By Angana Chatterji
Dams are not the temples of India,
they have become its burial grounds. In dissent to the brutal refusal
of state and Central governments to honour the legally-bound commitment
to resettlement and rehabilitation of adivasi and other disenfranchised
peoples who are made refugees by the Sardar Sarovar dam, Jamsingh Nargave,
Bhagwatibai Patidar and Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA)
began an indefinite fast on March 29, 2006. On April 4, police forcibly
took Patkar and Nargave into hospital custody charging that they were
attempting suicide, and assaulted and arrested 300 Andolan activists
in New Delhi.
The dam stands at 110.64
metres. On March 8, 2006, the Narmada Control Authority approved raising
the height of the Sardar Sarovar to 121.92 metres. This, as per the
Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Limited, will require 1.75 lakh cubic metres
of concrete and cost an additional Rs 125 crores. Following a petition
by the NBA in1995, the Supreme Court of India limited construction of
the dam to 80.3 metres. Since 1999, the court has allowed successive
jumps, even as it upheld the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award (NWDTA),
mandating land-for-land rehabilitation of impacted families six months
prior to any increase in dam height. This has never been enforced. As
the dam rises and the reservoir grows in size, more villages are submerged,
lives imperilled, displacing memory, difference, history.
The Narmada Valley Development
Plan, imagined since 1946 and formulated in the late Eighties, designated
the Narmada River — 1,312 kilometres through the states of Madhya
Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat — and her tributaries as the site
of 30 large, 135 medium and 3,000 small dams. These dams are turning
the river into a series of lakes, devastating 20 million peasants and
adivasis who call the Narmada watershed home.
Across the Narmada Valley,
35,000 additional families will be impacted at 121 metres, and have
not been rehabilitated. The Madhya Pradesh government has offered cash
compensation to families, violating the land-for-land mandate of the
NWDTA. In Maharashtra, over 1,000 families are yet to receive rehabilitation.
In Gujarat, numerous affected families are yet to receive land or have
been allocated poor quality land. A ministerial team visited the Narmada
Valley, yet the government has failed to act.
South Asia is home to the
largest grouping of tribal peoples outside Africa, and 84.3 million
indigenous peoples live in India. A diversity of cultures named "indigenous"
share the ongoing reality of cultural and physical genocide. Indigenous
peoples today live in states and statelessness, subject to forces of
assimilation and annihilation. As peoples and cultures, the "indigenous"
cannot be made uniform or essentialised. Their resistance includes assertion
of native identities and traditional culture, as well as efforts to
modernise and incorporate. In September 1958, India ratified the International
Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 107 relating to Indigenous and
Tribal Populations. Integrationist in character, Convention 107 attests
to tribal rights based on a framework of indigenous "populations"
rather than "peoples." In 1989, ILO issued Convention 169,
concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, accepting
indigenous cultures as distinct organised societies with specific identities,
recognising them as "peoples." Such acknowledgement allows
tribes the right to negotiate for "sovereignty" with states
in which they are situated. The Indian state remains reluctant to sign
Convention 169, prioritising an assimilative approach to nation building.
Adivasi and peasant movements
in India reject the assumption that development justifies cultural annihilation
and the state capture of the lands and livelihoods of disempowered communities.
Between 1970-1990, 45 million people were displaced by India’s
experiment with large-scale hydroelectric projects. Adivasis are 8.2
per cent of the nation’s inhabitants, 40 per cent of the displaced
population. The Tenth Five Year Plan states that 8.54 million adivasis
were displaced between 1951-1990, from Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra
Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The count, activists
say, is considerably higher. Only 2.12 million have been resettled.
The nation displaces ethics
with/for dominance, interning the dispossessed in the process. Patkar
and Nargave must be released from hospital custody immediately. The
Congress government must accede to the NBA’s demand and halt construction
of the Sardar Sarovar until the affected are ethically rehabilitated
as per the provisions of the NWDTA and Supreme Court orders of 2000
and 2005. For 21 years, people in the Narmada Valley have struggled
for justice with inordinate courage. They are the subjects of state
violence, immense and egregious casualties of maldevelopment. The indefinite
dharna continues, emanating a haunting call that resounds across the
world: "Narmada Bachao."
Angana Chatterji is associate professor of Social and
Cultural Anthropology at California Institute of Integral Studies