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Narmada oustee children hold festival to "keep" spirit of struggle alive

Children participants at a tribal dance
Counterview Desk
The anti-dam organization, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has held a unique Balmela or children’s festival for the children of the Narmada dam oustees in order to inculcate a sense of the need for collective struggle among adivasi children, currently living in various resettlement sites. A National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) note, giving details of the balmela, said it was held against the backdrop of dangers posed by the dam’s height to be raised to 138.64 metres from the current 120.94 metres.
Suggesting that this would “threaten: the life of 2.5 lakh people in the three states – Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh – the note said, “The Balmela was an event that inspired the villagers, activists and children to keep up their spirits and struggle”.
The NAPM is the apex body of several rights-based organizations, including NBA. The note said, four Jeevanshalas (Schools for Life), set up by the NBA, were drowned due to “unlawful submergence” and they were “shifted to upper level in the mountain range”, and the children of these Jeevanshalas, apart from five others, participated in the Balmela.
Children display their art works at the Balmela
NAPM further said, while the children in Jeevanshalas are taught government-approved curriculum, they are also engaged in agriculture, forest surveys etc., they are also made “aware of the rights of tribals to land, water, forest and development, environmental sustainability, biodiversity and participate in movement programmes.”
In fact, at Jeevanshalas, they are “made to participate in various creative activities such as house construction and cleaning”, said the NAPM note, adding, “Self-reliance, personality development and widening perspective are their motto.”
“Education in Jeevanshalas is primarily imparted through adivasi language, along with the regional language Marathi and Hindi. NNNA publishes books in adivasi dialects, in Devnagari script, for children”, the NAPM note said, adding, the objective is to “impart education and life-skills to the tribal children, who are affected by the dam and are living in the most interior, hilly areas, neglected since Independence.”
Held on February 12-15 at the resettlement site of the Project Affected Families (PAFs) situated in Gopalpur village of Taloda tehsil of Nandurbar district, Maharashtra, Jeevanshalas are the tribal schools run by Narmada Navnirman Abhiyan (NNNA). For the past 20 years, the Balmela was inaugurated by former Sports and Youth Minister Padamakar Valvi, in the presence of NBA leader Medha Patkar, NNNA trustee Shyam Patil and other social activists, academicians and elected representatives.
Children play kho kho  at Balmela
“Around 600 tribal children and students (studying at primary level) from nine Jeevanshalas participated in the Balmela. There were competitions such as running, long and high jump, archery, essay writing and elocution. Each school had a team comprising of boys and girls that played two major indigenous games – Kho-Kho and Kabaddi”, the note said.
“Each of the teams was known by their village names, Manibeli, Danel, Thuvani, Trishul, Savriya Digar, Bhabari, Bhitada, Kharya Bhadal, and Jeevan Nagar resettlement sites. The Balmela also had various stalls which held exhibitions on alternative source of producing energy such as solar lamps, clay pots and toys prepared by children of the Jeevanshalas, beautiful hand-made drawings, various science games for individual children, photo exhibition, Narmada literature, etc.”, the note pointed out.

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