in a unity that only the Tinshed could have made possible. But now it was over. Everyone went their separate ways. Promises of meetings were made, fond memories laughed over, and hands squeezed tightly in gratitude. Sometimes you do not need to say anything to show how you feel. The mist in your eyes and the lump in your throat communicates more than all the words in a dictionary ever could.

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