Text by Jehan, Photos by Shakthi

DAY 3 (Part 2)

BHAGIRATH

I put his name in capitals because it deserves to be in capitals. He’s a man, larger than life and beyond the realm of physical description. He wore his life on his face, each wrinkle telling a story of great loss and of great joy.

Bhagirath was in charge. He knew why we were here with our cameras and recording equipment and he launched into an interview with professional finesse. He spoke fast but poetically, as if the world was his story and he wouldn’t have enough time to tell the whole story before that world ended. The sun set behind us, we were light by a single white energy saving bulb. The cold came over too, but it dare not interrupt Bhagirath’s story. We were mesmerised by this man, he told us the story, his story, like we were children listening to an ancient epic legend. This is an epic story and Bhagirath has the stories of thousands on his shoulders.

He was from near here…from a village called Chikkala. It’s close to the Sadar Sarovar dam (at its time, the biggest mega dam of its kind in the world – a prelude of mega dams to come throughout India and China and the catalyst for the creation of the NBA). It’s probably a day’s drive further downstream from Badwani. He called himself the “chief among workers” here at NBA Badwani HQ. Meghna was scribbling her translation furiously in a notebook so I couldnt follow his swift words. It was too fast.

This is a short excerpt from the attempted translation I did when I got back to Sydney with the help of my aunt Farida Aman and my mother Marlene Kanga.

BHAGIRATH
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When I was young, I was studying in Class 8 (Year 8).

At that time, Medha Patkar told everyone that this scheme is going to put 193 villages under water. She said all your agricultural land will be lost under the water and all your agricultural lands and your homes will be lost, and you will be homeless.

She said “Stand up for your rights and fight”

The survey that this committee is doing is being done in the wrong way. It’s from here that we found out who is going to gain and who is going to lose and that in order for a small gain of electricity for Gujarat, Madhya Pradhesh is going to suffer alot by losing 193 villages. Some villages in Gujarat will also drown.

If our lands are drowned, where will we live and what will we eat. We’ve been tilling for 2000 years. This civilisation has been on the banks of the Narmada for at least 2000 years.

This is the land where bananas, sugarcane, papayas and other grains grow and there are thousands of temples and mosques.

What will happen to them?
This has been our home for generations. If all this is drowned, how can we get something equal to this? When we asked this the reply we got was:

“The life you’ve been living will be even better once this work has been done”

But later on when we made enquiries, when we asked questions to the government, we found out that the development that the government was making very inferior settlements as an alternative

The master-plan that had been made for these villages that have been lived in, in the Narmada, for ages, villages that are well established…the alternative that is being offered to them is of very inferior quality. There’s no quality. There’s no proper housing.

There’s no water. They’ve put in a pump but there’s no water in it. The area that they’ve been given – the plots – they are in a deep ditch, so it would cost a lot for people to build their homes there.

And nobody has even gone over there because it’s pointless. The funds that they have given to build housing are so little that they will not be able build anything beyond the foundations.

There’s a case in the Supreme Court: The government is saying that they have zero balance left in their funds because they have given everything to the people and that the villages that they have built are occupied and flourishing.

“We’ve given them the lands, we’ve given them the money, and the villages on the banks are all empty and the people have moved”

But during the election time they told the villagers that in order to vote, they would have to go to the new “village” even though there was no one living there.

So we said that if we are living in the old village we’ll vote from there. Why should we vote from the “new village”?

They said such a big lie, and we fought them and voted from our own villages because we had found out that the government had lied to the Supreme Court and told them that the problem in Madhya Pradhesh had been settled whereas nothing has been settled.

In Maharastra things were a bit better because the government had given better quality land.

But here in Madhya Pradhesh no proper land has been given, everything is lying empty, and people from a commission came to check and found that a big building which was supposed to be a school and a Town Hall were not built properly and was a hazard for the children to be in. There were big cracks everywhere.

There’s no electricity or water and of 1% of people who moved – when they moved into these villages they had no facilities available to them. So all the people are still choosing to live in their old villages but the government is lying and saying to the Supreme Court that they have all moved.

They are so frustrated that they say that “We haven’t been given land and facilities” but the government says that you’ll have to listen to what the Supreme Court said and that the Narmada Bachao Andolan are not abiding by the decision of the Supreme Court as they insult us. When the NBD and NCA don’t abide by the rules the government, the Supreme Court takes no action against them which they should do.

We were given a decision in 2003 by the Supreme Court. The order had been given to give land to 33 people.

That was an order, and according to that order 33 people should have been given that land.

Til today, they have not been given any land – and Why not? It’s a court order. It has to be implemented. Why was that court order not implemented? The people at the back didn’t get their land. And no one said anything.

