Medha Patkar was arrested while she was on her way to Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh by the Indore police. She had been fasting for 17 days until August 12, 2017, to protest against Madhya Pradesh Government and proper rehabilitation and resettlement for the 1000s displaced and many more affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam project on the river Narmada.
The demands of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) are perfectly legal, nothing radical, and in fact, just asking for the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh to implement the Supreme Court’s order. But instead of listening, the Chief Minister reacts in the most erratic manner, by tweeting with empathy and then acting quite the opposite, intimidating protesters with violence and police force. I guess this pattern runs through the BJP led Government and their leaders, leaving people thoroughly confused. They tweet one way and then act the other or don’t act at all. It’s like we have two governments, one on social media and the other sitting in Delhi.
Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is one of the loud and persistent voices that continues to strengthen our democracy. It was started in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh in 1989 as a reaction to the construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, the massive displacement of vulnerable communities and destruction of the environment that would come along with it. It has been over two decades, and their fight continues. Even while they might fade in and out of our memories, they continue to stand for issues and have forced several governments to listen.
While few could see the injustices that the initially funded World Bank project would cause, NBA was one to have the foresight and sensitivity to understand the damage. In 1993, the Indian government cancelled the remaining World Bank loan for the project after the Bank’s independent review and the Morse Commission exposed the violation of its policies. Despite the cancellation of the loan from the World Bank, the Indian government continued with the project undeterred by the huge cost to people and the environment.
NBA pursued with its fight and won with a Supreme Court judgement ensuring people some compensation. But corruption and lack of accountability run so deep in Indian governance that fake land registries allegedly did not allow the beneficiaries to get what was rightfully theirs. NBA’s determination saw the Madhya Pradesh High Court set up the Jha Commission to look into this corruption. Unfortunately, this report was not made public, and the Madhya Pradesh Government was directed to take action on the findings of the Commission’s report.
In the last 30 years, little action has been taken by the MP Government and allegedly out of the 40,000 odd people displaced only 40-50 have received land. While many await justice, 18,000 families are further displaced, post the gates of the Sardar Sarovar Dam being closed, the ruling party celebrated this as a victory of development.
When a blind eye is turned to the sufferings of people in the name of development and a tweet is a good enough response to indefinite fasting, you know these are dystopian times. When a nation is breaking into protests and not being heard on severe legitimate issues like rehabilitation for displaced people or the distress of farmers, you can sense the gradual death of democracy. Today we are a nation that is divided beyond belief, where one-half celebrates the announcement of new schemes and programmes of the Government and another fast to be heard. We are so far divided that I don’t think we even hear each other, our battles are fought on social media while the casualties on the ground continue to increase.
The harsh treatment given to the NBA activists has been shocking, but again this is the same leadership that turned a blind eye to farmers being shot dead for demanding a better price and loan waiver. Madhya Pradesh is probably Modi Government’s poster child on how to govern with an iron fist, but in movements like NBA, people like me have found the confidence that the fight must go on.