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The Hindu on : Rallyists take pledge to protect Narmada

Online edition of India's National Newspaper on
Thursday, August 05, 1999

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Rallyists take pledge to protect Narmada

By Gargi Parsai

DHOMKHEDI (MAHARASHTRA), AUG. 4. The Booker Prize winner, Ms. Arundhati Roy, and the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader, Ms. Medha Patkar, along with participants of the ``Rally for the Valley'' took a pledge at the Narmada here to ``protect the river''.

It was a moving sight as thousands of tribals and small farmers gathered at the river, known as the virgin river, to take the pledge. Before that, Ms. Roy was given a traditional welcome by a people who face dispossession of their homes and fields from the Sardar Sarovar Project. Hame marna nahi, jeena hai, (we have to live, not to die), the celebrated author told the huge gathering as she raised a fist to say, Koi nahi hateyga, bandh nahi banega (nobody will move, the dam will not be constructed).

Ms. Patkar has declared that this time when the water rises to swallow people's home, they will not move. Being a leader who leads from the front, she will be the first to face submergence, call it `Jalsamadhi' or `Jalsamarpan'.

At an informal meeting with presspersons in Dhomkhedi, a village in Maharashtra which has no electricity, road or water, Savitri Behn suddenly asked the stunned mediaperson: ``You tell us what we should do. Should we apologise to the Supreme Court, become beggars or terrorists, or continue the struggle for our rights? What should we do, you tell us.''

Nurja Bhai of Chimankhedi also raised an uncomfortable question: ``We are on our own land. Do we not have the right to live on our own land, call it agitation or whatever?''

It is not just this trend of the NBA, but how well informed the tribals and villagers are about what is happening that is amazing. Each and every affected person knows who Ms. Roy is and what the Supreme Court decision was about raising the height of the Sardar Sarovar Project by 4 metres after a stay of four years. And not just Ms. Patkar every member of the NBA is just as dedicated and committed working in back-of-the-beyond villages that have no communication facilities. Ms. Patkar has found an indigenous method of solving the communication problem. She just climbs the hilltop and shouts across the valley to the villagers across with her voice reverberating in the valley. It is obvious that women are at the centre of the movement. ``Once NBA made us aware about our rights, the rest we picked up,'' says Pairvi, of Jalsindhi, the village slated for total submergence.

Ms. Roy's entry into the scene has aroused an awareness in the intelligentsia. Says Ms. Patkar: ``we had the support of mazdoors, dalits, kisans and women group and now because of Arundhati the intelligentsia have for the first time questioned the development process that takes away from one to give to another. Her thoughtful and emotional analysis of the struggle have given the movement much strength and understanding.'' Asked about the turn that the movement will take in view of the court's decision on contempt against the NBA and Ms. Arundhati Roy, Ms. Patkar said, ``we don't know what will happen. But we will not move''.

It is about time the riparian State Governments take a position on the destructive dam in the Narmada Valley. The SSP will not solve the water problem of Gujarat and the people who are being dispossessed for an invisible dam have the right to question the costs and benefits of the project.

Ms. Roy criticised the Gujarat Government for sealing its border and not allowing the ``Rally for the Valley'' to pass through the State. ``It is an issue of democracy. Is Gujarat a different country? How can they close the borders?'' Ms. Roy had walked for more than six hours to reach Jalsindhi and Dhomkhedi tribal villages from Kakrana.

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