Satyagraha 2000 : An Update
July 28 2000


Satyagraha in 1999
Raniya Daya nails a nameplate of his village
as a symbol of resistance at Domkhedi

We are just back from the Satyagraha in the Narmada valley which started on July 15, 2000. We reached the banks of Narmada on 14th evening in the pouring rain along with admiral (retd) Ramdas and his wife Lalita who were special guests for the inaugral function. After spending the night in Hapeswar temple, an ancient and important Siva temple on the Narmada which is at 106 mts height and will be under submergence, we went along with several people pouring in from different regions to the Satyagraha centres in Domkhedi, Maharashtra and Jalsindhi, MP. There activities were in full-swing with reunions among the activists, village people and the visitors, some of whom were to the last years Satyagraha. Geetanjali, Pravin, Vishram, Clifton, Ashutosh, Jayanti and Shobha who had like us come to satyagraha last year had joined the NBA and were now mobilizing the village people and taking charge of the arrangements. Since August last year these young people had decided to dedicate themselves to the work in the Narmada villages and as a result this year there were several new directions that people who came from far and near to express solidarity could see. Higher up villages beyond the submergence area, were now getting more and more enthusiastically involved in the andolan. Some villages had imposed bans on liquor and on tree felling in selected regions to help regenerate the depleted forest cover and the effects are already visible.

Local issues were being taken up everyday. 5 days into the Satyagraha hundreds of people walked up the hills to Dhadgaon (25 km from Domkhedi) to demand that the government keep its promise to pay them for material and labour charges for digging the wells, which had become necessary before the monsoons because the silt due to the SSP dam had cut the access to Narmada in several villages. Akkrani Tehsil is one of the only places where tribals have not been given land rights since independence and that issue was also on the forefront. It was interesting to note that the struggle was as bold as ever -- between a govt. that can't do its simplest job without the villagers having to fight at every turn, and the people whose energy was regenerated after every struggle for the next one, so that they didn't show any fatigue or loss of will due to the several years that had elapsed.

On 22 July hundreds gathered around the Mahua tree in Domkhedi Satyagraha for the release of Sanjay Sangvai's River and Life : People's Struggle in the Narmada Valley which is a book length history of the Andolan, its issues and processes, just published by Earth Care Books. Dadlya Karbhari, Bava Mahariya, and Nattu Singh (from MH, MP and Guj respectively) presided. The Bombay release is on 1st August. To get a copy in the US contact Uday Turaga.

The Satyagraha, this year not only took off from where it left last year, without showing a single sign of retreating, but it also is bringing to sharp focus, alternatives in water, energy and development. With the Supreme Court concluding the final hearing and a decision on the dam expected at any moment, the people of the valley have been left fending for themselves with no land available to resettle the people already displaced due to last years unjust raising of the dam height based on false affidavits showing land availability. The Domkhedi Satyagraha hut is at about 101 mts and people like Juggi living just 2-3 mts above this hut have their fields going down to the Khad river which itself is flooding with Narmada waters. Waters on July 23 had already reached a height of 93-94 mts. Yet the farmers continue to till their soil and plant their seeds. The entire Narmada valley today is a picture of lush green farms, and men and women working hard to clear the weeds. It is a remarkable picture, not because farmers all over India are not working as hard, but because in a few weeks the waters of the dam will enter these fields and destroy the crop completely. It happened last year and it is again going to happen this year, and yet every farmer here is a picture of commitment to his/her work regardless of the fruits of labour. Karmanyevadikarste maphaleshu kadachina. It reminds one of the beatuiful murals Buddhist monks paint with colorful grains of chalk and at the end of the day with one sweep of the hand, when it is all done they erase it and start all over again.

