Day 4 – As you feast, we starve

17 05 2008

Hundreds of American visitors lined up around the block outside the Indian Embassy today, Day 4 of the hunger strike, for what the embassy cheerily advertised as:

its first official cultural day in conjunction with Cultural Tourism DC’s Passport Week. Featured performances include IDEA Dance, a consortium of classical dancers performing Bharatnatyam and Kathak, as well as Dhoonya Dance, a Bollywood-inspired South Asian Dance company who will be performing bollywood-fusion and pop bhangra. The event will begin at 11:30 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. Inside the Embassy will be informational sessions on India, as well as snacks and refreshments.

But only steps away from the embassy’s doors, in the shadow of the Mahatma Gandhi statue, the visitors were met with sight that says more about the Indian government than any pop bhangra dance performance: Indian hunger strikers growing weak on the fourth day of a fast to protest their government’s failure to support their quest for justice against a US-Indian labor trafficking ring.

The workers chanted: “Lift up your voices—we are one!” and carried signs reading: “As you feast, we starve” and “Indian government, help your people!”—even while caterers carried steaming trays of food through the embassy doors.

Hundreds of American visitors and passersby came to speak with the workers and offer their support. Many were shocked that the workers had been abandoned by their own government and driven to risk their lives with a hunger strike. Many also signed a petition supporting the hunger strikers’ demands: protected status for the workers to let them participate in a criminal investigation against the traffickers, a Congressional investigation into abuses of the guest worker program, and Indian pressure on the US to protect future workers.

The five workers who began the water-only hunger strike on May 14 were visibly weakened, often laying down to conserve their energy. Supporters raised their spirits with street theater.

Though it grows more difficult by the hour, the workers’ commitment to continue the fast is as strong as ever. As hunger striker Paul Konar put it:

“We feel strong because in our hearts, we know our cause is just.”

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