As the world reflects on the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests, residents of a small village in India protest against the government for their basic human rights…
The government of Madhya Pradesh decided to raise the water level of the Omkareshwar dam, without providing rehabilitation for the residents of the villages, which would be submerged. Residents of the submerged villages protested – by standing their ground.
From the perspective of a volunteer who saw the struggle first-hand, penned by my good friend, Sneha Chandna:
Kanshi Lal Bhai* sat in water for 17 days along with 50 other people in Ghoghalgaon, to protest against the illegal raising of the water level in Omkareshwar dam. Ghoghalgaon is one of the 30 villages that will submerge, when the Omkareshwar dam reservoir is filled up to its full capacity.
That Kanshi Lal Bhai is beyond 55 years of age, and is completely blind, complicates the situation a bit, but doesn’t stop him from supporting other protesters.
The Government made an official announcement to raise the water level in Omkareshwar dam (from 189 to 193 metres), in the month of May, and started raising the water level in August, 2012. This was an open and blatant violation of the Supreme Court and High Court order, that says that the government can submerge a region only after 6 months of the Resettlement and Rehabilitation of its people.
It seems the distance between a blind, displaced, illiterate, yet determined Kanshi Lal ji, and the machinery for the Delivery of Justice, (which includes the National Hydroelectric Development Corporation, Madhya Pradesh Government, High Court of MP and the Supreme Court), is more than the distance between the Earth and the Sun. It is this distance that makes the victory of the protesters at Omkareshwar Dam, all the more special.
Being a participant in the whole process, one is deeply humbled. In fact, as the protest progressed before my eyes, with each passing day I found it difficult to believe that a small set of people with their truly limited resources could manage to keep the state machinery on its toes and the print and electronic media on their side. As I expressed my disbelief to a senior NBA activist Sh. Ramesh Billorey, he said that in spite of the differences between the resources and power, it’s the truth that helps one sail through, “Satya Hamesha Jhoot par Bhaari Padta hai”.
During the time of the protest, Print and Electronic media played a very crucial role in highlighting the issue all over the country and put pressure on all decision-making institutions to agree to people’s demands. Media persons had, in fact, become a part of the support system for the movement. Also, as the protest ended, realization dawned that the movement had made history, by awakening the conscience of a nation, that is otherwise too busy to notice anything that the tribal or rural folks have to say. Also, it led to similar protests in other parts of the country, where development-led displacement has happened, or is about to happen, such as the issue of Koodankulam nuclear plant.
The victory of those displaced by the Omkareshwar dam, was followed by strong police action in the Harda District of Indira Sagar Dam, where the MP government refused to agree to people’s demands, and removed them forcefully from the Satyagraha site. A lot of media persons asked NBA activists why would the government agree to demands in the case of one dam, and not agree to similar demands by those affected by another dam?
Had the government agreed to the demands of those affected by the Indira Sagar dam, they would have had to allot more than double the amount of land they will now allot to those displaced by Omkareshwar dam.
As a lay person, often times I’ve been forced to wonder, what if someday some of my own rights are violated. It will take so much of time, money and effort to figure out a way to access the legal machinery, that it might as well become the single-most important pursuit of my life.
If it could be this way for an educated young person of the country, imagine what the situation would be for the tribal communities of a village, which has not known any vocation other than farming, which grows most of what it consumes, or which has little money, if at all. All the arguments of the government seem skewed in the scheme of things.
Some 30 villages will submerge because of the Omkareshwar dam, and 268 villages will submerge due to the Indira Sagar Dam. These dams will produce electricity.
Interestingly a short stay in one of the villages that will submerge, will make one notice that electricity in these very villages is available only for 8-10 hours. Yes, it’s true that Foreign Direct Investment might attract investors, but let’s first try to impress them with roads and electricity in every village of the country.
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* Name changed
About the writer: Sneha has just returned from Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, where she was actively involved with the Jal Satyagrah. She is currently working with ‘Koshish’.
Narmada Bachao Andolan was established in 1989 by Ms Medha Patkar, protesting against construction of dams across the River Narmada. While Ms Patkar works more at the national level now, the Jal Satyagrah was coordinated in Khandwa, by Alok and Silvy. Silvy sat in the water for 17 days, and that is how people sat along with her, and Alok coordinated fully with the media.
For more information on the Narmade Bachao Andolan, and the Jal Satyagrah, please visit their blog, right here on wordpress : Tales Of Narmada