The Satyagrahi villagers in the Narmada valley have risen to a stature equal to or perhaps more than what religious saints of any religion have reached -- not hitting back with violence, not minding about results, they are yet trying to save the forests that are slated to be drowned, cultivating fields that will be invaded by waters and are opening their hospitality to people all over the world so that anyone can at any time visit them and experience truth and have a change of heart. Every morning people wake up to Prayer sessions singing songs like "kahan Ram hai, Kya rahim hai, yeh prakrit jeevan hai... vikas ki sahi soch ho, isme hi ram rahim hai" which Narmada and other people's movements have created to convey their ideologies.

Dr Apaschim who came to the Satyagraha this year has decided to open a 4-bed hospital in Jalsindhi. Starting from Sikka Village on July 18 he has been conducting health camps at every village and plans on continuing even beyond the Satyagraha so that there is at least one doctor, in an area which has been totally neglected by the govt and where there is no PHC nor medical representative since the independence. This year the Satyagraha hut is illuminated by the light of CFL bulbs. In this area where there is no electricity grid, people are pedalling to generate their electricity. In a new Pedal Power Generator that is catching the eye of the villagers, 15-20 minute pedalling allows the user to light up their whole house for one hour in the night. This decentralized current where the user has to produce, is what people who are being displaced due to the lack of interest / initiative / imagination among the city-educated to more creatively address the energy needs of the country have installed. It symbolizes how easy the alternatives in energy are if only there is real commitment in the govt to pursue them. Likewise in the coming weeks a micro-hydel generator will be installed that can easily generate about quarter to half kilowatts --enough power to light up a hamlet.

At the Satyagraha everybody interacts with the Jeevanshala children -- 9 boarding schools in these remote areas that the NBA started after it found that government schools only existed on paper, and govt teachers only showed up on Independence and Republic days. There is 100% pass result at the 4th std open govt exam at these Jeevnashals, and not only that the children come with the top marks in their examination centres where several other school children also take exams. This year English has been made a COMPULSORY language in the Maharshtra schools from Grade 1 onwards and while such decisions are made in cities such as Mumbai which are far removed from the realities of rural areas, the Satyagraha people have started Pavari lessons -- so that visitors from outside can learn the local tribal languages. Clearly there are two paradigms to development -- one that views diversity and local conditions and rights as important and starts from there and the other that imposes one view from the top for the whole nation and talks about national interest as if this is something that can be calculated by people who do not know a single tribal language of the nation. On August 6 the Jeevnshala children will make cranes out of paper to express solidarity with the children who were killed by the atomic bombs dropped in Nagasaki-Hiroshima.

Local water-harvesting. micro-watersheds and soil and water conservation programs at village level are the real solutions to drought and water problems, and in Nimghavan, Sikka and Domkhedi, all villages that face submergence this year, areas that need bunding and trenching have been identified. Thus on one hand fighting to stop the dam from destroying them, the village people who have become Satyagrahis are creating alternatives and are walking the dual path of sangharsh and nirman.

As we await the Supreme Court judgement, a few things have become clear in the court as the final hearings concluded -- there is no environmental clearance for the SSP dam. It is an illegal structure and should not be allowed to stand. Secondly, there is no land to rehabilitate even the already displaced people let alone the lakhs who will be displaced if the dam goes ahead. The MP govt has said it can't rehabilitate everyone and the Maharashtra govt has said it is yet to find land for everyone. Endless opportunities cannot be given to the erring parties, especially if they are powerful interest groups such as governments, dam building companies and international funding agencies. People have struggled for several years and using their own resources they have exposed false claims, unjust displacement and violation of law and tribunal on this multi billion dollar project. It is time that we move from truth to justice. "Satyagraha se Nyayagrah tak" is the slogan in what may well be the final Satyagrah on the Narmada Valley. Every day people are going to the Satyagraha to express solidarity at this critical juncture. If like us you feel compelled to be there, contact Joe/Sukumar at (0265)282232 or Pervin Jehangir at (022)218-4779 or email to medhapatkar@vsnl.com

Ravi Kuchimanchi