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The Hindu on : Why Arundhati gave away those lakhs

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Monday, June 28, 1999

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Why Arundhati gave away those lakhs

By Gargi Parsai

NEW DELHI, JUNE 27. Internationally renowned author and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy donated all of her Rs.15-lakh award money to the Narmada Bachao Andolan because she ``really supports everything they stand for. I believe the time has come for alliances to be made by individual people in civil society and the other world that is being cut off'', she told The Hindu.

Ms. Roy shocked the `civil society' with her blase, forthright and fearless support to the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) led by Ms. Medha Patkar against the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project in Gujarat and other proposed dams in the Narmada Valley.

Not only Ms. Roy's generous donation, but also her open support has been deeply appreciated by NBA activists who began a satyagraha in the valley in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh earlier this week to meet the worst-ever submergence of people's ancestral lands this monsoon.

``She is one of the few eminent persons who do more than just signing statements'', says Mr. Sripad Dharmadhikari of the Andolan.

The celebrated author of ``The God of Small Things'' painstakingly went through reams and reams of material on the controversial Sardar Sarovar Project and other proposed dams on the Narmada before she visited the valley and saw for herself the plight of thousands of tribals and dalits who had been displaced and who were to be displaced from their ancestral lands. She went through the Morse Commission Report on Sardar Sarovar.

She studied the petition filed by NBA in the Supreme Court. She read the L.C. Jain Committee Report. She went into every nuance of the project, including the time-to-time rejoinders by State Governments and their unilateral, not always correct, accounts of the rehabilitation process filed in the Supreme Court.

Maker of a film, ``Kaise Jeebo Re?'' (How do we Live?), on the people's struggle in the Narmada Valley, Ms. Jharna Jhaveri, who accompanied Ms. Roy on one of the trips, says Arundhati went through every complexity of the project before she wrote that essay. Ms. Roy's essay in two leading magazines - ``The Greater Common Good'' - about the Narmada Valley Project, based on her visit to the valley, is now being published in a book form and will soon be up for sale.

The Booker Prize winner is now using her clout to garner support for the affected population. She has invited ``individual people in civil society'' to visit the valley in July when the inhabitants face submergence during the monsoon. ``The Rally for the Valley, as we've called it, is to express solidarity with the people who are on satyagraha there'', Ms. Roy said.

``This monsoon, when the reservoir of the Sardar Sarovar Dam fills, the lands and homes of 12,000 tribal people from 60 villages will be permanently affected. Despite everything the Project Authorities say, the truth is that these people have nowhere to go'', she has said in an appeal to ``individual people in civil society'' whom she has asked to join the Rally starting from New Delhi on July 29. But before that, Arundhati will ``travel around in India'' with her book on the Narmada Valley Project, asking people to support the struggle.

Asked whether she was against big dams or for proper rehabilitation and resettlement of the project-affected people, Ms. Roy said she was against big dams and uprooting people. She is all for small, decentralised projects. ``Big dams are monuments to political corruption and power. They are technologically obsolete, ecologically dangerous and economically unviable. They are most devastating. Like a silent war''.

``Not a single Big Dam in India has delivered what it promised. Not the power, not the irrigation, not the flood control, not the drought-proofing. Instead, Big Dams have converted huge tracts of agricultural land into waterlogged salt wastelands, submerged hundreds of thousands of hectares of prime forest, and pushed the country into deeper debt...They have uprooted 40 million people, most of them tribal and dalit, from their forests and rivers, from lands and homes where they and their ancestors have lived for thousands of years. They have lost everything. Everything''.

Asked whether she has set a brief for the Narmada Bachao Andolan on how to spend her contribution, she said: ``No. You do it on trust - and I trust them''.

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