Recently, due to non-opening of the gate of Sardar Sarovar Dam in Madhya Pradesh, the families of 193 villages were facing the danger of drowning. On August 7, a satyagraha was performed at Rajghat to demand the opening of the dam’s gate and to rehabilitate the affected tribals, farmers, Kewat-Kahars, potters, cattlemen and landless labourers. Last Thursday night, representatives of the Barwani district administration assured that water will be released by Gujarat by opening the gate and a joint survey will be conducted with the government and representatives of the movement, the representatives of the movement will also be included in government rehabilitation committees.
The assurance given by the local administration to the above intention may sound very reliable but in reality, it is not so. Despite the lives of thousands and thousands of residents at stake, coverage and discussion from the local media to social media was not seen on this issue. The testimony of how sensitive we are about environmental issues lies from the northern to the southern part of the country. Disasters like floods, droughts, landslides, and cloudbursts have also been reported. The seasonal patriots, who were born after the scrapping of Article 370 have wasted the discourse space in this issue by proving themselves exactly like a pimple that has grown upon an ulcer.
But once again,’her’ face has come as ‘sanjeevani‘ for these displaced people. She has fought for the exploited-deprived and tribals on issues like the environment, rehabilitation and displacement for decades. Yes, Medha Patkar, who gave up her PhD for social service and an alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a renowned social science research institute of the country. Medha Patkar has become a living legend in all these years, she has been on the streets for three decades.
Medha Patkar’s name was heard nationwide for the first time at the 1989 rally in Harsud in Madhya Pradesh. She came to Harsud about the issue of villages coming under the Indira Sagar dam. Many well-known personalities including thousands of social activists from around the country gathered at a big rally. These included Maneka Gandhi, Baba Amte, Sundarlal Bahuguna, and VC Shukla, etc. A victory pillar was established there to save Harsud.
Gradually, she became the voice of the destitute. People who are being evicted by development projects are finding her amidst themselves, every time. Whether living in the slums of the cities, earning their livelihood, or the unsung people who were uprooted by the construction of mines and highways in the villages and mountains, Medha Patkar reached everywhere where displacement became a weapon for the government. Over thirty years, the Narmada Bachao Andolan has become her identity. The series of dams being built in the Narmada Valley ejected the village and population at a mass level. About two hundred hundred villages, including a large settlement like Harsud, merged into Indira Sagar Dam in Madhya Pradesh and the other in Gujarat. These are power projects costing thousands of crores, from which electricity and reservoir water generated is extremely important for the growing population. They have a full backup of governments, irrespective of parties.
In the past, from the attitude of governments and bureaucracy, it seems that the dam is necessary but more than that there is a kind of arbitrariness of the government. The reason is clear that the matter of displacement does not matter much to them. While there was a need to maintain utmost human sympathy, what did the corrupt machinery of the government do on both occasions? If we look at the Chief Ministers of Madhya Pradesh from the 1990s till now, Digvijay Singh, who was CM for ten years, did nothing. After this, incompetent and short-term chief Ministers like Uma Bharti and Babu Lal Gaur had nothing to do.
But after this, ‘Mama’ Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who was most disappointed on this issue, finally had to do what Shivraj could not do even after enjoying power for more than two decades. The then Chief Justice of the country, Justice JS Khehar had commented on this saying that, “You want your pound of flesh. We are willing to give you four-fold compensation than what you are legally entitled to. You are holding the government to ransom. You are holding this court to ransom. When we say this, you say do that. When we say to do that, you say do this. You are penny wise, pound foolish.”
Even during the 12-day sit-in, the government relied on its officers. The Chief Minister continued to send the SP-Collector for agreements with Medha Patkar. There have been allegations against her and her team based on the money they are getting from abroad, they create an atmosphere against our development project. If our system had evidence of this, then Medha Patkar would have been in jail instead of a village-rugged protest area. Her Narmada struggle has continued over thirty years, the debate about the appropriateness of big dams is very important but her voice resonated only about the methods of displacement. Meanwhile, she constantly resorted to peaceful, non-violent and constitutional methods.
Who were the 40 thousand displaced families of Sardar Sarovar Dam, what were the officers doing there, whether the rehabilitation sites were worth staying or not, why were people not going there? Our system was nowhere when these questions had to be answered. After this, there was only Medha Patkar who went there. She was forcibly picked up by three thousand policemen armed with guns and sticks one evening after 12 days of the sit-in and was then sent to Dhar jail after being kept in Bombay Hospital in Indore for two days.
Since August 7, the displaced people once again need a shoulder for the struggle, once again this person has stepped forward and taken over all the responsibility. Yes, she is the Medha Patkar!