Vol. 2 No.
5 "India is the cradle of the human race... " - Mark Twain
attended this year’s Bhopal dharna from June 29 through
July 10. It was
evident to me that state reform on rehabilitation is a struggle on
multiple fronts. I
observed the intensity with which the dharnas are carried forth;
the persistence an indication that ceaseless protest and action is
the only chance the valley has in combating the multiple ills
presently in opposition to their goal of achieving just
include false surveying, state deforestation, institutionalized
violence, and inadequate dialogue between the state and the
arriving in Bhopal I spent an entire day with Laxmi Narayan Bhai, a
villager from affected area of the Indira Sagar site, and Pradeep, a
Delhi University undergraduate student. We helped load people from neighboring villages near Khirkya
into the train on their way to the dharna for Bhopal. Laxmi
Narayanbhai’s village was submerged in 2004.
asked him “What do you believe the outcome of your participation
in the struggle will be? How has the movement impacted your life?”
replied “The Andolan has given us a voice which was not there
before. We cannot stop fighting for what is right and what is ours
because we have no choice. This
fight has been going on for twenty or so years and will continue to
go on until we get our rights.”
conviction of his statement was matched by the intensity of the
rally to Tin Shed in Bhopal and the events thereafter involving
villagers, activists, and visitors who came in support; including a
youth group who sung protest and folk songs while the 5,000 Narmada
oustees in attendance sung along nightly beginning at around 8:00
and lasting sometimes for two hours.
major impediment to the villagers – and what allows for the
previously mentioned behavior to continue - is the culture within
the state, whose vision of governance, society, and the future of
the nation, is based on exclusion. In other words,
state inaction and indifference to the people’s needs is an
indication that the decision-makers responsible for executing
legislation, and yet refuse to do so, believe that adivasis are
disposable because they aren’t integral to growth of the national
economy, and thus the “development” of a modernized nation.
to comply with legislation is perhaps also influenced by the belief
that the elimination of poverty en route to a fully developed
eliminating those who live in those conditions by expropriating
their resources for profit instead of measuring development on the
basis of the quality of life lived by
agitation amongst oustees, the NBA, intermediate organizations,
activists, students, writers, increases the visibility of an
alternate model of nationhood.
Progressive change in the name of development cannot exclude
populations within the nation; in the same nation.
We’re thus constantly reminded of the association between
local needs (or problems) and national needs by a network of
dissenters within the Narmada Valley (the NBA and the oustees)
and outside of it (various parties mentioned above) who close
the perceived gap between the notion that problems existing in one
locality bears no importance to those in a neighboring or separate
connection between local crises and national ones has just as much
of a social significance as an economic one; as well as a
combination of the two therein.
no secret that 70% of India’s economy is agrarian.
The country is also currently self-sufficient in food supply.
Yet, even cash-crop farmers trading their surplus in the
market are struggling with zero subsidies in the post 1991
liberalization era (farmers in developed economies such as the US
receive up to 70-80% subsidies) since the rapid emergence of Special
Economic Zones. SEZs
provide tax free land and natural resources utilized for
agricultural production to large multi-national companies for
the opening of the economy there has been no gradation or ease of
entry of foreign capital into the country (recent disasters in
Nandigram should highlight this point). Natural resource
confiscation is the modus operandi for centralized development
projects (i.e. large dams) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) alike.
In the case of dams it’s land is sacrificed for water confiscation
to sell to industrial and urbanized companies.
In the case of SEZs land is directly confiscated for
commodification; both processes achieve the same end: displacing
people who’ve used the land in an equitable capacity, at no
expense to the market economy.
then, does the transformation of the nation’s changing landscape -
due to the current situation- entail for the Indian national
economy? How do these
transformations affect those that live in those areas most and how
will the impact on their livelihood and quality of life as well as
those of their descendants in the long run? How will this change
impact society at large? And
how – through enacting substantive, inclusive democracy outside
the conventional channels offered by the state – will the people
ensure their rights so that future economic, social, and cultural
stability is revived, retrieved and assured?
Narmada Valley is home to both cash-crap farmers as well as subsistence level adivasis.
