SARDAR SAROVAR
THE MAHESHWAR DAM
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Submergence Will Not be Able to Drown the Spirit of this Movement
Translated from the Jansatta Dated 25-9-1999

The warnings about the dangers of submergence due to the Sardar Sarovar Project were issued some time back and so was the announcement of the Narmada Bachao Andolan's response that they would face the waters but not leave their homes. But what actually happened on the 18th of September when the floods arrived ?This is a first hand account of how the residents of the Narmada Valley actually faced the waters, by Pranav Priyadarshi, who has just returned after witnessing this strange struggle.

"Ruke na Jo
Ruke na jo,jhuke na jo,dabe na jo,mite na jo,
hum who inquilab hein,
julm ka jawab hein"

"Those who will not stop
Those who will not stop, will not bend, will not be crushed, those who wont erased,
We are those revolutionaries,
The answer to injustice"

About 25 satyagrahis of the Narmada Valley stood in ankle deep waters at 7 a.m. on the 18th of September at Pipalchop village (Maharashtra), singing this song. They were led by "didi", Medha Patkar. This was the second time this year that the Narmada Bachao Andolan had to prove its announced stand that we will face the waters without moving. On the 11th of august the waters had receded after reaching above waist level. From all available information, the current submergence was to be considerably higher than on the last occasion.

The police were further worried since Medha Patkar had not announced the Satyagraha centre where she would face the waters. There were a total of 5 Satyagraha centres, Pipalchop, Sikka, Bharad, Domkhedi (all in Maharashtra) and Jalsindhi in M.P. The police were pressurised to locate Medha before the submergence arrived. The result of this pressure was that the people of Domkhedi (where Medha had been during the last submergence) and the people of Pipalchop (where the submergence would come first) had to face the police on the 17th of September, even before the submergence. The police in Domkhedi were somewhat cool but in Pipalchop, a large number of villagers were arrested as they expected to find Medha there. The police asked just one question to all - Where is Medha Tai? All the women gave just one reply - I am She. The harrassed Inspector ordered the constables in anger "Arrest all these ladies". On this day, a total of 70 persons were arrested.

Actually,the police were not wrong. Medha was in the same village and had been enjoying the rhythmic music along with the people who were celebrating Ganpati Visarjan that day, just before the police arrived. However, she had escaped arrest because of being forewarned about the police action. That is how she was in the Satyagraha House today, leading the team of those determined to face the waters.

Along with the increasing volume of songs and slogans of the Andolan the waters too were rising in the hut. By 10 a.m. the waters were knee deep. At 11 a.m., Prashant Bhushan, the Supreme Court lawyer who is handling the NBA case arrived. His visit had been pre-planned but the waters had risen without notice. So standing in waters that had risen above knee level, Prashant Bhushan discussed various aspects of the case with Medha and the villagers for nearly one and a half hours. From here he visited Jalsindhi, Domkhedi and many other villages in order to learn what the tribals view points were on the case.

At one in the afternoon, all the satyagrahis ate lunch with Medha, standing right there in waist deep water. Medha had been standing non stop for the last six hours. In the words of one of the satyagrahis,the flow of water so far had been boringly slow. Perhaps, it was to break this monotony that Medha asked "Each person by turn will say why they are standing in waist deep water today. What is the aim of this act?"

For any outsider, the response to this call was truly amazing. The depth of understanding and the determination with which a child of 10-12 years replied or an old person of 70 to 75 years responded, not only increased the inner strength of all present but also showed their grasp of the objectives and the situation. In the middle of this, one group of activists were supplying their colleagues standing in the water with tea, drinking water and other necessities and also bringing news of neighbouring areas. It was learnt that four government officials were trying to enter the village to check on Medha's whereabouts, on the pretext of doing a survey. The villagers forced them to return from outside the village itself.

But at 5 p.m. an activist came running saying that a police barge is coming. On hearing this, just for a second, there was frustration on Medha's face as she said "I simply cannot understand what we should do about the police". But the villagers knew exactly what they had to do. A group of women immediately surrounded Medha. Then the menfolk completely surrounded this group of women activists. Another group of villagers ran to the banks of the river to prevent the police from reaching the Satyagraha Centre. But this did not make much difference. The police force were in large numbers. At 5.30 p.m., Medha Patkar and over 100 satyagrahis were arrested and were being removed to Dhadgaon, the district headquarters.

