Save The Narmada, Save Humanity! NBA Press Release                                                                                 August 27, 2000

Narmada Bachao Andolan
Jail Road, Mandleshwar, District Khargone, M.P
Telefax: 07283-33162;
E-Mail : nobigdam@vsnl.com

Kahars and Dalits of Maheshwar Hold Mass Rally At Toksar "WE WILL STOP EXTERNAL DESTRUCTION AND INTERNAL DISCRIMINATION."

Images from the Rally

Nearly three thousand Kewats, Kahars and Dalits [boatspeople, fisherpeople, and people who quarry sand and cultivate drawdown silt banks] to be affected by the Maheshwar Project held a sammelan [gathering and procession] yesterday at Village Toksar in the Barwah Tehsil of District Khargone in Madhya Pradesh. This was the first sammelan of the newly formed Ma Narmada Kewat - Kahar- Dalit Sanghatan formed recently by the fisherpeople, boatspeople and Dalits affected by the destructive Maheshwar Hydro- Electric Project and fighting under the aegis of the Narmada Bachao Andolan for the last four years.

Speaking on the occasion, celebrated writer and Booker prize winner Arundhati Roy said that she was happy that the most oppressed sections of the society in the area have come together not only to fight the destructive Project but also to struggle for their own dignity. She said that many intellectuals, writers and artists are supporting the movement and are taking the voice of the displaced people to all corners of the world because the people of the Narmada valley are fighting with perseverance and unity.

Alok Agarwal, leader of the struggle in this area said that this struggle against destruction has to be accompanied by a process of reconstruction. This reconstruction will include the building of not only alternative energy and water systems but also a different society based on equality and freedom for all. Our fight is not only against the Maheshwar Project, he emphasized but also against the larger process of globalization on one hand that is suffocating our political and economic fabric, and social discrimination based on gender and caste on the other.

The Ma Narmada Kewat- Kahar - Dalit Sangathan was formed in Village Sitoka a month ago at the instance of the Kewat, Kahar and Dalit leaders of the movement who felt that the people of the affected villages who are dependent on the common property resources of the village and the riverine economy must have a special forum within the Narmada Bachao Andolan to represent their survival issues.

Presently,these communities lead prosperous lives. They quarry sand -earning as much as Rs.150- Rs.200 per day per worker besides fishing and growing cucumbers, melons and rice on the river draw down .

It may be noted that this stretch of the river as the Narmada winds through the plains of Nimad has the best fishing areas in the entire Namada valley and substantial populations of Kewats and Kahars. Infact, if the river rises even by a few metres due to impoundment, these sand quarries and draw down agriculture will disappear forever and thousands of people will have their livelihoods ruptured. Yet, they have not even been counted in the list of those to be affected by the Project.

Mangat Verma, dynamic leader of the struggling Kewat- Kahars of this area challenged the gathered people to fight for their rights and stop this destruction with their lives if need be. He said that the Project authorities and the government have deliberately and completely excluded thousands of Kewat- Kahar and Dalit families from their assessment of the impacts. If, the nearly 8000 families of these communities who will become paupers if the dam is built are to be given 5 acres of irrigable land each, as is required by the legally binding conditions of the environmental clearance 40,000 acres of cultivable land will have to be bought or found.

Dhanijiji, Kahar leader from Pathrad said that the truth is that the Madhya Pradesh government has neither the land nor the financial resources to rehabilitate these thousands of people dependent on the rich riverine economy of the area. The people therefore have to fight to the finish to stop this saga of destruction. Phagram of Kisan Adivasi Sangathan , Hoshangabad and Tawa dam affected warned the people of Maheshwar that they must fight now or perish as has happened with the people of his area .

The Dalit Sarpanch of the Toksar Panchayat said that the Dalits must also rise in this struggle for their survival and for the generations to come. Shri Jagdish Morania ,MLA of Barwah - himself affected by the Maheshwar Project said that there is deep anxiety and concern that much more area will submerged by the Project than is anticipated. He said that even the extent of submergence will need to be fundamentally resurveyed and the Project may have to be stopped.

Noted English musician Pablo played the clarinet and Arjun Raina performed Kathakali during the sammelan. The rally was attended by the noted film makers Sanjay Kak and Jharna Jhaveri ,affected persons from the Tawa, Man and Sardar Sarovar Projects, supporters from England, France and elected representatives of the area.

Chittaroopa Palit