With regard to the Indian economy it’s no mistake that nearly all
of the areas under submergence are inhabitated by subsistence based
adivasi farmers. The
state view is that the adivisas’ maintenance of their once
cultivable land offers no generative utility to the national economy
as a whole; which – in their eyes – justifies the expropriation
of their resources (most notably, water) for profit; masking these
reasons behind electricity generation and water distribution to the
masses. Yet, as we’ve
seen in the case of the Indira Sagar and Omkrashwar dams significant
electricity generation has yet to be measured.
Water distribution in the case of Sardar Sarovar has been a
failure as the most drought prone regions of Kuch and Sarushtra have
received no relief and only a negligible percentage of the water
distribution was marked for those territories in the first place.
Sanjay Sangvai had also pointed out in his extensive study,
River and Life, that several petro chemical plants as well as sugar
cane factories had been commissioned in and around the Narmada
Valley. Though the adivasis do not participate in the traditional
market economy as such, their maintenance of the fertile lands and
their commitment to preserve its generative capacity without
violating it through wasteful agricultural methods provides the
country an environmental benefit, at a time when heavy
industrialization employs water intensive practices (i.e. sugar
cane) and the burning of fossil fuels surpassing
the government offers no cultivable land to the oustees, the region
could experience a boom in poverty unseen in modern development as
well as the economic drawbacks of the dam’s inability to fulfill
obligations on equitable water distribution and electricity
generation through a public goods capacity.
This would then
give the upper hand to those private companies who’ve a stake in
the water sources they’ve bought, creating a situation of water
privatization seen in countries like Bolivia in 2000. The NBA’s
fight for rehabilitation is in the interest of securing cultivable
land so the villagers who’s lives are based on subsistence can
continue living in those ways for the indefinite future.
To assure the right to a just and equitable life to those who
live within the society.
their mode of living has been completely reversed.
Instead of living completely sustainable lives through the
utilization of their own resources, they’re now completely
dependant on the will of the government. Or, the lack thereof. If
the government does not comply with the orders set forth, the
oustees will be completely dependant on the power-brokers in control
of the natural resources they once owned for their own use (without
disturbing or exploiting anyone in the process) and hence, forced
into the market based economy against their will in order to
survive. And once more, there will be added pressure on the public
goods sector to own up to their promises then; but it will likely be
unable to with the astronomical increase in demand should there be
no adequate rehabilitation implemented.
think the next two questions would best be supplemented by a
personal narrative. The
following is my own experience in the submerged regions in the
Narmada Valley, where I first asked myself the questions to begin
with, and believe now, that no answer is possible without proper
visualization of the problems which cause one to ask the question to
traveling through the submerged regions the first thing one notices
is how much of the valley is simply gone. Trees indigenous to the
valley such as the Teak, Neem, Mauwa, and Peepal, utilized for
furniture making, house building, oil extraction, and medicinal
purposes, once – before deforestation and of course backwater
submergence – grew in abundance are scarce. One has to travel from
village to village by boat. Sometimes
– as was the case during my trip – you must wait all day for one
to arrive. It’s
strange seeing the tops of trees poking out of the water, but it’s
a reality when traveling by boat from one village to another.
Those living in these areas have been forced into the hills. I’ll admit, before I saw it with my own eyes, I couldn’t visualize the landscape, with little understanding of the terrain. These hills were rocky. Mountainous. As I moved further up, the fear gathered in me while looking down, realizing they were more like small mountains and cliffs, with nothing between me and the ground but jagged rocks and barren, broken trees sticking out of additional cliffs on the underside. Walking from one person’s house to the next and is a hard journey in and of itself. Sometimes, the journey can take an hour, or more. This was the case in Badul. Sometimes the homes are built on the slant of the hill. And when the rains are hardest during the monsoons, as we’d experienced, the water gets into the house creating mud inside, weakening the reeds and thin woods used to make the house, which was made in haste out of necessity in the first place. While in Jal Sindhi, the rains were so hard the roof of the NBA Jeevanshalah came off completely.
To be concluded...
currently a graduate
student at Syracuse
University in Syracuse,
has spent two
consecutive summers ('06 and '07) in the Narmada Valley in India,
and observing development policy in the region
as well as crises in
local and state democracy, and social movements interaction with
the state to wrest or negotiate rights of those they represent.
Through this lense,
he's followed closely
the events of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the ousted villagers