Friday, 6 November 2009

A Shard From Past

I crossed Narmada, two hours out of Bhopal. The train sped over a metal bridge, while all over the sky was a deepest crimson deepening to ink on the zenith. Boulder strewn Narmada lay under - wide, rippling, quenched in deepest colors of the dusk air.

I remember another crossing - in the early red hours of a dawn. A crossing, silent and cold, in a tiny boat - a crossing that tingled with fear. It was more than ten years ago and I was crossing Narmada at the Sardar Sarovar Project - the mega dam that has damned the river, its people, the land, forest - damned the whole notion of development - forever - in the eyes of us few. As expected, I was picked up by the police, on my solitary crossing, suspected to be a NBA jasoos (spy), and later released under strictest supervision making sure I left the state.

Yet, memories of that visit for me are colored with hope of an awakening, of witnessing the miracle of human spirit. I remember the valley, the meetings with people, the magnitude and the charged emotions of the protests, the impromptu, spontaneous, massive gatherings preceding the news of our arrival, the strong support and solidarity within the movement, the resolute, loud voices of those "who would not surrender" - their lands, forests, lives to the virtual Gods of those in the cities, the Blind Greed Gods that ruled from far, their fates to squeeze out that last ounce, last breath, the last tiny bit they needed to live on.

Today, twenty five years later, the demands of those ousted by Narmada dams remain the same - rehabilitation, resettlement, a chance to eke out a living. It was, and continues to be to this day, a fight by the victims to access their basic human right - the right to life and livelihood, right to some meager compensation for their large displacement. Government continues to repress those that dare raise a voice, even a voice for their own survival, with illegal physical brutality, and imprisonment - this despite high court ruling on the issue of compensation and resettlement. Yet, our State has become larger than our courts - it can flagrantly disregard justice, even small justice wrenched out decades later.

The Question to now ask of ourselves is " WHY AND HOW LONG SHOULD WE SLEEP ?"