We started on a sombre note from the beautiful, remotely located Bhopal Institute of Technology and Science, in Bangrasiya, Bhopal, that had hosted us for the night. It was both a day of mournings and reflection along with a day of historical sightseeing.
3rd Dec is infamous for being the anniversary of the world’s worst industrial disaster which unfolded post midnight this day on a chilly night in 1984. It was caused by the Sevin gas leak incident at the Union Carbide India Limited, a pesticide plant producing this highly toxic but very efficient and cost-effective chemical. Nearly four thousand people lost their lives that tragic night. The total official toll rose to 15000 in the next two weeks. The tragic disaster only proves the call of the Jai Jagat movement for checking senseless industrialization and developing a model of people-centric sustainable development. A model that is based on local needs and enhancing local capacities for real empowerment of the people and for a better clean environment for future generations.
The retrospection that followed the prayers for Bhopal victims dwelled on how we can change this paradigm of top-down development where for the sake of easy solution thousands of lives were lost. Add to that the apparent culpability of an indifferent and greedy government and absolute unaccountability and careless safety and inspection regulations of the private factory that, needless to say, got away without any blame, and for which thousands had to pay with their lives and millions continue to be affected. And all this ironically for a chemical product that only helps enhance productivity in the short term but kills the land in the long run and is now recognized as an environmental hazard.
It’s been 35 years now and yet the city continues to suffer from the aftermath of the gas leak through still poisoned water and land.
The day of mournings didn’t end with the team’s respect to the victims of the gas tragedy for just before lunch we received the news of the passing away of Dhawal Mehta, after he met with an accident when his car got hit by another vehicle from behind. Dhawal, 45, was the son of Yatish Mehta, a diamond merchant who gave up his business to practice and spread the message of Gandhi, and now the chairman of Sarvodyaya Mandal, Mumbai, were remembered for their important role in the inception and organization of the JaiJagat2020 yatra. Yatish, 75, came in contact with Rajagopala P. V. in 2005 and became a devoted contributor to his cause and struggle for the landless. He is still actively involved in mobilizing the poorest and most deprived, marginalized sections of the society. He has been instrumental in raising donations by bringing civil society organizations together and promotes art and handicrafts made by tribal communities for alternative livelihood. His life is dedicated to making marginalized communities self sufficient and lead a respectful life. Both father and son helped support the Jai Jagat one year walk through their networking, raising donations and providing organizational support. His whole family has been an integral part as members of the Jai Jagat family since it’s inception. Rajagopal P.V. and other seniors who knew Dhawal personally were visibly affected by the sad and untimely demise of this highly loved soul and extended their sympathies to his father.
The padyatris were looking forward to seeing the magnificent 10th century Shiva Temple at Bhojpura, sheer poetry carved in stone in the Tantric tradition, where the team stopped for lunch.
Anuradha Shankar, Bhopal’s ADGP, led the group through an informative session on the archeological sieves of this great monolith that is also the home to the largest Shiva Lingam in the world
She then addressed the issue of the viability of Gandhian nonviolence. In her opinion, Gandhi is not only possible but absolutely necessary for the truth that Gandhi speaks of sa result of his own search and experiments on himself while drawing from the rich spiritual traditions of the country. Only after confirming through his own exoskeleton did he start to advocate and practice it. Being Gandhian is being humble, gentle, soft, respectful and simple. And it is easier to be simple rather than complicated. Through Gandhi’s practice of truth and Ahimsa, we can heal ourselves and through this self transformation change the world for the better. Anuradha advised that to become his mirror image we must become true to OURSELVES.
In the post lunch tree shade meeting and later in the evening, the group shared their learnings from the day. It is interesting to see that as students and citizens of a neo-liberal pro-capitalist urban-centric India, we look at Gandhi as somebody larger than life and his messages impossible to follow as a way of life. No wonder the symbology through the portrait of Gandhiji is so important to the mission esp in a country that gives more importance to the person or an avatar than the message itself. The movement hopes to bring a change in people’s attitude by both practicing Gandhi’s ideals and message of nonviolence as the team walks daily interacting with local people to spread awareness of Gandhi’s messages.
The padyatra is not just an exercise but embodies the very message of Gandhi as the team practices nonviolence, tries to live the Mahatma’s message and adopt his ideals during the strenuous practice of walking. It is indeed a walking mobile action oriented workshop for practicing and understanding in depth the message of Gandhi and at the same time creating agents of change for a better sustainable future within the framework of Gandhian ideology. And in the process raise awareness, empower the marginalized and influence both local and international policy making.
As evening approached, we neared our destination, a resthouse at the border of Abdullaganj where we were greeted by women from four nearby villages. They shared their gratitude and offered inspiration through their stories of collective leadership, grassroot movements and impacts the local changes bring to the national levels. This gave the team an insight into the connection between the micro and macro perspective, an aspect that has been widely stressed in discussions during reflection time. Due to shortage of time, it was decided to hold the meeting again the next morning. The falling temperature here at night prompted many to inaugurate their sleeping bags, a gift from the Madhya Pradesh government, presented in Bhopal to brave the cold of countries like Iran and Armenia and most of Europe. The yatris expressed satisfaction at these ultra warm sleeping bags as they retired for the night after a rather heavy day.