Repression In The
20 August , 2003
on the Narmada river are frontlines in the struggle for cultural survival.
In May 2003, a controversial decision was taken to raise the height
of the Sardar Sarovar dam from 95 to 100 meters. Waters swirl around
Dhankhedi, Anjanwada, Bharad, Kevadia, Nimgavan, Mokhdi, Dhanale, Manibeli.
The police assault those facing submergence, destroying homes, forcibly
evicting people, harassing activists of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
On July 28, 2003, 74 people, including women and children, were arrested
in Chimalkhedi village in Maharasthra for protesting displacement.
Sardar Sarovar is
the largest dam on the Narmada, one of 30 large, 135 medium and 3,000
small dams planned on the river, whose watershed is home to about 20
million peasants and adivasis. The reservoir will displace 200,000 people.
Canals, colonies and afforestation will affect another 200,000.
The river comes
unannounced into their fields bringing the stench of rotting crops.
Siltation levels are dangerous, captive crocodiles have killed people.
In front of Domkedi village, a red flag flutters. Shobha Wagh died on
May 22, 2003, trapped in the silt. The very river where people bathed,
fished, where children played, their greatest ally, has turned into
their most intimate enemy.
government claims that it has resettled all project affected persons
at 100 meters. Untrue. 1,500 families in Maharashtra and 12,000 families
in Madhya Pradesh are yet to be rehabilitated at the 100 meter level.
The submergence is devastating the lives of people, wildlife and precious
ecosystems. The people, treated with contempt and disregard by the state,
have nowhere to go.
This state of affairs
diverges from the conditions of the Narmada Project Rehabilitation Policy
mapped by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. It violates provisions of
tribal self-determination directed by Schedule V and VI of the Indian
Constitution. Such callousness defies Convention 107 (and 169 to which
India is not a signatory) of the International Labour Organisation mandating
against the arbitrary separation of indigenous peoples from their traditional
survival resources. It contravenes the conditions of the United Nations
Charter of Rights for Indigenous Peoples, and disobeys the guidelines
drafted by the World Commission on Dams.
The response of
the state to people affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam is a crime against
humanity that particularly targets women, children, adivasis, dalits
and other minorities. This dam is a fearsome testimonial to 'progress'
in postcolonial India, where the voices of the marginalised are drowned
out in development planning. Their lands and livelihoods are collateral
that enable the dreams of the privileged, their cultures and practices
seen as a hindrance to the process of modernisation, insufficiently
'productive', lacking in value.
India is intent
on building non-viable large dams even as many nations are decommissioning
them. As water and electricity pulsates to Ahmedabad, the Narmada people
are left without basic amenities, without shelter, clean water, electricity,
schools. Where resettlement has been attempted, it is flawed. The rehabilitation
process is deceptive and the people's demand for a written Government
Resolution (Maharashtra) on Rehabilitation is yet to be met. The Daud
Committee of 2001 directs land for land rehabilitation, implying habitable
and cultivable land. Repeatedly, the government's resettlement package
offers neither. Often the same land is allocated to multiple stakeholders.
Last week, on a
solidarity visit to the Narmada Valley, colleagues and I met with members
of the Narmada Bachao Andolan, the prolific and ethical movement whose
commitments since 1985 demand our solidarity. We witnessed intensifying
resistance as the Satyagraha gains momentum. We met Medha Patkar midstream
near Jalsindhi. As our boats paused next to each other, she smiled and
spoke in that inimitable way of the struggle ahead that has inspired
Leaving the Valley
we got off the boat near Kadipani, four hours from Baroda, and were
stopped and interrogated by the Gujarat police. We were asked to explain
our association with Medha Patkar, and accused of coming to the Valley
to create disturbances. We were informed that in Narendra Modi's state
there are new rules and those deemed suspicious would be detained. Our
visit, we were told, would be reported to the government. Another indication
of mistreatment in 'Modi's Gujarat', where the state participates in
the intimidation of the innocent, in violence against minorities. The
very state that was an accomplice in the recent murder of Muslims and
obstructs justice today, continues to abuse the rights of the people
of the Narmada Valley.
Umesh Patidar, an
Andolan activist, was waiting outside the police station. As we said
goodbye, Umesh Bhai handed us some food, saying that we had a long road
to travel and should have sustenance. Amid all he has to do, amid the
horror of his reality, he is caring. It is humbling to witness the strength
of the Andolan, its refusal to be made inhuman. A clash of worlds. One
where integrity and relationships matter. Another where alienation and
greed dominate, where there is no comprehension, or tolerance, of difference.
Proponents see the
dam as a leap in science and technology. They assert that the quality
of life will significantly improve because of the political and economic
decisions made in support of the Sardar Sarovar. Treacherous fictions.
Struggles over the shape of the Indian nation in the Narmada Valley,
narrate the irrevocable depletion of the country's natural resource
base and the brutalisation of the disenfranchised. Sardar Sarovar tells
a disparaging story of the destitution of communities, of persistent
and invasive inequities. It symbolizes the incapacity of the state to
honour lives and aspirations that dare to challenge the inequities of
globalization and the tyranny of dominant development.
Who is accountable?
The World Bank withdrew in 1993 without redressing the consequences
of its involvement. The Governments of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and
Gujarat have failed to abide by legal norms, the Supreme Court to deliver
juridical justice. How little democracy functions for the disempowered
The bereaved river
rages in despair. Cultural genocide is never justifiable regardless
of how much 'economic prosperity' results. The injustices in the Narmada
Valley must be scrutinized by international human rights organizations.
The government must comply with the rule of law. If history chronicles
that the people of the Narmada were indeed drowned out, with them will
die ways of being precious to preserving our world, languages, values,
spiritualities, imagination and memory. And, if we do not speak up we
will have been complicit in this massacre.
is a professor of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the California
Institute of Integral Studies.