The displaced people of Bagud in the Narmada river valley of Madhya Pradesh to gather in Chikhalda to show their support.
Men and women from the Narmada valley protesting against the Narmada dam. “La Llorona’s Sacred Waters”, a mural by Juana Alicia on York and 24th in San Francisco. Flickr: anirvan
Narmada: More than 75,000 Adivasis and tribals will boycott the inauguration of Sardar Patel’s Statue of Unity and 72 villages have promised to register their protest by not cooking food. The communities are concerned and enraged at the wanton destruction of their lands and natural resources. They expressed their resentment to the collector of Rajpipla in the Narmada district on Oct 29. The six villages which were acquired for the Sardar Sarovar dam in 1961 have not received any compensation nor land that was promised to them in exchange in 2013. Their remaining land and the land that drowned is now being snatched for tourism plans.
19 villages named after Sardar Patel were acquired and submerged for the dam and the Adivasi people of the village still haven’t been rehabilitated. They do not have any drinking water, irrigation for their fields or employment. 35000 people are still affected in the submerged area of Sardar Sarovar in Madhya Pradesh. People who were displaced due the Garudeshwar weir, canals and inhabitants of the islands and mountains are now being driven out for tourism schemes. 72 villages from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh will not cook any food on Oct 31 to express their anger, sadness and struggle.
On Monday, the headmen of 22 villages near the Sardar Sarovar Dam had written to Modi to tell him that villagers would not welcome him for the inauguration of the statue. Tribal leaders had announced a boycott of the function. They have said the construction of the statue has led to the destruction of natural resources.
The village headmen said citizens’ hard-earned money had been wasted on such projects. “These forests, rivers, waterfalls, land and agriculture supported us for generations. We survived on them. But, everything is being destroyed now and celebrations are also planned. Don’t you think it’s akin to celebrating someone’s death? We feel so,” he said.
“We do not have anything against Sardar Patel. But we feel that had he been alive, he would not have agreed to the construction of such a huge statue at such a huge expense when the common tribal population across the state is still suffering for basic necessities. No food will be cooked in tribal households, which according to tribal traditions is practised when someone in the family dies,” said Amarsinh Chaudhary, a tribal rights activist who was an MP in the 70s and will be spearheading the movement from Tapi district, reported the Indian Express.
“We, the workers of Madhya Pradesh, fishermen, potters and farmers who consider Sardar Patel an unparalleled leader of farmers respect his contribution to the freedom struggle. We cannot deny what he did for the country. We respect the leaders of the freedom movement and their dreams of political, social and economic independence, who gave us the message of Swaraj and Su-Raj. We disapprove the current politicians using his name for their own gains. The people who speak Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati are all fighting one cause. This will be our slogan for the protest on Oct 31. The villagers of Bagud near Narmada river in Madhya Pradesh will demonstrate their struggle in Chikhalda Gram. We will show our support for the ongoing struggle in Gujarat and we will condemn the failure of rehabilitation of thousands of families. We don’t want the statue or the dam which leaves only a little water for the consumption of villages. We want a regularized water distribution of all major and medium water bodies. We want equal water for farmers, fishermen, potters and we don’t want our land, fishes, trees, plants, temples or Ghats forcibly acquired or submerged without our permission,” said a message received by one of the protesting groups.
They also said that the current government was acting contrary to the legal systems of the country. “Supreme Court orders of 2000, 2005, 2017 were violated. The grievance redressal authority is being weakened. Thousands of grievance orders and High Court orders are being overlooked which is a great injustice. The problems of innocent people are being ignored for a tourism scheme in Narmada. The livelihoods, survival and religious beliefs of Adivasis are at stake. We want the Narmada to flow free like the Ganga, free from pollution and illegal mining. The activities of corporate giants who build big dams and reservoirs and want to lay big pipelines of water supply should stop their inhuman work immediately. Taking water from Maharashtra and giving it to Gujarat and making Tapi river flow in taking Sardar Sarovar Water to Tapi river valley will deprive the tribals of Satpura. Despite the opposition of Gram Sabhas to this plan, the plans are being carried out unabated,” the group said.
The protestors argue that by not letting the Narmada river flow into the sea, it had destroyed countless lives along the banks. “The sea has entered Bharuch and Narmada district by up to 80 kms. Fishermen have lost their livelihoods and the water being supplied to people in towns is saline. We want the river to live and the dam should allow the river to exit into the sea. Prof G.D Agarwal became a martyr to save the Ganga and we did not want the same to be our fate. But if that is what it takes in these times where the govt is not just corrupt but violent and unjust, we will keep registering our protest. We will stand on the banks of the river and show our support for the Adivasis in Gujarat,” they said.