NBA Press Release
  23 July 2002
Save The Narmada, Save Humanity!

Government creates artificial submergence by closing sluice gates; Ousts village with police repression, attempts to derail GRA process

Adivasis escape camp, demand opening of sluice gates, restoration of families and village, agricultural land

Jail Road, Mandleshwar
District Khargone, Madhya Pradesh
Tel: 07283-33162

Over fifty women, men and children belonging to Village Khedi Balwadi, the first village to be affected by the Maan Project fled the "relief " camp at Kesur in the early morning of the 23nd of July where they had been forcibly detained after the Dhar district administration and police attacked their village in the evening of 20th of July, 2002. With children in their arms these adivasis walked 10kms. through fields in the darkness, in order to avoid being picked up and returned to their camps by the police before they reached a bus stop. This was the second time that the villagers were fleeing the camp. Earlier, in the morning of the 21st of July, twenty women had similarly fled the camp to come to Indore to tell the story of police repression to the world outside. Meanwhile, the Dhar district administration continued to make hollow claims that the adivasis were staying in these camps happily and out of their own volition. The 37 women and children and the two men from village Khedi - Balwadi who had been detained at the Aamkheda camp just outside Dhar continued to be kept under vigilance , to prevent them from fleeing the camp, government personnel following the women even when they went out for nature's call. Police is also posted at Village Khedi in order to prevent people from returning.

The Narmada Bachao Andolan condemns the attack on and looting of the Village Khedi - Balwadi by the district administration and police the 20th of July, the cruel treatment of the women, children and men picked up, the splintering of their families and their subsequent detainment in "relief" camps, as well as the criminal attempt by the administration to flood their village by artificial means by locking the sluice gates when there is very little rain in the district. Adivasi women met the Governor of Madhya Pradesh - Shri Bhai Mahavir yesterday to request him to intervene in this matter urgently. They also filed a complaint with the Grievance Redressal Authority at Bhopal yesterday.

The NBA understands this as an unfortunate attempt to derail the process of the GRA - two experts of which- Shri Prabhash Joshi and Shri B.D.Sharma - were in the Maan area till the 18th of July, holding public hearings and visiting the villages. It calls on the state government to stop wreaking repression on the affected adivasis, to open the sluice gates of the dam, restore the families to their village, and to expedite the process of giving them irrigated agricultural lands, so that the affected families can be rehabilitated rather then be kept in temporary camps. The adivasis will begin their dharna in Indore with these demands from tomorrow.

It may be recalled that in May- June 2002, the adivasis of the Maan area were in Bhopal on dharna for 35 days and four people fasted for 29 days, demanding land and rehabilitation before submergence. As a result of this action and due to widespread support for the Maan adivasis, on the 18th of June, the state government agreed to appoint Shri B.D.Sharma and Shri Prabhash Joshi as experts on to a Grievance Redressal Authority that was to ensure the complete rehabilitation of the Maan affected adivasis by the 31st of July, 2002. It was in the fulfillment of this process that both these senior persons were in the Maan area till the 18th of July. However, even as these visits were going on, the administration closed the sluice gates of the dam, and as a result, impoundment began as a result of only one night's rain at Dhar. This was followed by the police action on Village Khedi on the 20th of July.

On the 20th of July, 2002, nearly 400 policemen entered Village Khedi Balwadi, the first village to be affected by the Man dam in District Dhar at 4.00 in the evening, attacked the villagers, rounded them up and forcefully pushed them into waiting trucks. The police was armed with guns, lathis and other equipment as may be required to control a riot rather than as would be appropriate for a village of unarmed and peaceful adivasis. There were only three women police among them. Since it was market day, a large number of people were not present in the village when the police entered. As people came out of their houses to see why so many police had entered the village, the police fell upon the women, beating them up with lathis, dragged them through the fields, hooked their hands into their skirts, and pulled them by their hair to dump them into the waiting trucks. Some men were also picked up in this manner.

There had been no attempt by the administration to talk to the people after the police entered the village in the evening. The women pleaded for their children to be sent with them. Several had children less than a year who were still dependent on mother's milk for survival. The women asked that they should be allowed to pick up important belongings from their houses. Some people even locked their houses in fear of what would come next. But the police did not respond to the people's pleas. They broke the locks of the houses and subsequently of the trunks and kothdis of the adivasis. In the next hour they looted the houses, the money and the silver jewellery belonging to the adivasi women - the only property that they can call their own and for many - their life time's savings. Most women reported that they had between half a kilo to a kilo of silver jewellery - bracelets, cummerbund, anklets, etc. that they have lost. The adivasis were taken by trucks first to Dhar and then to camps at Village Kesur 70 kms away and Aamkheda 40 kms. away from Khedi- Balwadi. There they were kept in police vigilance.

The people of the Narmada valley and the Narmada Bachao Andolan assert that they will fight state repression and for their rights until the adivasis are rehabilitated with agricultural land as is required by the Rehabilitation policy. They reiterate that the state government must immediately stop wreaking repression on the affected adivasis, open the sluice gates of the dam, restore the families to their village, and expedite the process of giving them irrigated agricultural lands.

Alok Agawal