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Press Release                                 July 28, 1999

MANIBELI CHILDREN PROTEST FOR SCHOOL
WILL SUBMERGENCE TAKE AWAY THEIR 'JEEVAN SHALA'?

It was a protest of the dam affected - but the protestors were an unusual lot and the police could not understand their demand. They shaved off their heads in front of police as a mark of protest and later gheraoed( encircled) the police for five hours. They were asking whether their school would submerge in the rising waters of the infamous Sardar Sarovar Project in the Narmada valley. "If our school is submerged where do we study? What about our education? Did you think about OUR future?" they asked.

While the Satyagraha against the submergence and displacement in the Sardar Sarovar Project (SSP) has been continuing at Jalsindhi (M.P.) and Domkhedi (Maharashtra) villages far upstream, the children in "Jeevan Shala" in Manibeli, harassed the police for over five hours on Sunday (July 25). Before that, they picketed before the police camp with their heads shaved in protest. They demanded that the Collector should answer the questions regarding their school, their village and its forest, river. The students from standard 1 to 4 alongwith their teachers and the accompanying villagers demanded the complete information about the extent of submergence and wanted to know what the ameliorative measures the Maharashtra government had taken. The police reported to the headquarters that the children and the villagers are bent upon vandalism. Therefore, on 25th, instead of the Collector, additional police force came in the village to "cope with situation". The children then went up to the police camp, encircled (gheraoed) the camp, and jeered at the police and their officials.

School With A Difference

Such protest is not new for the these young PAPs (project affected persons). They have seen their Jeevan Shala, which was earlier situated in village Chimalkhedi, submerge in the monsoon of 1994. The school was residential, nestling about 80 boys and girls from nearby tribal villages. The children were huddled on the roof of the school, witnessing the havoc wrought by the dam and the submergence. The Chimalkhedi school, one of the seven schools and two residential schools run by the Narmada Bachao Andolan for last eight years, then was shifted to Manibeli in 1995. The other residential school is in Nimgavhan, also threatened with this year's submergence, and rest of the schools in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra villages are day schools.

The schools have been striving for the alternative curricula and organisation of education, though they have to follow the government curricula in respective states. The indigenous Pavri, Bhili language is a standard medium of 'instruction', with Marathi and Hindi relegated to their appropriate place. The students learn about their villages, their adivasi history and heroes, their forests, plants, animals, birds and songs-stories in their language and their ancestral knowledge base in medicine, house building and other crafts. There have been no schools in the villages on the banks of Narmada when the people started organising against the Sardar Sarovar Project. The government schools were existent only on papers and the teachers, officials would make a deal at the tehsil (block headquarters) place of Akrani and Akkalkua. The people's movement in the valley decided to launch the "Reva Jeevan Shalas" (Reva - a fond name of Narmada - School of Life) at the time of Manibeli Satyagraha. The children in these schools have been participating in the protest against the police, officials, with their spirited songs, open theatre and slogans.

Manibeli might have faded in the memory, but the village has created a history and the spirit of the daunty Bhil tribals is still intact. It was the first post of the resistance against the submergence and displacement, when the Narmada Bachao Andolan launched the unique Satyagraha with the slogan of "Doobenge par Hatenge nahin" ( we will drown but not move out) in the monsoon of 1991. For three years, the people of Manibeli braved the submergence, but never did they opt to move out of their ancestral land and go for resettlement. The spirit still continues though the satyagraha place has now been shifted to the upstream villages which would be submerged.

Sanjay Sangvai