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SARDAR SAROVAR
THE MAHESHWAR DAM
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update and press release/ March 17, 1998.

EFFIGY OF BIG DAM BURNT IN HOLI FIRE IN NARMADA VALLEY.
PEOPLE CELEBRATE COLOURFUL FESTIVAL OF LIFE AND LIGHT.

" We want Development- Not Destruction", " Save Narmada-Save Humanity" ( vikas chaahiye- vinaash nahin and Narmada bachao-manav bachao) were some of the slogans that rent the air as the effigy of the big dam, Sardar Sarovar was cosigned to fire by the tribals and activists in the Narmada valley in the early hours of March 13. Thousands of the tribals in the Narmada valley, while celebrating Holi, the most important tribal festival of song, dance and colours, rituals, burnt the effigy of the Sardar Sarovar dam along with the Holi fire. This was a part of the major Holi celebrated in village Domkhedi, on the banks of Narmada river, in Maharashtra in which thousands of men, women, children from over 30-35 villages around participated. Domkhedi Holi is considered as a major Holi in the area. Number of villagers declared the implementation of prohibition, community ban on liquor in their villages. Also, the representatives of the villages were felicitated for the total boycott on the voting in the recent Parliament elections as a mark of people's protest.

The anti-big dam day was celebrated in the Narmada valley as a part of the decision taken by the First International Convention against the Large Dams, held in Curtiba, Brazil in April, 1997. All over the world people and organisations struggling against the big dams and the displacement, destruction due to them celebrated the day in varied manners. At Domkhedi, in the early hours of March 13, coinciding with the anti-large dams day of March 14, the bamboo and mud, paper model of the disastrous Sardar Sarovar was burnt among the chanting of slogans against the dam and the anti-people development policy. The burning of the effigy of the dam was preceded by the public meeting during the course of the night long celebrations. Number of organisations and supporters from various parts of India participated in the celebrations and the programme. An artists' group from the Baroda specially came to be a part of the programme.A group of students from Canada studying international development were present to witness the people's celebrations and resolve. Village representatives from Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh came to strengthen the solidarity of the valley against the attempts by the government to displace them. The people spoke against the continued efforts by the government and pro-dam interests to spread disinformation regarding the 'model' resettlement and the people's agitation. The people also expressed their resolve to continue fight for their right to life, resources and against unjust,unwarranted and inhuman displacement despite any adversities.

As the tribal Holi continues in different villages for over a week, similar Holi was celebrated in village Danel in Maharashtra next day. An effigy of the monster representing the large dam, multilateral aid agencies, the contractors, politicians and bureaucrats out to displace the people, was burnt in later hours of 14th March. Here the message by the organisations fighting against the large dams in other parts of the world was read out. The people in the Narmada valley sent their message of solidarity and of continued struggle.

Holi, the most auspicious festival for the tribals in the Narmada valley, is celebrated with the beautiful and dexterious community dancing accompanied by the dhol ( huge drum), bansuri (flute) and the traditional weapons, songs. Women in their colourful attire participate in Hole dancing and singing. The village leaders distributed prizes for best dhol rendering in Domkhedi and Danel. Alongwith the dances, a ritual dancing at the fag end of the celebrations with the devotes with painted faces and bodies, headgears of peacock feathers and musical instrument add to the colour and ritual importance of the occassion. These dancers are those who made a wish ( manta) at the previous Holi.

The Resolves

The tribals in the Maharashtra villages have recently shown their determination and strength during the Parliamentary elections. The polling booths at Nimgavhan, Danel, Manibeli, Debra Mal and other centres in the valley recorded zero voting. Even in the booths outside of the dam affected villages registered hardly two to ten votes, that too mostly by the semi-government functionaries. The people's wrath was aptly expressed by Noorji Padvi, one of the firebrand leaders of Andolan from Danel village when he spoke in the meeting, " For all these years we have been confronting the political parties and the candidates on our issues. Despite the assurances and our votes, none of them cam to be a part of our struggle neither any of them came during the crisis period. Though we do not indulge in party politics, we understand the importance of the elections and have been voting to a suitable candidate in the elections. But, our experience in the past and in the present elections compelled us to take the stand for boycotting the elections". Significantly, Noorjibhai also spoke in the election meeting of the Congress Party candidate and reminded him of burning issues in the valley and the failures on the part of the parties.

The people have also deliberated,after the celebrations on their village level issues of the land rights, health, drinking water, education, employment and issue of the forest protection and the people's rights. On 26th March, people will be marching to the District headquarters, Dhule, to press for immediate action regarding the local issues.In most villages, which have been partially submerged due to the illegal dam construction upto 81.5 metres, the people have taken the crops despite the heavy post-monsoon showers.

Sanjay Sangvai