Leaning on the trunk of our rented taxi, I observe the driver. Somehow, he understands. He knows when to step in and help, and when to stand aside and let us do our job. We have taken up the duty of care for the 67 activists who are detained in the Tardeo Police Station. When seen at once, they appear an unusual combo; young urbanites with access to all the opportunity that India's idea of development can offer and men and women from Mahan, one of the oldest Sal forests in Asia located in Central India. The latter have travelled over 2,000 kms to tell Essar, a partner company in Mahan Coal Limited that their forests, and their livelihood are not to be devoured by a coal mine. If however, you saw them sit together in a peaceful protest that lasted 4 hours, or be led away into a police van together, you would see what I saw. Their bravery, their oneness, their resolve.
A lot of people following the news today will read or see a photo of 6 activists hanging a banner. They might have caught the live stream on You Tube. On the street that stretches in front of the Essar House skyscraper, I heard everything from, "In log koodenge kya?" (Will these people jump?) to "Essar wale jungle kaat rahe hai na, isiliye" (Essar is cutting the forests, that's why). Every automobile slowed down to get a view of this crazy spectacle. Curious passers-by stopped to study the group of protestors. The message was clear, "Our forests will stay. Our livelihoods will persist. Essar must withdraw."
It's 02:21 am. A few of us have organised ourselves into a 'duty of care' team. Mumbai being the city it is, we have sourced medicines, food and tea in the dead of the night. As I step into the room where female detainees are being held, a young volunteer holds up her plate of food. "There is more than enough, please eat some na," she persuades with a smile. It hardly seems that she is intimidated by her surroundings or her fate. She makes the hard parts of being an activist seem easy. The next 24 hours are filled with uncertainty. One thing I know for sure: we might as well save the superheroes for movies and comic books. Any given day, I place my bet on the heart of a volunteer.