Skip to main content

Whither Diwali in Narmada valley? No lights anywhere, darkness part of tribal life

Medha Patkar with Ranya and Rajubai
By Medha Patkar*
When I decided to spend Diwali days with the adivasis, our saathis of last 34 years struggle, in the hilly villages of Maharashtra, I knew what the scenario would be. In Manibeli, Chimalkhedi, Bamani and Mukhdi, houses after houses and fields had been submerged… lost partially or fully into the oblivion! Yet when I reached, crossing a number of police checks by boat from the Sardar Sarovar dam site, I got a shiver, witnessing the huge ocean that the mother river, Narmada, had turned into. It was demonic, indeed.
When boatmen, Dinesh, Sukhram and others talked about it, they didn’t seem to be in despair. Guilt filled my heart: There were no lights anywhere. Darkness was part of their lives. Solar lamps were there in bits and pieces, but the whole picture was of grave deprivation.
‘Ambulance on water’ or ‘Dispensary on barge’ was not reaching them. Once in a while when it did, it was mostly without a doctor. It couldn’t treat all the patients. Snakes and snake bites have increased. After panchnamas, no compensation has been paid for the losses of houses and crops this year as yet.
A package of 5 kg of rice and daal was rejected by Manilalkaka. His wife Jadiben, though elderly, is equally bold. A ‘bhagat’, he would eat only what is cooked by them at home. Their buffaloes, members of the family, had drowned. He had sheltered me when I went underground during the struggle of 1993.
Manilalkaka is entitled to get two hectares of cultivable land with irrigation facility. On being offered the land in Gujarat for resettlement, he felt cheated. A huge drain passes through the land allotted to him. It would need to be shifted. Who would do it? In Maharashtra, his house is under water. The shelterless family of two with cattle is hanging between the administrations of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Natwarbhai’s son Santosh, a boy of 7, is studying in our Jeevanshala. He was having high fever for a week. He could not be taken to Kevadia or Garudeshwar. It would mean a huge spending, which he can’t afford, as his source of income is low.
Natwarbhai’s land in Gujarat is without irrigation, hence it is difficult for him to resettle there. A sharecropper himself, his earnings are meagre. The situation is not very different for Arjunbhai and Narayanbhai, who have been allocated land in faraway Gujarat. Jungle stands on their land. Their own state government is Maharashtra is avoiding them. As for Gujarat, its officials are not responding.
Before submergence, they would grow lots of custard apples and cucumbers. Much of it has been destroyed in front of their own eyes. Their houses have gone under waters fully or partially. They and their neighbours are compelled to take shelter into tin sheds with cattle and all the belongings. It is an unlivable condition for these adivasis. With no full and fair rehabilitation in sight, their world is on the brink of destruction.
Noorji and other villagers in Chimalkhedi live in the houses which were got submerged years ago. They rebuilt their houses with tin sheds. This year, they are waiting for the water levels to come down, so that they could reopen their houses. They have lost their woods and crops into the ‘sea’.
Ranya Gonjya Padvi’s house was my final abode. Previously he was finding it difficult to climb up there, where he lives now. He is not happy that the river has reached his doorstep. He still has stayed put with cattle, cocks and hens, a doggy, a cat and all his companions, including ants and insects. His speeches in every meeting since 1986, even in the ‘Desh Bachao, Desh Banao’ National Tour would be fiery. He would refer to kidi-makodi (ants and insects), saying that dams would even harm them, kill them. “Listen to them, they are speechless but still alive”, he would say.
When I slept in his small dark house made out of bamboo, wood and all the materials gathered from the local environs, he was thrilled and filled with love. They had four cots. Initially I refused to take one. But finally I did, realizing, big black ants were moving all around. They climbed up and kept waking me up all the night.
I took rice with curd, which they had stored for a week. It satiated my hunger. But his memories filled my heart. Rajubai, Ranya’s wife, was an active witness to everything that happened. She kept me awake. Sounds of all kinds and of wind were hovering around the Diwali night. Ranya has no solar lamp, no water storage tank, but his spirits were high.
In his own style, he narrated how the government did not care for the adivasis and was destroying their life. There was a deep concern for all those who have faced submergence, far away … Devrambhai, Kamlubahen and all others in the plains.
I returned by boat full of data, names, description of violations and planned steps. I was back into another world. Having walked a few kilometers and getting a ride from a young forest guard, sensitive and courageous, I reached another world… of shopping mall, lights with vulgar decorations, of noise filled with crackers and vehicles. I realized who the culprit was. It is this world that is destroying the world of Ranya!
Stop this, I screamed in my heart. But within few hours, policemen in plain clothe (in mufti) came up from all directions to gherao (encircle) me, asking me to follow. Why are ‘they’, the ruling giants likeVijay Rupani and Narendra Modi, so scared of us? I asked this 20-odd team of officials and policemen. They too were suffering from orders on the Diwali day. They were mum as slaves, but offered smile – true or false – to me!
Our ‘rally of vehicles’ moved a long distance. I got the confirmation that ‘they’ knew what they are doing to the farms with standing crops etc. is wrong. Hence they are feeling insecure, putting up security all over to try to trap us.
I witnessed two worlds … rather, the two edges of one world, on the very same Diwali day. They were like two shores of the ‘manmade sea’ difficult to be crossed in a ‘dungi’ (trunk boat) of Ranya!
---
*Leader, Narmada Bachao Andolan

Comments

TRENDING

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Why no information with Assam state agency about female rhino poaching for a year?

By Nava Thakuria   According to official claims, incidents of poaching related to rhinoceros in various forest reserves of Assam in northeast India have decreased drastically. Brutal laws against the poachers, strengthening of ground staff inside the protected forest areas and increasing public awareness in the fringe localities of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries across the State are the reasons cited for positively impacting the mission to save the one-horned rhinos. Officials records suggest, only two rhinos were poached in Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve since 1 January 2021 till date. The last incident took place probably in the last week of December 2021, as a decomposed carcass of a fully-grown (around 30 years old) female rhino was recovered inside the world-famous forest reserve next month. As the precious horn was missing, for which the gigantic animal was apparently hunted down, it could not be a natural death. Ironically, however, it was not confirmed when

Lack of welfare schemes, BSF curbs force West Bengal farmers to migrate far away

Counteview Desk  In a representation to the National Human Rights Commission chairperson, a senior West Bengal based activist has complained that villagers living near the border with Bangladesh are forced to migrate to as far away as Mumbai and Kerala because of lack of government sensitivity towards their welfare in original villages. Giving specific instances, Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), said, if the Border Security Force (BSF) had not put any restriction on agricultural activities, and if villages had properly implemented welfare schemes, these people would never migrate to other States. Text: I want to attract your immediate attention to the inhumane condition of the migrated workers of Gobra village, Swarupnagar Block in North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal to seek your urgent intervention to protect the rights of these people. Gobra is a village situated near the Indo-Bangladesh Border where the border fencing is about 500 meters i