In two villages, their land and their house were drowned. The crocodiles that are in the river are eating their cattle and their children. When they go to drink water, the crocodiles pull them down by their legs. They have nothing to eat.

The government didn’t do anything. The Government said:

“They are well off people”

But which villager is rich? How can a villager in a mountainous area be a rich man? What does he have the poor fellow? What does he have? He has nothing.

The Madhya Pradesh government has told him:

“We have given you this land with all the facilities.”

But not a single teacher has gone there except on paper. The school exists only on paper. The school has been run, and the teacher has even retired…on paper! The government official in charge (patwari) has also retired…on paper. Nobody’s gone there to see the land. Nobody’s gone to see the land to see how much land is being farmed, how much is being tilled?

The local government officials came and asked “who’s land is this?” [Before independence] the English never asked “who’s land is this? After independence [1947], once we got our freedom, in 1948, the government started to ask “who’s land is this. The whole jungle, the whole mountain, the whole forest, they’re asking “Who does this belong to?”

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It was a big interview and the emotions of it were quite overwhelming. It was simultaneously inspiring and exasperating.

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Animals have drowned in this water and we use this water for drinking and bathing. This water is now dirty. If we drink this dirty water, we also will die. Buffalo, cows, goats, are all going to this water. There’s so much dirt her and there are lots of mosquitos, we are all getting sick, and the whole village is getting sick and we have to go to the medical board. The medical board gives us medicine and tablets. The government does not care that our lives are going in this way. Our village and our neighbouring villages are losing their lives.

Medha Patkar [an iconic leader activist] has demanded to know the reason for this but no one is giving her the answers. They say they don’t know what is happening. They’ve been silent.

The farmers are dying, and the land has also been contaminated.For so many years, nothing as grown. The farmers asked for 5 lahks [500000 INR / ~9000 AUD] compensation, but they gave compensation of 2 lahk 79000 rupees [279000 INR / AUD 5600].

They said “use this money to buy land somewhere else which is worth 5 lakhs” but who’s going to give up their land for so little money. You might get some useless land. No one will give you breakfast for this much money, so where will you get good land for this much money?

So these farmers took their case to the supreme court and said stop the payment of instalments. And hold the payments as a bond in the court.

But the government didn’t care. They said “come on quickly, pay the money, and let’s go ahead and drown the land”. They quickly gave notice to the farmers. They said we’ve bought the land, we’ll give you 15 days notice to move away off the land. If you don’t obey this directive, you won’t get any money at all.

How can they move away? They’ve not been able to buy land. With 279000 INR how can they buy land? Where can they buy land?

So they gave advice, go to this (local) politician (Raju Kamdar) and that politician and ask their help. They showed them their land and they said we need to buy land like this. This politician like Raju did know that this land had been taken from these people. They didn’t know this land had been eaten up and they weren’t able to advise where they could get other land. And who had land to sell?

The dallals are trying to take land from the farmers, and the farmers were trying to take the land from the adikaris. And the rest has been sold to third parties, about 4000 acres has been lost (to outsiders). It was a scramble.

Today there are some 13 businesses run by those people who have taken the land, and more than a year has passed. Nobody knows what’s going on. People are frustrated. Such a big lie. Such a big farce! We’ve never ever seen anything like this before. It has to be sorted now, it can’t be left for later.

A lot of corruption has happened, big corruption. Adikaris have bought bikes, and some have bought big four wheel drives. A lot of corruption has happened.

They build big bungalows. People are really disheartened and fed up. People don’t know what to do. Now to appeal this process, they have to spend money.

They don’t have the money so they’ve gone to protest [from 24th November 2011], to sit in (Satyagraha) over in Jobat and have been doing so for the last 19 days. No government department has come by and no minister. They will not be giving us our land back. “If you want land you pay rent”.

Those who have obtained land, and try to cultivate with a tractor cannot cultivate the land. Their tractors are also getting broken. The government knew the land was not fertile, they knew it was not good land. They say they were helping the people but the land they gave in compensation was not fertile land.

They give land in compensation to people, and when they go to that place, the owners of that place say “this is our land, who are you, where have you come from?” There have been fights, and some people have been hurt. Everybody wants land. We had fertile land, and we want fertile land in compensation. You have to give us land which is equivalent. The land must be fertile and well watered. We don’t want dry land.

We are going to sit here. You can throw us in jail, you can kill us, you can do what you like, but give us land! Otherwise we are not going to move. You can call the police commissioner Makurae and he can do all kinds of bullying and heavy handed tactics (dadagiri).

The government have said “Let these people do what they like but we’re not going to give them any other land”. This is bullying.

Medha Patkar and others have taught us to fight.

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