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Apr 19, 2006
Jantar Mantar: India’s Sphinx

Although in its judgment of April 17,2006, the Supreme Court has not stopped construction of the Sardar Sarovar Dam, Medha Patkar and her humble-folk friends, who fasted for twenty days, have scored significant victories. The Court has given just 3 months to the involved states to comply with letter and spirit of true rehabilitation of ousted people; or, it’d order stoppage of construction. A report by ministers of the Central Government has damned official statements and given credence to Medha Patkar’s claim of several years that relief and rehabilitation were a sham. Above all, Medha’s struggle of twenty years can be said to have climaxed in the last 3 weeks: she has gained the mind-share of Indians and educated them on how the voiceless are being marginalised.

Medha Patkar is not against economic development and progress. She believes poverty can be reduced by calibrated change; that, technology which is accessible and beneficial to all [- like the cell-phone for example] is welcome. Globalisation is not a summary evil either. The Internet alone can connect people and battle injustice and the Internet is a phenomenon of our globalised world. Medha has also abjured all violence and swears by Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha.

More than all that however, is her belief in the primacy of our environment. Our water, the way we grow food and the way we manage consumption are of the greatest importance to peace in India.

On the one hand most people are seduced by a big dam, which like river water linking, is a techno-alec’s toy or builders’/politicians’ milch-cow. On the other, people will only realise too late that big dams are failures even as economic entities; they benefit none but those that build it or those, profligate in water use. The Sardar Sarovar Dam won’t generate the electricity engineers claim; it won’t bring drinking water to Kutch for over a decade; and it won’t do anything to teach people to grow crops using less water.  Be that as it may. The collective madness that has possessed many will build the dam and regret later.

The battle by Medha Patkar has gone beyond efforts to persuade and stop the dam. She is trying to salvage now, a fair deal for those that have been displaced. Why has India’s privileged classes- the class that governs India, that commands society’s various heights, that has grown prosperous in the current economic boom, you, me and our children, in fact- why has this class gone so indifferent and heartless to the plight of the powerless.

It is one thing to rightly heap contempt on the labour-elite that agitates against airport modernisation or privatising a bankrupt hotel. It is quite another to dismiss the people Medha represents. She speaks for a good part of the billion that no one cares for. Her struggle began on the banks of the Narmada. But other rivers have arisen. A river of people from Bhopal walked 800 km for a confluence at Jantar Mantar. Many more will arise to meet and swirl in Delhi. In Plachimada and Mehdiganj people have risen against exploitation of ground water for soft drinks. Every day in India we find consequences of haste in development.

GoodNewsIndia’s support of Medha Patkar’s stand is rooted in the belief that interests of development and environment must go hand in hand. If it takes say, 20 years and $20 billion to resettle the people displaced by the Sardar Sarovar then well, that is the time and money it truly costs to build that dam. Coke and Pepsi are welcome to desalinate sea water or import their branded bottles from America. If such a Coke costs Rs.100 apiece, then that would be its true price. Point is, economic development must pay the full price; that is the logic of the market-place that we have been taught. The poor cannot be made to pay part of the price and subsidise it. [Tangentially speaking, if you employed a domestic from the slums of Delhi, teeming with India’s displaced people, you must pay for complete housing and welfare of your worker. Today, you are under-paying your servant while making a killing on the stock-markets.]

India, thank God, is not China. There you can smash the people and carry on construction. Even there it is becoming less easy. In India, it is impossible to suppress people for long. We will be hoist on our own humbug; we have for too long patted ourselves on our democracy, rule of law, humanitarianism, non-violence and hoary culture. We will be forced to conform.

Medha has said that JP’s call to Total Revolution may have come too soon. The haste and insensitivity with which political and business classes are alienating the poor across India, a million and more may arrive and camp in Delhi without need for anyone to call them to revolt. And then, well… ‘the centre cannot hold’.

 ◊ Bhopal
 ◊ Narmada
 ◊ Plachimada
 ◊ Mehdiganj
 ◊ Gangavaram
 ◊ Kalinga Nagar

People in the pages of GoodNewsIndia have stood up against considerable odds and won significant, local battles. GoodNewsIndia has avoided politicians, entertainers, spiritual leaders, artists and sportsmen because dignified battles of little known men and women have added greater value to India as a durable nation than those that draw media’s attention. GoodNewsIndia has believed for six years, that in India good sense prevails in the end to redress wrongs. For the first time Medha Patkar’s ordeal has disturbed that conviction. How far away is that end with good sense? To restore faith in India as a fair, if hard, land, Medha and what she has come to represent, must win. And, soon. Or else, India’s Sphinx will unleash havoc.

GoodNewsIndia appeals to its readers to heed the messages from Jantar Mantar and support Medha Patkar.

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