Opposing the arrest, Medha announced that she woul go on a fast. The next day by 5.p.m., it was learnt that the waters were receding and so the group was released. Medha broke her fast after reaching Domkhedi and all the satyagrahis rested well that night.

But the very next morning, the waters started to rise again, and once more the people started to face the waters. The challenge was extremely serious this time. As it is, the waters were above knee deep in the satyagraha hut already and this time the flow of the water was strong too. By 10 p.m., the waters had reached above waist level. But there was no sign of tiredness on Medha's face. After standing in water for 10 hours and fasting for 30 hours, she had been standing non-stop in the waters once more, since the last 12 hours. Even then her face looked peaceful and serious as she led the songs sung by the satyagrahis.

"Ho gai hai pir parvat se pighalni chahiye,
Es himalaya se koi Ganga nikalni chahiye."

Inside the satyagraha Centre, there was immense entertainment with songs ,slogans and jokes about the government stand, street plays being composed etc., but outside, the activists were dreading the night. Silvy and Alok who were leading the satyagraha in Jalsindhi (this village is higher up than Domkhedi), had already visited the Centre three times to judge the situation for themselves.

Well, the night passed anyhow. But in the morning, when the waters reached the shoulder level, Medha Patkar spoke to the satyagrahis in a very serious tone. "Now the situation is getting to be very delicate. It is extremely important for each one of us that we also think about the future of the Andolan. All members except those in the Samarpit Dal, should leave now".

But the young activists were not ready to listen to her. They said that we have decided not to move out whatever happens. However later, at the same spot, some very senior leaders held a meeting. After half an hour of discussions, they concluded that in the best interests of the Andolan, all would move out of the waters except for the three members of the Samarpit Dal - Medha Patkar, Devrambhai and Sitarambhai. At the end of this meeting , all the activists came out of the water, but Nagesh Hatkar (who has been a dedicated supporter of the Andolan), entered the hut. His stand was that, as he was not a member of the NBA, the decisions made by the NBA were not applicable to him. He insisted that he would not leave his colleagues and that this was his personal decision.

Inside the hut, the four Satyagrahis awaited the waters which would reach above their noses. Outside, Dr. Sugan Baranth was organising the villagers and the activists. He said - "Friends, our struggle has reached an extremely important turning point. It looks as if today, we will be parted from some of our colleagues. We do not wish that they should go with the worry of not knowing whether the Andolan will survive with vigour after they pass away. That is why today, we will give slogans and sing the Andolan songs with doubled strength and fervour.

All those present were clearly very worried, many had red eyes, but this did not effect the strength in their voices. They were all singing with Dr. Baranth
" Ruke na Jo
Ruke na jo,jhuke na jo,dabe na jo, mite na jo,
hum voh inquilah hein,julm ka jawab hein"

The children of the Jeevanshala on the other side of the river had also realised the criticality of the situation . All of them gathered on the other bank of the river and shouted slogans with full gusto. " Vende Venda, Vende Venda, Sardar Sarovar Vende Venda" (We will stop, We will stop ,the Sardar Sarovar - we will stop).

This maddening wait amidst loud slogans and songs lasted for an hour and a half before the sounds of the police barge were heard. This noise created alertness everywhere. Medha Patkar called from inside - "All of you come inside. Some go to the shore, Today we have to stop the police at all costs."

This time, the police had to face such severe non-violent opposition from the people that the normally controlled police had to ultimately use violent force. Some activists were beaten with sticks and some other women activists were dragged by their hair. Many were hurt as a result of being dragged. After a struggle of almost 45 mins, the police were able to reach the Satyagraha Centre. Almost the whole village had to be arrested along with the satyagrahis.

The police barge was returning after the arrests, but the children sitting on the other bank were still shouting "Sarkar hamse darti hai,Police ko age karti hai!!" - The government is afraid of us and is therefore sending the police in front ( instead of discussing and dealing with the true issues and problems).