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Wednesday, August 11, 1999

Postcards from the edge of the river

Dazed and confused We (the Narmada Bachao Andolan) are shocked to see the story headlined `Narmada is elsewhere: When the valley waited for the river child' which appeared in The Indian Express on August 6. It is in very bad taste, misrepresents the facts, gives misleading impressions and is highly defamatory in parts. It is something that we could not expect from a newspaper of repute like the Express, and is all the more serious because of that.

Much of the article is confused and confusing writing. This is something we leave to the paper. If it wishes to carry such pieces of chaotic writing which do not make much sense, it is for the paper and your esteemed self to decide.

Overall, the article is in bad taste. Again, this is something which we leave for you and your readers to ponder over and react to. If you wish to publish such articles, we are sure that your readers will respond appropriately.

However, what cannot be condoned or accepted are the highly defamatory remarks made aboutthe Narmada Bachao Andolan therein, and slanderous aspersions cast on the Andolan directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly, and the highly misleading impressions conveyed. These remarks in the article are not based on facts and damage the image and good standing of the Andolan. One paragraph in the article states:

`In the din and darkness, nobody heard or saw the response of the Shivalingam. And the diyas have already travelled quite a distance in the river, as if they are running away from from the pornography of the andolan' (Emphasis added).What does your correspondent mean by this remark? What pornography has the NBA indulged in? This remark is obnoxious, highly defamatory, causing immense damage, and certainly in bad taste.Another statement which precedes the one above:`When body fluid achieved metaphoric harmony with the river water in Maheshwar, did Shiva, the presiding deity of the temple in the ghat, laugh? Used condoms, illuminated by a hundred diyas in the Narmada, in the shadow ofMaheshwar's revered Shivalingam? The remarkable loudspeakers of NBA gave the answers in the language of a less-than-erotic revolution.'(Emphasis added).

What `body fluid', please? And where were the condoms to be illuminated by the diyas? This particular paragraph conveys a graphic image of the Maheshwar ghat littered with condoms a totally false and highly misleading picture. Again, obnoxious and in very, very bad taste. Again, highly damaging to the Andolan.

There are other such remarks and indeed, the article as a whole conveys an impression of some weird sexual orgy being indulged in by the Narmada Bachao Andolan.

In spite of the enormous damage caused to the Andolan by the article, which has maligned us greatly, we would still -- at this point of time -- like to give you the benefit of the doubt and believe the article was not meant to be deliberately malicious, mischievous or slanderous.

-- SHRIPAD DHARMADHIKARY, Narmada Bachao Andolan

Trivial pursuit

Sir: S. Prasannarajancertainly is a literary and lyrical writer. His imagery of flower girl, river people and his enjoyment of his verbal flights of fiction and fantasy has its own charm.

The Rally for the Valley was the first time that I had spent so much time with a cohort of the young press in such an intimate way. They seemed not only deeply involved in the process of the rally, but also tolerant of inconveniences. However, as I read Prasannarajan's report, I am troubled, if not shocked, to find that apart from not signalling the emergency in the valley, no mention is made of the extraordinary, informed, collective will of the masses that was almost tangible or the foreboding of mass death in the villages that will soon be submerged.

It is a pity to trivialise the mass struggle in the Narmada valley by personalising it either into Medha's war or Arundhati's gimmick, city-slicking or anti-growth madness. Attention should have been called to the waste of 13,000 hectares of forest land and 40,000 hectares of rich, cultivatedland. The waste generated by removing 4 lakh families that -- a rare case in poverty-stricken rural India -- have a sense of well-being and cultural evolution because of the gifts of the river. The waste of the concept of effective public action and thus a wasting of India's democratic spirit. We should call attention to the blow it will deliver to the national political goal of people-centered, people-directed development. We should call attention to the fact that the 73rd and 74th Amendments, which have ushered in local self-government, were intended to enable people to design their development not only because that was ethical, but also more effective and efficient.

There are hundreds of social and development movements in India. If the state disregards the collective, politically conscious, informed, peaceful call of the people of the Narmada valley at this time, it will be a blow to all other movements. It will not only dampen their hopes, but it will also move them towards violent militancy, ratherthan the mass-based, collective, peaceful protest that marks the andolan.

Already, India faces much more violence from those who feel that they have been ignored. But relative to the African continent and other parts of the world, India's people have still a desire to negotiate conflicts. This little advantage we have will be abandoned if the state was to turn away.Attention should be drawn to what is being traded off by neglecting the struggle, rather than to the picturesque language and titillating titles that we see in Prasannarajan's report. It would be important to see the implications of neglecting this particular andolan in relation to the rest of the social movements in India, which have given public policy in India a human face and enabled it to learn from stake-holders other than the traditional power lobbies.

-- DEVAKI JAIN, Bangalore

Copyright © 1999 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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