Skip to main content

Oral account of how Narmada dam has favoured haves, 'devastating' Adivasi lives

By Rajiv Shah 

A new book, “The Struggle for Narmada: An Oral History of the Narmada Bachao Andolan”, authored by a former NBA activist Nandini Oza, has gone a long way to reveal the type of worldview held by the powers-that-be who wanted hundreds of villages submerged and lakhs, all in the name of development, in order to build what was qualified as the world’s largest dam on the perennial river Narmada.
Based on lengthy conversations Oza had with two NBA activist-leaders, Keshavbhau Vasave and Kevalsingh Vasave, both from Maharashra, Keshavbhau quotes Gujarat chief minister Chimanbhai Patel as telling a meeting held in early 1990s in Mumbai with the intention of having consensus on the dam amidst unprecedented opposition from Adivasis, that the project would resettle Adivasis, living in “monstrous” conditions, “near urban areas” and make them “human.”
A Congress chief minister in early 1970s, Chimanbhai became the target of attack of the powerful Navnirman movement (a precursor to the Jay Prakash Narayan movement that led to the imposition of Emergency) which engulfed Gujarat, forcing him to resign, form his own party, join hands with BJP in 1990 to lead a coalition government, and again return to the Congress that year, and rule the state till 1994 when he died.
Chimanbhai is further quoted as stating at the meeting that the dam, once built, would “produce a lot of electricity”, would provide water to “those people who are deprived of drinking water”, would end the plight of the Adivasis whose areas have “no doctors or medical facilities, no educational facilities”, only to be rebuffed by Keshavbhau.
This is what Keshavbhau, who attended the meeting as a representative of 220 villages to be submerged on the banks of Narmada, told the meeting, which was also attended by the chief ministers of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, “Now you are going to take them (Adivasis) near the cities, teach them, school them, make them literate, knowledgeable. Fifty years have passed, why didn’t you teach them, educate them all these years? Those areas could also have been developed, no? Then why has that development not taken place until now?”
Taking issue with the powerful politicians, who called it a development project, and terming it Narmada Destruction Project, Keshavbhau suggested that the project was all set to divide people. He asked: “Who is going to get that electricity? It is for the big cities. Poor people like us will continue to stay in the dark. Who will get water? Big people? Industry?” He insisted, “This project is being planned for these people.”
First published in Marathi (“Ladha Narmadecha”) and translated into English by Suhas Paranjape and Swatija Manorama, Oza’s book also recalls how the powerful officialdom tried to bribe Adivasi leaders to accept the rehabilitation package offered to those living in large areas of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh which were to face submergence.
Thus, Kevalsingh quotes how, while being taken in a car to the high-profile meeting in Mumbai, a senior IAS official, one Gill, kept showing him ministerial bungalows, and then asked him whether he would like to have a new Jeep, which could be “arranged”, a Rs 1,100 monthly “honorarium”, and five acres of land as against other Adivasis offered 2 acres each.
Keshavbhau Vasave, Kevalsingh Vasave
Dotted with minute details of two major struggles against the dam – first at Ferkuva and then at Manibeli – the book is a dispassionate account of how the powerful people, for whom the dam was allegedly being built, finally succeeded, and how the movement had to change stance with changing times, finally becoming ineffective on many counts.
Reflecting what Adivasis think about the long-drawn-out struggle against the dam, Kevalsingh Vasave is quoted as telling Oza, “According to Hindu religion, the Mahabharat war lasted only 18 days. Yet, that 18-day war became the largest compiled epic in India. Our battle has already lasted 22 years. If one were to write or recount the history of this struggle, it would take another 22 years.”
According to Kevalsingh, who belongs to a village called Nimgavhan, which has two big streams of Narmada – Khad and Jumaninala – and is situated next to the borders of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, they were involved in organic farming, using no fertilisers. “The farmland in our old villages was partly in the plains and partly on the mountain slopes... We used to plough the land, and once it rained, we used to grow jowar, maize, bhadi and banti among many others. In the water courses we grew onion, garlic and watermelon. Our Narmada was our greatest gift.”
Not without reason, says Kevalsingh, “For the people, Narmada is a goddess. People come to Jalsindhi, the village opposite ours, from all over India to worship her, just to get a glimpse of her, the sacred and mighty Narmada…. We consider the Narmada our mother and ourselves her children. When the dam brought her waters into my house, I offered a pooja to her.”
Currently resettled in Vadchhil village, Nandurbar district, Maharashtra, he says, “I still see vividly before my eyes. It seems like a dream. But what could I do? The government has finally forced us to live our lives in this way. We struggled for 22 years to stay at that place. Not that the battle hasn’t given us anything. Had we not struggled, we would not have got what we have now.”
