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Historic Chikhalda, temples, mosques submerged, activists 'rescue' Gandhi idol

By Medha Patkar
The first farmer of Asia was born in Chikhalda, if one is to believe archaeological researchers. A historic village, 50 percent of its population is of Hindus and 50 percent of Muslims, yet it has always remained peaceful. Chikhalda has struggled to save water, land and people along Narmada river.
Here, farmers would cultivate wheat, cotton and corn on a very fertile land. It had an agricultural produce cooperative society, which ran its own warehouse. This is the place which would give away lakhs of rupeees as insurance premium.
Teak trees, banana cultivation, papaya orchards etc. abounded here. Fisherfolk lived along the bank of Narmada river, doing their fisheries business. On the other end, there were kutcha houses of 100 Dalit families.
There were 36 religious places in Chikhalda, some of them of 10th or 12th century – Neelkantheshwar, Narasimha, Shri Ram temples, to name a few. There were Masjid-e-Pir Dargah and Jamat Khana, also a Jain temple, belonging to the family of the beloved young sarpanch of the village, late Nirmal Kumar Patodi.
There were many government buildings, primary and secondary schools in the village... Children used to get education. Government doctors would compete with their private counterparts to provide best of treatment. Tens of shopkeepers would serve passengers on arrival of buses at the Chikhalda Chowk. The village is known to be supplying milk to nearby villages. Sweets produced here were equally famous.
On the banks of Narmada was situated a temple built by the family of Sakubhai Darbar. The family made its name in banana business. Many poor Bhil Adivasis and Dalits would earn a living working on the fields of cultivators like him.
Khaparkhera is just two kilometres away from Chikhalda. Devrambhai Kanaira, a popular activist of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), would live here. Every NBA activist or supporter would visit him, and none would be allowed to go without having meal. Even archaeologist SB Ora camped here. He was involved in excavation, digging out thousands of years old bird barns, utensils, other paraphernalia. This was widely covered in newspapers.
A spot which is known for hiding treasures of rich human history, Narmada became a point of attraction for well-known historian Romila Thapar, too. She said it needed excavation for 100 long years. There was a time when Narmada would be an attraction of institutions like Archaeological Survey of India, Anthropological Survey of India and Geological Survey of India. But now it attracts only ignorant ministers of Gujarat and the Centre, and their propaganda machinery.
Today Chikhalda is no more, neither farming, nor home. Submerged, only Gandhiji remained seated here. Led by Mohanbhai, the statue was recovered by us from the submerged village by activists with great difficulty.
It was donated by the Ranka Charitable Trust of Rajasthan and was installed in 2018 in the presence of charismatic activists like Sawai Singh of Rajasthan, Vimalbhai of Uttarakhand and Namdev of Gandhi Bhavan in Bhopal. Thousands of people were present at the time of installation of the beautiful statue.
The pillar on which the statue stood was constructed in 1996, when Baba Amte had come here. It is under water. I still remember the blessings of the Baba, which would give me and the struggle all the necessary strength and inspiration. The affectionate short but lovely poems of Tai wouldn’t be heard any more.
This was the spot where a major struggles took place. During one such struggle, the police ran after the agitators. Even Nana Patekar and Maneka Gandhi had come here.
In 2017 all the villagers gathered here during our satyagraha, when we sat on a 17-day fast, followed by 15 days in jail. Not just police force, Chikhalda’s trees and farms were also witness to our non-violent struggle.
Today, Chikhalda stands ravished. Yesterday, when we were recovering Gandhiji’s statue, we saw a Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan board hanging a little way, as also a school building, shops and a temple – all under water. Till date, the idols from the Narasimha Temple and the Neelkantheshwara Temple have not been removed. The Supreme Court order granting Narasimha Temple to the Compensation Committee has been violated. 
We could hear the blast of a signle-storey building, as one of its walls collapsed. We could see hungry 40-50 dogs and 10-20 pigs roaming around on rooftops. Chikhalda’s decades old trees were under water. What will happen tomorrow, nobody knows, especially in this era of climate change. Chikhalda is inundated, and so are its agricultural plots, its beautiful houses. The poor have lost their only dwellings for ever.
However, we succeeded in rescuing the statue of Gandhiji, the perpetual satyagrahi...
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Free translation from Hindi of the article by tje Narmada Bachao Andolan leader

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