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Press Release                                 September 25, 1999

INDEFINITE DHARNA IN DHULE AGAINST ARRESTS
NBA DEMANDS UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE, DIALOGUE AND COMPENSATION

Hundreds of adivasis (tribals) and peasants from Narmada valley have launched an indefinite dharna (sit-in) in front of the Central Jail in Dhule (Maharashtra), on Saturday (25th) demanding the unconditional release of about 375 men and women arrested by the state government on Thursday (23rd), in Dhadgaon. They took out a rally through the streets of the town braving the rains, while the groups of village people continued to join in all day long.

They are also demanding revoking of the prohibitory orders under sec. 144 I.P.C., promulgated in Akrani tehsil preventing any mass action against the unjust submergence. The people, along with their supporters from Dhule, Malegaon, Pune, Mumbai, Kerala, Karnataka etc. have also demanded that the state government must send some responsible and senior official to respond to the basic issues regarding the submergence and displacement in the Narmada valley. The people also demanded the assessment of the losses and destruction of farms and houses due to the submergence.

The action follows the arrest and beating by the Maharashtra police of 375 tribal and peasant men and women, activists and supporters on September 23rd. The police action is a sequel to the earlier action of taking into custody the satyagrahis who were daring neck deep submergence waters in Domkhedi and other villages. Among those arrested are the main activists like Dadlya Karbhari, Noorji Padvi, Ranyabhhau Padvi, Luwariya Karbhari, Sitarambhai Patidar, Devrambhai Kanera, Ashish Mandloi, Ravikumar, Dr. Sugan Baranth and others.

"The Government Maharashtra has arrested the Narmada satyagrahis not to save them but to save itself from the responsibility of responding to the basic issues raised by the people", said Medha Patkar while reacting to the claims made by the state government officials regarding the Dhadgaon arrests. The arrests were made after the people launched an indefinite dharna in Dhadgaon from September 22 to demand that the state government must send some senior and responsible functionary to respond to the issues raised by the people. The government must not hide behind the police action to sideline the basic reason behind the satyagraha and talk with the people. However, the government has again chosen the option of police action.

The Resolve And Reaction

The state government could not respond to the valiant struggle by the satyagrahi people in the valley against the unjust submergence and displacement. The "samarpit dal" (Dedicated Squad) of the satyagraha, including Medha Patkar, Devrambhai and Sitarambhai Patidar were in neck deep swirling backwaters of the SSP submergence. They had asked other satyagrahis to leave the place to take care of the future of the Andolan. The police made a last minute appearance and arrested them after beating the people. When over 300 people were taken to Dhadgaon and released, they decided to launch the dharna.

The manner in which the Chief Minister of Maharashtra has reacted to the people's struggle reflects his ignorance and misleading information provided by his officials regarding the Andolan and its issues. We wonder whether he adequately understands the seriousness of the life and death struggle by the satyagrahis, staking their lives till the waters rose upto their necks in the swirling waters of Narmada. His allegation that the Andolan had encroached on the lands of the tribals is, to say the least comical. Thereby, it seems his advisers might be trying to trivialise the issue of the earlier adivasi encroachers on the land earmarked in Taloda and Akkalkua tehsils for the Narmada oustees. This is dangerous and the Chief Minister must recognise that there has been a genuine problem of the earlier encroachers, for which government's own policies have been responsible. We reiterate that the claims of Government of Maharashtra regarding the availability of the resettlement through the false affidavits in the apex court have been exposed before the affected people in the valley. We assert that the Chief Minister would not be able to break the people's movement as he had recently claimed.

Meanwhile, the Andolan has received a message from the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, asking Medha Patkar and her colleagues not to resort to actions like "Jal samarpan". He conceded that the Narmada issue was a complex one defying any facile solutions and rehabilitation issue a problematic one. The Andolan would be responding to the concern shown by the Prime Minister. As of now, suffice to say that such a complex issue needs to be addressed in a democratic, participatory manner and be reviewed in a comprehensive manner for the sake of national interest. Any work on the dam and further displacement of the people would make the issue more vexed.

The Satyagraha in Domkhedi is continuing with the villagers ad supporters from many parts of India camping in the village. The water had submerged the two houses of Satyagraha in last week. Now, one hut is hospitable and satygrahis are camping there and continuing with the usual satyagraha chores.

Sanjay Sangvai