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