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Urban India touches rural reality
(Sumir Lal)

Urban rallyists in a Narmada village. Photo: Sumir Lal
Arundhati Roy’s Rally in the Valley has completed its Narmada tour, and the 400-odd participants are taking stock as they ride back to Indore.

They are a motley crew. They include yuppies, socialites, students and academics from India’s cities. Then there are activists, NGOs and what may be termed professional protesters. There are labourers, farmers and fishermen who have been waging struggles of their own.

There are some foreign environmentalists, students, tourists and scholars. Finally, there is the foreign and Indian media contingent.

Perhaps the most fascinating and important interaction has been that of the first group, the city slickers, with the project, affected people. For most of them, it has been an eye-opener, a discovery of Indian reality.

They have slept in the villagers’ homes, eaten their food, made do without running water, and been moved by the emotional resistance to the dams.

Kavita, an interior designer from Mumbai, joined the Rally after reading Roy’s essay.

“I was determined to be here,” she said at the start. Now, at the end, she says, “I can never be an activist, but at least I’m wiser.”

One of the most enthusiastic participants is Anant, a student of Ramjas College, Delhi. He has been acting as interpreter, dancer, slogan shouter and poetry reciter. His father is a company executive and this is his first exposure to “activism” of any sort. His experience? “Fantastic,” he exults, pointing to the crowd. “I didn’t know what people power meant till I saw this.”

Prof. Rana Bahl of Delhi is impressed with the fertility of the submergence zone, and its upwardly mobile farmers. “Sitting in Delhi, I had no idea about the wealth of this region. By what logic are they drowning this?” he asks.

Gita Padiwala of Mumbai, who joined the Rally because she was “concerned about my children’s future,” is now determined to tell her relatives in Gujarat, who are all for the construction of the dam, that there have to be alternatives to submerging people and their homes, forests and lands.

So is filmmaker Jharna Jhaveri, one of the Rally’s key organisers, satisfied? “I am,” she says. Jhaveri, whose documentary on the Narmada oustees first moved Arundhati Roy to take up the cause, continues: “The intelligentsia and civil society need to re-establish linkages with the country. The urban class has been isolating itself. Creative people, artists, writers, filmmakers need to go out and reflect on what’s happening. Civil society has to get closer to reality.”

Maybe, more than crystallising arguments for and against the dams, this has been the Rally’s pioneering contribution.


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