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“We Will Drown But We Will Not Move”: Drowned Out, A Must-Watch Documentary

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What if your homes are taken away by the government in the name of development? What if the government is providing you a land in place of it? What if you got a bit of money in return for your home?

It’s too much, isn’t it? But, what of those who are living with such question marks in their lives.

I met such a person today, named Luharia Sonkaria. Not a real interaction, but through a documentary named “Drowned Out”, directed by Franny Armstrong. Drowned Out is the true story of the adivasis living in Jalsindhi village of Madhya Pradesh.

It’s a village on the banks of Narmada river about 30 miles upstream from the Sardar Sarovar dam. The film deals with the condition of the adivasis living there.

Many adivasis were driven out of lands they had cultivated for generations, when the Sardar Sarovar dam was being built. Representational image. Photo credit: TimesNext.

The Sardar Sarovar Dam Wreaked Havoc

The film covers the pathetic situation of the adivasis, afflicted because of the Sardar Sarovar embankment project. They only have their land as the legacy of their ancestors.

The river, the trees were the only source of livilihood for them. But no one listened to their views, their opinions.

Don’t you think the land they lived in was owned by them? Don’t you think it’s a violation of their rights? Would it be possible for them to settle themselves in the cities? Isn’t it wrong to neglect their views in a democratic country like India?

They too, were left with many such questions, but their situation was plain as a day. Everything was snatched up from them—their happiness, forests, homes, and even their Gods.

The chief engineer of the project stated that, “The project took so much concrete that you could roll it around the equator.”

Rivers in India are treated as goddess. People used to bath on them to purify their soul… Similarly, with Narmada.

But the engineers of government saw it as a concrete giant structure, comprising many small dams and rivers. They dreamt of seeing it as the reason behind India’s self-sufficiency, at any cost—even at the cost of the people living on its bank.

On the one hand, the project aims to provide electricity and water to many Indians. While on the other, it snatched the houses and employment of many.

Do Adivasi Lives Not Matter?

India’s original inhabitants, the Adivasis, faced a real threat to their lives, homes and livelihood. These down-to-earth people remained hopeful for a better tomorrow.

But they were not aware that once completed, the dam will be 200 km long and 245 villages will be submerged. Some of them were given an unusable piece of land in the name of resettlement, and others were given senseless compensation.

Many were left with nothing in their hands.

The only thing they had was the question marks on their survival. One can easily understand through the question Bulgi, an afflicted adivasi, posed: “They only offer us land on paper. But we can’t cultivate on paper, can we?”

Don’t you think her question was correct? How can she think of leaving her home, if she is not even convinced about being able to eat two square meals a day?

Now, they have three options. One is to accept the land given by the government, the second is to accept the compensation and the third is to stay in their homes and drown. Still, if they don’t find anything, even they don’t have anything to lose so they fought for their rights.

In the fight for their rights, they found Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy as their supporters.

Many strikes, many hungry nights later, they ended up with these questions: “Will the water go to the poor farmers or to the rich industrialists? Why are the children dying in the resettlement sites? What happened to the 16 million people displaced by fifty years of dam building? Why should we care?”

Medha Patkar is an Indian social activist, who was at the forefront of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada movement). Photo credit: Joe Athialiy, Flickr.

They thought that the Supreme Court of India might show a red light to the embankment project, but the reality was harsher.

Villages Were Submerged, But People Stayed

In May 2002, the Narmada Construction Authority gave clearance for the dam to be built up to a height of 95 meters.

At this height, there are 8,000 families whose houses will be submerged, that have not yet been resettled, breaking the regulations laid down in the Supreme Court ruling.

A campaign targeting foreign corporations, intending to invest in the project, has already succeeded in getting six withdrawals. The same year, the police arrived and cut and burnt the trees while the villagers tried to stop them.

They cried in horror, but the police did for what they came to do.

Again, the monsoon came. The whole area started submerging. Gradually, the homes disappeared, but still, the villagers stuck to their slogan: “We will drown, but we will not move!”

According to the Royal Gazette newspaper in Bermuda, “documentaries rarely, if ever, come better than this.” They called Drowned Out “a real eye-opener”.

The San Francisco film festival said that it is “a film of enormous heart, grit and insight, that it both taut political essay and enormously moving plea.”

The background music and shooting are fantastically done. It’s amazingly directed. While watching I too find myself a part of this misery. I found myself in pensive silence.

Everyone should watch it to understand the real situation through real people, real emotions, and the miserable conditions they are living in.

Featured image, taken from Flickr (International Rivers), is for representational purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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