Blaming outsiders for displacing him and other Adivasis, Kevalsingh says, “The Aryans came to our country from outside. Aryans committed aggression and overpowered the people who lived here even though the latter fought back. Those who joined the Aryans changed their religion and stayed with the Aryans. Those who opposed the Aryans went into the forests and into remote valleys and hills. They are the ones now called Adivasis.”
Mahabharat war lasted only 18 days. Yet, that 18-day war became the largest compiled epic in India. Our battle has already lasted 22 years
Influenced, among others, by his school teacher, Jadhav Sir, who was a communist, Kevalsingh says, “He used to tell people to abandon superstition, stop caste discrimination, come together and unite, because only if we united would we succeed in getting our demands fulfilled.” Later, it was Medha Patkar, who reached his village around mid-1980s, when she was attached with Setu, an Ahmedabad-based NGO.
Recalls Kevalsingh, Medha Patkar, who used to visit every village, told Adivasis in detail, how to fight the forestwalas, who used to exploit them – they would extort money, beat them up on catching someone with wood, or ask for chicken or liquor. “Many a time she herself managed to catch the forestwalas red-handed. She told us to completely stop paying them any kind of money or fine or whatever else we used to pay them.”
Nandini Oza
One of those against whom “patently false charges of dacoity, breaking a camera, and attempt to kill” were slapped during the Manibeli satyagraha in 1993, and is even today shown as “absconding” in official records, he says, the slogan at that time was “Doobenge, par hatenge nahi… If you are going to submerge our village by force, then you have left us with only one alternative – to be drowned...”
However, he says, “In 1993 Manibeli was completely submerged. And since 1994 onward, as the height of the dam increased, turn by turn, more and more villages were submerged.” It was at this point that people began think, “We said we are willing to get drowned, but now our villages are submerged… So a few people began to move their houses to safer places... And so, some people accepted rehabilitation.”
After the height of the dam was raised to 110 metres, in 2004, people decided to accept land, leading to a the next strategy, of rehabilitation, which Kevalsingh regrets has still not happened, with people not being offered any land for rehabilitation, especially to Adivasis of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashra, as “the government has no land to offer these people.”
Claiming this in part is due to inability of the NBA to work in the same spirit it used to earlier, Kevalsingh says, “A couple of years ago, the NBA made a big noise about forest landholders. Huge rallies were held and forms were filled out for each person. But today the issue of forest landholders has pretty much taken a back seat. In many villages the land has not even been surveyed.”
This is because of the failure to have decentralised leadership. According to him, “In areas like Dhadgaon, many small organisations are coming up”, says Kevalsingh, wondering, “Why is it that there is no place for local activists in these organisations? There are many educated students who are idle even after getting educated. We need to bring a little awareness to them. And they will need the support and love of the community if we want them to be a part of this new organisation.”
The second thing which bothers the NBA is the financial aspect, insists Kevalsingh, adding, “That too may be a reason because to work for any cause without money is difficult. Even if all you need is simply a room for an office, you cannot do without money. We need people who can provide financial support. We also need people who can document things and write letters.”

Comments

Unknown said…
Narbada Dam is filled not with water but blood of tribals!

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

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".

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.

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

Cyrus Mistry, PM Modi’s brother: What do these accidents have in common? Merc!

By Rosamma Thomas*  In September 2022, in an accident at Palghar near Mumbai, Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of the Tata Group, died in a road accident . On December 28, 2022, a road accident in Mysore left one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brothers injured. What is common in these accidents? The car that crashed into the divider on the road, in both these cases, was manufactured by “prestigious” German manufacturer Mercedes Benz. One former dealer of Mercedes Benz cars in India has been raising issues of the threat to the lives of those riding these cars for many years now. Cama Motors, among the oldest dealers of foreign cars, having started business in pre-independence India, noted over 10 years ago that Mercedes Benz was indulging in corrupt practices . The cars are currently priced between Rs 41 lakh and Rs 2.92 crore in India; few people realize that the pride of owning a Merc comes at considerable risk to life. Cama Motors carefully documented several of the flaws on a websi

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

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen